Black Cumin Seed Extract

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Black cumin seed extract


Black cumin seed (Nigella sativa ) is an annual herbaceous plant and a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. The fruit of the plant, the black seeds, accounts for its name. Black cumin seed (also called black seed) should not be confused with the herb, cumin (Cumunum cyminum, which is found in many grocery stores.

Considered native to the Mediterranean region, black cumin seed is cultivated in North Africa, Asia, and southeastern Europe. The largest producers of black cumin seed are Egypt, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Other species, such as Turkish black cumin (Nigella damascena ), are not used medicinally; and one type, Nigella garidella, is even poisonous.

Playfully referred to as "Love in the Mist," the black cumin seed plant has leaves that grow in pairs. The lower leaves are short and supported by slender stems, while the upper leaves generally grow to approximately 4 inches (10 cm) in length. The stalk of the plant, with its bluish white flower petals, can grow up to 18 inches (46 cm) in height while its fruit matures. At first, the seeds (the fruit of the plant) are held in a capsule in the center of the flower. The capsule opens upon maturity, revealing lightly colored seeds. It is only upon their exposure to air that the seeds become black.

Most often, the extract is produced by a process referred to as cold pressing. Temperatures no higher than 140176°F (6080°C) are applied to the seeds to help release the oil and preserve its benefits.

Rich with compounds such as nigellone and thymoquinone, black cumin seed is thought to contain over 100 ingredients; many remain unknown. However, experts agree that the most important compounds contained in the extract are the fatty acids and nutrients. Some components of black cumin seed extract are as follows:

  • myristic acid
  • palmitic acid
  • palmitoleic acid
  • stearic acid
  • oleic acid
  • linoleic acid (omega-6)
  • linolenic acid (omega-3)
  • arachidonic acid
  • protein
  • thiamin
  • riboflavin
  • pyridoxine
  • niacin
  • folacin
  • calcium
  • iron
  • copper
  • zinc
  • phosphorous

General use

Black cumin seed has been used for centuries to treat respiratory and digestive problems, parasites, and inflammation. In ancient times, it was a remedy for a variety of health conditions including, colds, infections , headaches, and toothaches. The pharoahs' personal doctors are reported to have offered black cumin seed as a digestive aid after large meals. In fact, the extract was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun, presumably to protect him in the afterlife.

Black cumin was also used as a remedy for skin diseases, dry skin, dandruff , and wounds .

At one time, black cumin seed was highly valued in Europe, but by the eighteenth century it had lost popularity, and was primarily used as a garden decoration. However, black cumin seed extract has regained popularity, and is now more widely used as a remedy in Europe and North America.

Many herbalists in current times embrace the healing properties of black cumin seed extract. For example, the extract is sometimes used externally to treat such skin care problems as psoriasis, eczema , and dry skin, and internally to treat stomach problems, respiratory ailments, and allergies , as well as to improve circulation and the immune system. In recent years, the extract has been the subject of immune system research.

One reason that is often given for the medicinal value of black cumin seed extract is its richness in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help to produce prostaglandin E1. Prostaglandin E1 has many functions in the body, particularly in relation to the immune system, sugar metabolism, skin infections, and blood clots . It is also believed to protect the stomach lining.

Experts point out that the medicinal value may be provided by a unique and mysterious synergy (combined action) between the multitude of compounds present in the seeds. In addition, the extract, which is more concentrated than the seeds alone, is said to have greater healing power. A study at Cairo University in Eqypt showed a boost in antibacterial activity when the extract was used in combination with antibiotics such as streptomycin and gentamicin. In the same study, it showed additional antibacterial function in combination with erythromycin, tobramycin, doxycycline, and ampicillin, to kill E. Coli and the pathogenic yeast, Candida albicans. In addition, the study showed that the extract destroyed non-fatal subcutaneous staphylococcal infection in mice.

In 2003, one study noted the antifungal activity of black cumin seed extract against Candida albicans. In the study, mice were injected with Candida albicans, producing colonies of the organism in their liver, spleen, and kidneys. The researchers found that treatment with black cumin seed extract 24 hours after inoculation inhibited growth of the Candida albicans. With continued treatment, the extract significantly decreased the amount of Candida albicans found in the kidneys, liver, and spleen.

Aside from verifying its antibacterial and antifungal properties, researchers in recent years have tested the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of black cumin seed extract. In 1995, a group of scientists from the Department of Pharmacy at King's College in London found that the extract contains these properties, and is an antioxidant as well. They believe the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities may be linked to ingredients such as thymoquinone and unsaturated fatty acids. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that black cumin seed extract is a justified treatment for rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases.

In 2001, a study performed at the Department of Pharmacology at King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, reported anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity from the use of black cumin seed extract in animals. Paw edema (swelling) was reduced, as was reaction time in response to extreme heat. A 2003 study confirmed the analgesic effects of the extract. Studies in this area are likely to continue well into the future.

Researchers have also investigated and verified the extract's antihistamine activity, focusing on nigellone, an ingredient in black cumin seed extract. One 1993 study found that nigellone acted as an inhibitory agent on histamine (a substance involved in an allergic response, causing widening of blood vessels and tightening of bronchial passages) by inhibiting protein kinase C, known to initiate histamine release. In 2003, another study concluded that black seed oil is an effective treatment for allergies.


There are many applications made with black cumin seed extract. It can be found in teas, cough syrups, wound salves, compresses, massage oils, and other products. Black seed honey, soap, shampoo, and creams are all available commercially.

The extract has a strong flavor, which is improved by mixing it with honey. Herbal teas also help dilute its strength. As with any product used for medicinal purposes, it is important to read and follow the label instructions and warnings.

Although black cumin seed extract is not normally associated with severe skin irritation, a skin patch test should be conducted before using it for the first time. A small amount of diluted extract is placed on the inside of one elbow and covered with a bandage. After 24 hours, any redness or irritation is indicative of a negative reaction. This test should be done before a person proceeds with more extensive use.

Black cumin seed extract, in these dosages, is used as a remedy for the following conditions:

  • Headache. A few drops of the diluted extract are rubbed on the patient's forehead. Some patients may also find it helpful to take 1/2 teaspoon of the extract after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Cough. The dose is 1/2 teaspoon of diluted black cumin seed extract in the morning. A dry cough may require one teaspoon of the extract twice a day, mixed with one cup of coffee or hot tea. The extract can be rubbed on the chest and back for additional relief.
  • Common cold. One teaspoon of the extract is mixed with hot lemon tea and honey two or three times a day.
  • Diarrhea. One teaspoon of extract is mixed with one cup of yogurt twice a day.


Black cumin seed extract is not to be used during pregnancy .

Its safety in young children has not been established. Patients with liver or kidney disease are advised not to use this product unless a physician directs them to do so.

Black cumin seed extract is said to lower blood sugar levels; therefore, a diabetic patient is advised to consult with a physician before using.

Side effects

In general, if used as directed, black cumin seed extract is not associated with serious side effects. However, it has been reported that black cumin seed extract has a very low degree of toxicity, and may cause significant negative effects on liver and kidney function. A recommended daily allowance (RDA) has not been established for the extract, so it is wise to consult with a physician before beginning any internal treatment.


There does not appear to be a list of serious interactions associated with the use of black cumin seed extract; however, it is recommended that anyone taking prescription drugs seek the opinion of a physician and/or pharmacist before using black cumin seed extract in combination with the prescribed treatment.



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Lee Ann Paradise