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Nigella sativa

Nigella sativa is an annual flowering plant, native to south and southwest Asia. It grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds. The seed is used as a spice.


The scientific name is a derivative of Latin niger (black).[2]

Common names[edit]

In English, Nigella sativa seed is variously called fennel flower,[3] nutmeg flower,[3] black caraway,[3] Roman coriander,[3] and black cumin.[3] Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are onion seed and black sesame, both of which are similar-looking, but unrelated.[citation needed] Blackseed and black caraway may also refer to Bunium persicum.[4]

The seeds are frequently referred to as black cumin (as in Assamese: kaljeera or kolajeera or Bengali kalo jeeray), but black cumin (kala jeera)[clarification needed] is different from Nigella sativa (kali jeeri).[citation needed] In Kannada, it is called [ಕೃಷ್ಣ ಜೀರಿಗೆ] Krishna jeerige, but this is also used for a different spice, Bunium persicum.

It is used as part of the spice mixture paanch phoran or panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and by itself in a great many recipes in Bengali cookery and most recognizably in naan bread.[5]

The Turkish name çörek otu literally means "bun's herb" from its use in flavouring the çörek buns. Such braided-dough buns are widespread in the cuisines of Turkey and its neighbours (see Tsoureki τσουρέκι). In Bosnian, the Turkish name for N. sativa is spelled as čurekot. The seed is used in Bosnia, and particularly its capital Sarajevo, to flavour pastries (Bosnian: somun) often baked on Muslim religious holidays.

The Arabic approbation about Bunium bulbocastanum (kaala jeera) hebbit il barakah, meaning the "seed of blessing" is also applied to N. sativa (kali jeeri).


Nigella sativa has a pungent bitter taste and smell. It is used primarily in confectionery and liquors. Peshawari naan is, as a rule, topped with kalonji seeds. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.


According to Zohary and Hopf, archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa "is still scanty", but they report supposed N. sativa seeds have been found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb.[6] Although its exact role in Egyptian culture is unknown, it is known that items entombed with a pharaoh were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.

The earliest written reference to N. sativa is thought to be in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the reaping of nigella and wheat is contrasted (Isaiah 28: 25, 27). Easton's Bible dictionary states the Hebrew word ketsah refers to N. sativa without doubt (although not all translations are in agreement). According to Zohary and Hopf, N. sativa was another traditional condiment of the Old World during classical times; and its black seeds were extensively used to flavour food.[6]

Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from second millennium BCE.[7]

Traditional medicine[edit]

In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum) is regarded as a valuable remedy for a number of diseases.[8] In Islamic writing, a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah says "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, 'There is healing in black seed (haba sowda) for all diseases except death.'"[9]

Nestlé has reportedly filed a patent application covering use of N. sativa as a food allergy treatment.[10] Yet the firm denies the claim of patenting the plant, stating that the patent would only cover "the specific way that thymoquinone - a compound that can be extracted from the seed of the fennel flower - interacts with opioid receptors in the body and helps to reduce allergic reactions to food".[11]


Nigella sativa oil contains an abundance of conjugated linoleic (18:2) acid, thymoquinone, nigellone (dithymoquinone),[12] melanthin, nigilline, damascenine, and tannins. Melanthin is toxic in large doses and nigelline is paralytic, so this spice must be used in moderation.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". 
  2. ^ New International Encyclopedia
  3. ^ a b c d e "USDA GRIN Taxonomy". 
  4. ^ Bunium persicum - (Boiss.) B.Fedtsch. Common Name Black Caraway
  5. ^ Indian Naan with Nigella Seeds Recipe
  6. ^ a b Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria (2000). Domestication of plants in the Old World (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 206. ISBN 0-19-850356-3. 
  7. ^ http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2009.05.039
  8. ^ [unreliable source?]Sunan Ibn Majah. 
  9. ^ [non-primary source needed]"71". Sahih Bukhari 7. 592. 
  10. ^ Hammond, Edward (2012). "Food giant Nestlé claims to have invented stomach soothing use of habbat al-barakah (Nigella sativa)". Briefing Paper. Third World Network. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "Is Nestlé trying to patent the fennel flower?", www.nestle.com.
  12. ^ Mohammad Hossein Boskabady, Batool Shirmohammadi (2002). "Effect of Nigella Sativa on Isolated Guinea Pig Trachea". Arch Iranian Med 5 (2): 103–107. 


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