History of nigella sativa (black seed)

Nigella sativa is an extraordinarily versatile, therapeutic herb that has documented evidence of its use going back approximately 4,000 years. Nigella sativa is a plant belonging to the ranunculus family (Ranunculaceae) and is native to Southwestern Asia, the Mediterranean, and North Africa [ref]. Due to the plant’s popularity, it is currently cultivated across the globe. Nigella sativa plants grow up to twelve inches in height, producing seeds that are used as a spice to flavor many types of cuisine and as a herbal remedy with an extensive list of possible benefits.

The seeds are mostly used in an oil and span a very extensive list of benefits. This is one simple, yet powerful seed. Nigella sativa oil acts as a natural remedy for everything you could think of.

Historical Documented Use of Nigella Sativa

Nigella sativa is mentioned in various old documents.

The Old Testament of the Bible

One of the earliest written references to black seed is in the Old Testament’s book of Isiah, where it is referred to as ‘ketzah’, the Hebrew word for black cumin, as is clarified in the Easton Bible Dictionary. The spice was often added to bread and cakes. Isiah compares the reaping of black cumin with wheat, stating “…for the black cumin is not threshed with a threshing sled, nor is a cartwheel rolled over the cumin, but the black cumin is beaten out with a stick, and the cumin with a rod…” (Isiah 28:25,27 NKJV).

Mentioned by the Prophet Mohammed

Narrated Khalid bin Sa`d:
Narrated Khalid bin Sa`d: “We went out and Ghalib bin Abjar was accompanying us. He fell ill on the way and when we arrived at Medina he was still sick. Ibn Abi ‘Atiq came to visit him and said to us, “Treat him with black cumin. Take five or seven seeds and crush them (mix the powder with oil) and drop the resulting mixture into both nostrils, for `Aisha has narrated to me that she heard the Prophet saying, ‘This black cumin is healing for all diseases except As-Sam.’ Aisha said, ‘What is As-Sam?’ He said, ‘Death.’” Sahih al-Bukhari 5687
Narrated Abu Huraira:
“I heard Allah’s Messenger saying, ‘There is healing in black cumin for all diseases except death.’” Sahih al-Bukhari 5688

In Tutankhamun’s tomb

Black seed was important to the Ancient Egyptians. They used it as part of the preparations for Tutankhamun’s afterlife. [ref] Black seed oil and honey with black seeds in it were found amongst the carefully chosen items that were entombed with the king. These funerary items were believed to assist the king in the afterlife.

Physicians in the time of the Pharaohs used the black seed as a remedy for colds, headaches, digestive disorders, toothaches, infections, inflammatory disorders, and allergies.

The Egyptian Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra

Both Cleopatra and Nefertiti were renown for the beauty. It is believed they relied on black cumin seed oil as part of their beauty regime.

Both Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti, renowned for their allure and beauty, are believed to have relied on the beautifying effects of black cumin seed oil.

Learn more about black seed oil benefits and its usage.

The Assyrian herbal

The Assyrian Herbal was written by R. Campbell Thompson and published in 1924 and described the different vegetable drugs used by the Assyrians. The book is a translation from medical records found on cuneiform clay tablets from the ancient Assyrian city Kouyunji situated on the Tigris River. The city was situated on one of Mesopotamia’s most important waterways.

The book documents the various uses of Nigella sativa, including its culinary and medicinal uses. For example, “…in India the Nigella is used medicinally as powder, decoction, paste, and medicated oil; it is an aromatic digestive, stomachic, emmenagogue, lactagogue, anthelmintic – given just after delivery to stimulate uterus: applied with sweet oil in skin diseases; brayed in water it removes swellings of the hands and feet. The seeds scattered between woolen shawls are used against insects.” [ref]

Ayurvedic Medicine

In Ayurvedic medicine, black seed has long been valued for its many qualities. In the tradition and typology of the three doshas, black cumin balances Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta. It is used for a variety of health conditions and disorders, such as cancer, diabetes, intestinal parasites, liver damage, anemia, and arthritis but has also been employed for unusual, more modern maladies like anorexia, certain disorders of the nervous system, and venereal disease. Because of its uterus-contracting effect, it is also administered when labor is difficult and in cases of sepsis.

Black seed oil should not be taken during pregnancy but is useful following birth because of its uterus cleansing and toning abilities.

In Ayurveda, the black cumin seeds are believed to have the following properties: acrid, bitter, thermogenic, aromatic, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, anodyne, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, deodorizing, appetite-stimulating, digestive, anthelmintic, sudorific, febrifuge, stimulant, galactagogue, and expectorant.

It is considered useful in the treatment of: skin conditions, hemorrhoids, cephalalgia, jaundice, inflammation, fever, paralysis, ophthalmic, halitosis, anorexia, dyspepsia, flatulence, diarrhea, dysentery, cough, amenorrhea, dysmenorrheal, helminthiasis (especially tapeworm), strangury, intermittent fevers, agalactia, and impaired conditions of Vata and Pitta.

German Medicinal Encyclopedias

Published in 1546, Kreutterbuch, or “Herbal”, by Hieronymous Bock, mentions “the loveliest Nigella.” Bock, who is considered a pioneer of Renaissance botany, was also a physician, herbalist, and Lutheran minister.

Jacobus Theodorus, known as Tabernaemontanus, was Bock’s student and became known as the “father of German botany.” He wrote the last of the great German encyclopedias on medicinal plants. It was called Nieuwe Kreuterbuch, or “The New Complete Herbal Book” (1588) and was reprinted throughout the 17th century. The book has detailed mentions about Nigella sativa. Nigella sativa oil was used to treat a variety of health issues, such as in getting rid of parasites, to detoxify, to heal amoebic dysentery, shigellosis, abscesses, and old tumors. Topically, it was used in the treatment of mouth ulcers. Several instances of Nigella seeds helping improve sperm count and rhinitis are also mentioned.

Mild black seed oil capsules are great for individuals that are sensitive and children equally. Also those who find it unpalatable. Ideal for starters!

Used In Naturopathic Medicine

Hippocrates (5th century B.C.) regarded Nigella sativa as a valuable remedy in hepatic and digestive disorders. In the first century, it was used extensively by Pliny the Elder who, in his “Naturalis Historia” (Natural History), refers to the herb as “Gith.” [ref]

Pliny’s list of conditions treated with black cumin includes snake bites and scorpion stings, callosities, old tumors, abscesses, and skin rashes. A series of remedies for colds and inflammation in the area of the head were also recommended. These remedies survived almost unchanged in the sizeable German medicinal plant encyclopedias of the 16th to 18th centuries.

Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Greek physician Dioscoredes described the plant but refereed to is as melanthion in his 5-volume pharmacology “De Materia Medica” that was used as a reference for healing with herbs into the Middle Ages. He used black cumin seed to treat headache, nasal congestion, toothache, and intestinal parasites.

According to Dioscoredes, the seeds were also used as a diuretic to promote menstruation and increase milk production. Dioscoredes is known as “Father of Pharmacology.” His works were hugely influential in the development of both Eastern and Western medicine.

The Muslim Scholar Al-Biruni (973-1048) composed a treatise on the origins of Indian and Chinese drugs where he mentioned that the black seed is a kind of grain called alwanak in the Sigzi dialect. This was confirmed by Suhar Bakht who referred to it as habb-i-Sajzi. The reference to black seed as “grains” points to the seed’s possible nutritional use during the 10th and 11th centuries.

The Persian physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) is the author of “The Canon of Medicine”. He claimed that black seed is suitable for:

  • Inner purification and detoxification of the body
  • Reduction of mucous and for strengthening lungs
  • Fever, coughs, colds, toothache, and headache
  • Skin conditions and wound treatment
  • Intestinal parasites and as a remedy for poisonous bites and stings

Ibn Sina described the black seed as a remedy that “stimulates the body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue or dispiritedness,”. This belief still holds true for Tibb (Islamic Medicine) health practitioners today.

The rich nutritional value of Nigella sativa, as illustrated by scientific analysis, also points to it as a great source of energy.

From the Tibb health perspective, the black seed has the capacity to restore and maintain body heat. The western diet, predominantly made up of easy foods such as pizza, cheese, processed, and refined foods deplete the natural heat our body requires in order to function optimally. Tibb holds the view that a reduced metabolic rate (innate heat) is the cause of most illnesses. The body, in losing energy, also loses its ability to fight off toxins, making it vulnerable to disease.

In the Orient, black seed is traditionally used for the treatment of gastrointestinal complaints, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, jaundice, gallstones, mental degeneration, pancreatic cancer, stimulation of kidneys and increased urine flow, infections, congestion and bronchial disorders, menstrual complaints, lactation promotion, skin parasites, as a vermicide, for obesity/weight loss, in skincare, for blood pressure control, dandruff, and hair loss.

Black cumin seed has traditionally, and successfully, been used in the Middle East and the Far East for centuries. Amongst its traditional uses are including bronchial asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism, and related inflammatory conditions. It has been used to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to treat digestive disturbances. There are also several mentions of the seed supporting the body’s immune system. It is also believed to promote digestion and eliminate and fight parasitic infestation and control blood sugar. The oil has also been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and boils while a topical application is believed to treat cold symptoms.

Modern research has served to confirm many of the herb’s medical applications. Amongst these are included old diseases as well as more modern conditions pertaining to the 21st century. Black seed is indeed a timeless remedy. [ref]

Black seed (nigella sativa) is commonly known as black cumin seed, black caraway or fennel flower in the western countries. Read black seed etymology.