Black Cumin

Twenty species of annuals belong to this Eurasian genus, which occurs mainly on rocky ground, and wasteland, and fallow fields. Several are grown as ornamentals and for dried floral arrangements. Most important as an herb is Nigella sativa (Black Cumin, Kalaunji), which in the Old Testament is referred to as "fitches" from the Hebrew ketzah, "Vetch". Black cumin is a popular spice in India, Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East (especially in Egypt and Tunisia). The seeds have a spicy, fruity taste and were important as a seasoning before the introduction of Pepper (Piper nigrum) to Europe from SE Asia in the 5th century CE. As a medicinal herb it has a long history of use in Islamic medicine, and is especially important in Unani medicine. According to the prophet Mohammed, black cumin is a cure for all diseases except old age. Nigella sativa should not be confused with N. damascena (love-in-a-mist), the familiar garden annual. The two species look similar but have no uses in common. Essential oil is distilled from N. damascena for lipsticks and perfumery. Nigella is the diminutive of the Latin niger, "black", referring to the black seeds.

Erect, branched annual with pinnately divided leaves, 2-3cm (¾-1¼in) long. Small, white, blue-tinged flowers, to 4.5cm (1¾in) across, appear in summer, followed by inflated fruits with horn-like styles, containing aromatic black seeds.

Common Name:
Black Cumin
Other Names:
Fennel Flower, Kalaunji, Kammun aswad
Botanical Name:
Nigella Sativa
Native Location:
SW Asia
Well-drained soil in sun
By seed sown in situ in autumn or spring.
Seeds are collected when ripe and dried for oil extraction; used whole or ground, or in infusions.
30cm (12in)
23cm (9in)
Parts Used:
Seeds, oil
An aromatic, laxative herb that stimulates the uterus, increases lactation, benefits the digestion, reduces inflammation, and expels intestinal worms.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for painful menstruation, postpartum contractions, insufficient lactation, poor appetite, fevers (especially intermittent), and worms (especially in children). Externally for abscesses, hemorrhoids, skin diseases, and orchitis. Contraindicated during pregnancy.
Culinary Uses:
Seeds flavor bread, pastries, curries, meat, chutneys, sauces, vegetable dishes, Middle Eastern fermented foods, and cheeses.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp 288-289