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Nigella sativa (Kalonji or simply Nigella) is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, 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 which are used as spice, sometimes as a replacement for original black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).
The scientific name is a derivative of Latin niger (black).
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.
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. 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 flavor food.
Seeds of Nigella sativa have 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.
Nestlé has reportedly filed a patent application covering use of N. sativa as a food allergy treatment. Nestlé claims that the patent would 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".
Preliminary human research
In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin (Carum bulbocastanum) is regarded as a valuable remedy for a number of diseases. In Islamic writing, a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah says "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, 'There is healing in black seed (al-ḥabbah al-sawdāʼ) for all diseases except death.'"
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- Banerjee S, Padhye S, Azmi A, Wang Z, Philip PA, Kucuk O, Sarkar FH, Mohammad RM (2010). "Review on molecular and therapeutic potential of thymoquinone in cancer". Nutr Cancer 62 (7): 938–46. doi:10.1080/01635581.2010.509832. PMID 20924969.
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