Black cumin seed oil is extracted from the seeds of Nigella sativa L., a plant native to southwest Asia, commonly called black cumin. It is generally obtained by cold pressing the raw or slightly roasted seeds.
Nigella sativa oil, has a medium viscosity and amber color. Its smell, like its flavor, is strong, pungent and spicy.
The oil of black cumin is widely used in cooking and is said to offer a range of health benefits. Key component of black cumin oil is Thymoquinone, a compound with a large amount of therapeutic properties.
About Nigella Sativa Linn
Nigella sativa Linn. is an indigenous herbaceous plant that belongs to the Buttercup or Ranunculaceae family.
N. sativa is an annual flowering plant. It grows to 20-30 cm (7.9–11.8 inch) tall and has linear lanceolate leaves. Its delicate flowers have 5-10 petals and the colors are usually yellow, white, pink, pale blue or pale purple.
The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed by 3-7 united follicles, and within each of them there are numerous seeds.
Nigella sativa plant is also known by other names such as: black cumin (English), black-caraway seeds (USA), habba-tu sawda (Arabic), kalonji (Urdu and Hindi), krishnajirika (Sanskrit), kalajira (Bangali) and shonaiz (Persian). However, it should not be confused with black sesame, true cumin (Cuminum cyminum), or especially black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum) as black seed comes from a completely different plant not even related to them.
Black cumin plant grows in the mediterranean countries and is cultivated extensively in Pakistan and India. It has been found to be salt tolerant and may be considered a glycophyte specie.
The spicy seeds from Nigella sativa have proclaimed medicinal usage dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
Black cumin seed is known to be rich in both fixed and essential oils, proteins, alkaloids and saponin, but most of the therapeutic properties have been attributed to its thymoquinone, the major component of the oil.
Traditional Uses of Black Cumin Seed
The seeds of Nigella sativa, has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. It originated from Southeastern Asia and was also used in ancient Egypt, Greece, Middle East, and Africa.
In the Middle and Far East, black cumin seeds have long been used in folk medicine as a traditional medicine for a wide range of diseases including infections, obesity, hypertension and gastrointestinal ailments.
Also, black cumin seed are used in folk medicine worldwide in the local treatment and prevention of bronchial asthma, cough, diarrhea, abdominal pain and dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of lipids -e.g. triglycerides, cholesterol and/or fat phospholipids- in the blood).
Likewise, in Northern Africa, it has been used traditionally for thousands of years to treat headache, asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism, fever, cough, influenza, and eczema.
Moreover, black cumin seeds have a history of use in traditional Arabic herbal medicine to treat many diseases such as skin diseases, jaundice, gastrointestinal problems, anorexia, conjunctivitis, dyspepsia, rheumatism, diabetes, hypertension, intrinsic hemorrhage, paralysis, amenorrhea, anorexia, asthma, cough, bronchitis, headache, fever, influenza and eczema.
Gastronomically, the seeds have been added as a spice to a variety of foods such as bread, yoghurt, pickles, sauces, and salads, among others.
In Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, black cumin seeds are used as a flavoring or spice, and are sometimes sprinkled on flatbread, naan bread, or bagels.
Chemical Components of Black Cumin Seed Oil
Extensive studies were done to identify the composition of the black cumin seed, the ingredients of N. sativa seed includes: fixed oil, proteins, alkaloid, saponin and essential oil.
The fixed/vegetable oil (32-40 %) contains: unsaturated fatty acids which includes: arachidonic, eicosadienoic, linoleic, linolenic, oleic, almitoleic, palmitic, stearic and myristic acid as well as beta-sitosterol, cycloeucalenol, cycloartenol, sterol esters and sterol glucosides.
Volatile oil (0.4-0.45 %) contains saturated fatty acids which includes: nigellone that is the only component of the carbonyl fraction of the oil, Thymoquinone (TQ), thymohydroquinone (THQ), dithymoquinone, thymol, carvacrol, α and β-pinene, d-limonene, d-citronellol and p-cymene.
The volatile oil of the seed also contains: p-cymene, carvacrol, t-anethole, 4-terpineol and longifoline.
Besides, black cumin seed have two different forms of alkaloids: isoquinoline alkaloid that includes: nigellicimine, nigellicimine n-oxide and pyrazol alkaloid that includes: nigellidine and nigellicine.
On the other hand, the nutritional compositions of Nigella sativa are: vitamins, carbohydrates, mineral elements, fats and proteins that include eight or nine essential amino acids.
Black cumin seeds also have saponin and alpha hederine and in trace amount has carvone, limonene and citronellol, as well as provide relatively good amounts of different vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Zinc, Phosphorus and Copper.
Thymoquinone is the most prominent constituent with well-known properties that exist in black cumin, and is responsible for its therapeutic effects in diseases such as asthma, arthritis, and neurodegenerative disorders, all of which are chronic inflammatory conditions.
It has several biological activities such as antioxidant, antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, antihistaminic, antimicrobial, anticancer, antitumor, gastroprotective, hepatoprotective, nephroprotective, and neuroprotective effects.
Also, thymoquinone has proven beneficial effects in bone complications, cardiovascular, reproductive and respiratory disorders, and diabetes and Hashimoto’s diseases, among others.
In addition, it has been projected as a therapy for bone lytic disorders, and has its beneficial effects in the treatment of RA, a chronic inflammatory condition.
Properties of Black Cumin Seed Oil
Among th many therapeutic properties of Nigella sativa oil are:
- Improves blood sugar metabolism thus improving insulin resistance
- Enhances reproductive system
- Breaks down biofilms and prevents biofilm formation
- Memory enhancer
- Supports a healthy microbiome
- Reduces lung inflammation
Uses of Black Cumin Seed Oil
The oil of Nigella sativa has been shown to be helpful in numerous health conditions and chronic diseases such as:
- Boost immune system
- Coronary artery disease
- Diabetes (Types 1 and 2)
- Gastritis/Gastric ulcer
- Hashimoto’s disease (autoimmune thyroiditis)
- High cholesterol
- Infertility (Male)
- Loss of appetite
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Soothes inflammation
- Stimulate milk production
- Skin and hair concerns (such as acne, dry hair, psoriasis, hair growth, and dry skin)
- Urinary tract disorders
Benefits of Black Cumin Seed Oil
Several therapeutic effects have been attributed to Nigella sativa seed crude extract as well as its purified components.
A large number of recent scientific reports have highlighted the biological activities of N. sativa. Particularly, black cumin seeds and its oil have been extensively studied for in vivo antinociceptive and antiinflammatory effects.
In addition, the active ingredients dithymoquinone, thymol, thymohydroquinone, saponins, alkaloids, and vitamins as well as oligo elements, contribute to the health benefits associated with black cumin seeds. However, thymoquinone, its most powerful constituent, has been extensively studied and shown to possesss strong antinociceptive and antiinflammatory effects.
Some of the many benefits of black cumin seed oil, which have shown scientific evidence, and that are still being studied are:
An extensive review of the cancer preventive aspects of several herbs and spices also references the potency of thymoquinone, shown to inhibit tumors and several other types of cancers:
Thymoquinone (TQ) is the most abundant component of black cumin seed oil. TQ has been reported to exhibit antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and chemopreventive activity and to ameliorate B(a)P-induced carcinogenesis in the forestomach.
Considerable evidence points to the ability of TQ to suppress tumor cell proliferation, including colorectal carcinoma, breast adenocarcinoma, osteosarcoma, ovarian carcinoma, myeloblastic leukemia and pancreatic carcinoma.
In a 2011 research published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology, black cumin oil was found to reduce the presence of nasal mucosal congestion, nasal itching, runny nose, sneezing attacks and other symptoms related to chronic allergic rhinitis.
Diabetes mellitus is a common chronic disease affecting millions of people worldwide. Standard treatment is failing to achieve required correction of blood glucose in many patients. Therefore, there is a need for investigating potential hypoglycemic drugs or herbs to improve glycemic control in diabetic patients.
Nigella sativa seeds were used as an adjuvant therapy in patients with diabetes mellitus type 2 added to their anti-diabetic medications.
A total of 94 patient were recruited and divided randomly into three dose groups. Capsules containing Nigella sativa were administered orally in a dose of 1, 2 and 3 gm/day for three months.
The effect of Nigella sativa on the glycemic control was assessed through measurement of fasting blood glucose (FBG), blood glucose level 2 hours postprandially (2 hPG), and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c). Serum C-peptide and changes in body weight were also measured.
Insulin resistance and beta-cell function were calculated using the homeostatic model assessment (HOMA2).
Nigella sativa at a dose of 2 gm/day caused significant reductions in FBG, 2hPG, and HbA1 without significant change in body weight.
Fasting blood glucose was reduced by an average of 45, 62 and 56 mg/dl at 4, 8 and 12 weeks respectively. HbAlC was reduced by 1.52% at the end of the 12 weeks of treatment. Insulin resistance calculated by HOMA2 was reduced significantly, while B-cell function was increased at 12 weeks of treatment.
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The use of Nigella sativa in a dose of 1 gm/day also showed trends in improvement in all the measured parameters but it was not statistically significant from the baseline. However, no further increment in the beneficial response was observed with the 3 gm/day dose. The three doses of Nigella sativa used in the study did not adversely affect either renal functions or hepatic functions of the diabetic patients throughout the study period.
In conclusion, the results of this study indicate that a dose of 2 gm/ day of Nigella sativa might be a beneficial adjuvant to oral hypoglycemic agents in type 2 diabetic patients.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disease
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder and the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
A study published in 2016, was carried out in forty patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, aged between 22 and 50 years old.
They participated in the trial and were randomly allocated into two groups of intervention and control receiving powdered Nigella sativa or placebo daily for 8 weeks. Changes in anthropometric variables, dietary intakes, thyroid status, serum VEGF and Nesfatin-1 concentrations after 8 weeks were measured.
Treatment with Nigella sativa significantly reduced body weight and body mass index. Serum concentrations of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and anti-thyroid peroxidase (anti-TPO) antibodies decreased while serum T3 concentrations increased in Nigella sativa-treated group after 8 weeks.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema
Black cumin seeds and their purified constituents have been shown to have beneficial therapeutic potential for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
It has been reported that essential oil extracted from Nigella sativa (L.) seeds and its main constituents inhibit human neutrophil elastase, and the highest inhibitory concentration caused total inhibition.
This compound could be considered as a natural anti-elastase agent and a possible candidate for phytotherapy in the treatment of injuries that appear in some pathologic cases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.
Weight loss and obesity
Weight reducing effects of Nigella sativa has been observed in previous studies; Zaoui A reported a significant reduction in body weight in rats after 6 weeks treatment with Nigella sativa fixed oil.
In other study 3 month supplementation with 1.5 g per day of powdered Nigella sativa in central obese men significantly reduced body weight.
Asthma is one of the conditions that has traditionally been treated with Nigella sativa for centuries and by different cultures.
Nowadays, preliminary research, also suggests that black cumin seed oil may offer benefits to people with asthma. For example, a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2017, found that people with asthma who took black seed oil capsules had a significant improvement in asthma control compared with those who took a placebo.
There is extensive literary evidence demonstrating the antimicrobial activity of N.sativa.
Black cumin seeds have antimicrobial effects against different pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, schistosom and fungus. Specially, it has a strong antibacterial activity against all the strains of L monocytogenes, yielding a significantly greater inhibition zone than that of gentamicin.
Thynoquinone constituent (TQ) has antibacterial activity that could be potentiated by antibiotics especially in case of Staph. aureus.
In a study the antibacterial effect of TQ and HQ against Esch coli, Pseudo. aeruginosa, Shigella flexneri, Salmonella typhimurium, Salmonella enteritidis and Staph. aureus was investigated.
Staph. aureus, was very susceptible to TQ, as, 3 and 6 µg/ml were sufficient to inhibit and kill the bacteria respectively.
Thymoquinone acts as a free radical scavenger and helps preserve in the body the most powerful antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase and glutathione-S-transferase, known as key detoxifiers, which protect body cells and liver against damage caused by various toxins.
Apart from thymoquinone, several other compounds found in Nigella sativa such as carvacrol, t-anethole and 4-terpineol, are responsible for its potent antioxidant properties.
Researchers found that black cumin seed oil improved sperm count, sperm motility and semen volume in men.
According to a scientific review of studies that took place between 2000 and 2014, Nigella sativa can positively influence sperm parameters, semen, reproductive organs and sexual hormones. It also helps women to recover from PCOS (caused by insulin resistance), the most frequent cause of infertility in women.
A study published in Immunological Investigations in 2016, was carried out in 43 women with mild-to-moderate rheumatoid arthritis.
They took black seed oil capsules or a placebo every day for one month.
The research showed that treatment with black seed oil led to a reduction in arthritis symptoms, blood levels of inflammatory markers, and the number of swollen joints.
Benefits for skin
Several research articles on the effects of N. sativa and its ingredients strongly indicate its pharmacological potential in dermatology.
However, standard methods of drug development are needed to formulate topical therapy for use in dermatology.
Black cumin seed oil has shown positive results in skin conditions such as: wound healing, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, vitiligo and skin cancer and percutaneous absorption.
On the other hand, Nigella sativa oil is also helpful as a cosmetic ingredient. Its anti-aging, moisturizing, mitigating, and protective effects, are mainly due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.
In a clinical study (Abdul-Ameer and Al-Harchan, 2010), N. sativa oil lotion 10% significantly reduced mean lesion count of papules and pustules after 2 months of therapy.
Results showed that in the test group, the response to treatment was graded as good in 58%, moderate in 35% and no response in 7%.
The satisfaction of patients with treatment was found to be full in 67%, partial in 28%, and no satisfaction in 5%.
While in the control group, the lesions showed no significant reduction after 2 months and the response to treatment was good in 8%, moderate in 34%, and no response in 58%.
The satisfaction of patients with treatment in this group was full in 8%, partial in 24%, and no satisfaction in 68%.
There were no side effects in the group treated with black cumin oil lotion 10%. The authors attributed the results to the antimicrobial, immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects of N. sativa oil.
In a randomized double blind clinical study, patients applied Nigella sativa oil to lesions of vitiligo twice daily for 6 months had a significant decrease in the vitiligo area scoring index with no significant side effects.
For detailed information about skin benefits you can visit the following article: Dermatological effects of Nigella sativa.
Black cumin oil has a comedogenic level of 2 and is recommended for mature, dry and acne prone skin. However, when mixed with another oil (less comedogenic) such as hemp seed, fig seed, barbary fig seed, argan, etc. It can be used by any skin type without the risk of clogging pores.
Among its effects after continued use we will notice:
- Smaller pore size.
- Less inflammation.
- Decreased acne and clogged pores.
- Attenuation of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Fading of dark spots and discoloration.
- Skin with greater elasticity.
- Luminosity and firmness.
- Balanced facial sebum production.
Warnings and considerations when using Black Cumin Seed Oil
Unfortunately, there is not enough information about the safety of long-term use of black cumin seed oil when used in amounts higher than what is normally found in food. However, excessive and abusive consumption of any substance is generally not favorable to our health.
According to a report, the component of black seed oil known as melanthin may be toxic in larger amounts.
Applying black seed oil directly to the skin may cause an allergic skin rash (known as allergic contact dermatitis) in some individuals.
Cutaneous side effects
Contact dermatitis developed after the application of ointment made from the N. sativa seed oil but it could have been due to some impurity in the commercial black seed oil (Zedlitz et al., 2002).
Bullous drug eruption with sub-epidermal detachment and necrosis of the epidermal surface has been reported in a 53-year-old woman after 2 weeks of applying N. sativa oil to her skin and ingesting it as well.
Black seed oil may slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding. If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking medication that affects blood clotting, you should not take black cumin seed oil.
There is some concern that taking too much black seed oil may harm your liver and kidneys.
It is possible that black seed oil may interact with many common medications, such as beta-blockers and warfarin (Coumadin).
You should stop oral consumption of black seed oil at least two weeks before scheduled surgery.
Breastfeeding women, pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, should not use black seed oil due to the lack of information about its effects.
Be sure to talk with your doctor if you are considering taking black seed oil.
You should not stop any of your medication without speaking with your doctor, or delay or avoid conventional treatment.
Where to Buy Black Cumin Seed Oil
Nigella sativa oil is widely available for purchase online, it is sold in many natural-foods shops and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.
Black seed oil should always be bought from a very reputable source. Numerous scientific studies have shown that Egyptian black seed oil has the highest therapeutic quality.
Most black seed oil commonly comes from India. Freshness and purity varies greatly.
Black seed oil should always be freshly pressed and kept in amber glass out of direct sunlight. The aroma and taste should be very pungent.
If you can not reach a trusted naturist or herbalist shop near you, here are some recommendation for you:
First, I highly recommend one of my favorite so far, StarWest Botanicals:
Our Organic Black Cumin Seed Oil is cold pressed from the organic seed of Nigella sativa, thus retaining its valuable nutrients. This remarkable “black seed” has had a very rich traditional history over the centuries, containing over 100 compounds, including vitamins, trace elements, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. It has a spicy, pungent, nutty flavor and aroma with notes of black peppercorns. Shop here.
Preserving Oils: Do not forget to store your oil in a cool, dry place, and avoid direct sunlight and heat. If stored improperly for long periods of time, the oils may become rancid. They have a minimum 2 year shelf life when stored properly. When making products with vegetable oils, you can also add 2% Vitamin E Oil to act as a natural preservative.