In English, Nigella sativa seed is variously called kalonji, fennel flower, nutmeg flower, black caraway, and Roman coriander. Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are black cumin, onion seed and black sesame. Synonymously, it may be referred to as thymoquinone after its principal extract under preliminary research for several possible effects in humans. Blackseed and black caraway may also refer to Bunium persicum.
Nigella is used as part of the spice mixture paanch phoran or panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and by itself in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in naan bread.
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. 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.
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.
In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin is regarded as a valuable remedy for a number of diseases. Sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad underline the significance of black cumin. According to a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, he says, "I have heard the Messenger of Allah, saying that the black granules (kalonji) is the remedy for all diseases except death."
The seeds have been traditionally used in the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries for a variety of ailments. In modern Marrakech, nigella seeds are sold in small bundles to be rubbed until warm, when they emit an aroma which opens clogged sinuses in the way that do eucalyptus or Vicks.
Thymoquinone, found in the seed oil extract of N. sativa, has been shown to have anti-neoplastic effects in rats and mice and in cultured human cells from several types of cancer, including pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. It has protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and promotes apoptosis (cell death) of the cancer cells.
Black seed has been researched for very specific health conditions. Some of the most compelling applications include:
Type 2 Diabetes: Two grams of black seed a day resulted in reduced fasting glucose, decreased insulin resistance, increased beta-cell function, and reduced glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in human subjects.
Helicobacter Pylori Infection: Black seeds possess clinically useful anti-H. pylori activity, comparable to triple eradication therapy.
Epilepsy: Black seeds were traditionally known to have anticonvulsive properties. A 2007 study with epileptic children, whose condition was refractory to conventional drug treatment, found that a water extract significantly reduced seizure activity.
High Blood pressure: The daily use of 100 and 200 mg of black seed extract, twice daily, for 2 months, was found to have a blood pressure-lowering effect in patients with mild hypertension.
Asthma: Thymoquinone, one of the main active constituents within Nigella sativa (black cumin), is superior to the drug fluticasone in an animal model of asthma. Another study, this time in human subjects, found that boiled water extracts of black seed have relatively potent antiasthmatic effect on asthmatic airways.
Acute tonsillopharyngitis: characterized by tonsil or pharyngeal inflammation (i.e. sore throat), mostly viral in origin, black seed capsules (in combination with Phyllanthus niruri) have been found to significantly alleviate throat pain, and reduce the need for pain-killers, in human subjects.
Chemical Weapons Injury: A randomized, placebo-controlled human study of chemical weapons injured patients found that boiled water extracts of black seed reduced respiratory symptoms, chest wheezing, and pulmonary function test values, as well as reduced the need for drug treatment.
Colon Cancer: Cell studies have found that black seed extract compares favorably to the chemoagent 5-fluoruracil in the suppression of colon cancer growth, but with a far higher safety profile. Animal research has found that black seed oil has significant inhibitory effects against colon cancer in rats, without observable side effects.
MRSA: Black seed has anti-bacterial activity against clinical isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.