Nigella sativa

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Nigella sativa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae
Genus: Nigella
Species: N. sativa
Binomial name
Nigella sativa
  • Nigella cretica Mill.
Nigella sativa - MHNT

Nigella sativa (black-caraway,[2] also known as nigella or kalonji), often called black cumin,[3][4] is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to south and southwest Asia.

Nigella sativa 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 colored pale blue and white, with five to ten petals.

The black caraway 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 black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).


The scientific name is a derivative of Latin niger (black).[5]

Common names[edit]

In English, Nigella sativa and its seed are variously called black-caraway, black-cumin, fennel-flower, nigella, nutmeg-flower, Roman-coriander,[3] and kalonji (from Hindi).[6] Synonymously, it may be referred to as thymoquinone after its principal extract under preliminary research for several possible effects in humans.[6]

Blackseed and black caraway may also refer to Bunium persicum.[7]

Culinary uses[edit]

Nigella sativa seed

The seeds of Nigella sativa are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. The black seeds taste like a combination of onions, black pepper and oregano. They have a pungent bitter taste and smell.[6]

The dry-roasted nigella seeds flavor curries, vegetables and pulses. It can be used as a "pepper" in recipes with pod fruit, vegetables, salads and poultry. In some cultures, the black seeds are used to flavor bread products. It is also used as part of the spice mixture panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and by itself in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in naan bread.[8] 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.[9] 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.[9]

Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BCE.[10]


Nigella sativa oil contains conjugated linoleic (18:2) acid, thymoquinone, nigellone (dithymoquinone),[11] melanthin, nigilline, and trans-anethole.[6]

In 2010, Nestlé filed a patent application for use of extracted thymoquinone from N. sativa as a food allergy treatment.[12] Nestlé states 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".[13][14]

Preliminary human research[edit]

Mainly for its seed oil extract, thymoquinone, N. sativa is under research for its potential to affect human diseases,[15] such as cancer or dyspepsia,[16][17] although studies to date remain insufficient to understand its potential for clinical efficacy.


  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". 
  2. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17. 
  3. ^ a b "USDA GRIN Taxonomy". 
  4. ^ Heiss, Andreas (December 2005). "The oldest evidence of Nigella damascena L. (Ranunculaceae) and its possible introduction to central Europe". Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 14 (4): 562–570. Retrieved 13 December 2015 – via JSTOR. (registration required (help)). 
  5. ^ New International Encyclopedia
  6. ^ a b c d Bharat B Aggarwal. Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Spices. Google Books. p. 259. ISBN 978-981-4468-95-4. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Bunium persicum - (Boiss.) B.Fedtsch. Common Name Black Caraway
  8. ^ Bramen L (16 February 2011). "Nigella Seeds: What the Heck Do I Do with Those?". The Smithsonian Online. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Saliha B, Sipahib T, Oybak Dönmez, E (2009). "Ancient nigella seeds from Boyalı Höyük in north-central Turkey". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 124 (3): 416–20. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2009.05.039. 
  11. ^ Mohammad Hossein Boskabady, Batool Shirmohammadi (2002). "Effect of Nigella Sativa on Isolated Guinea Pig Trachea" (PDF). Arch Iranian Med 5 (2): 103–107. 
  12. ^ Nutten S, Philippe D, Mercenier A, Duncker S; Nestec SA (18 May 2010). "Patent application: Opioid receptors stimulating compounds (thymoquinone, nigella sativa) and food allergy; WO 2010133574 A1". Google Patents Database. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  13. ^ "Is Nestlé trying to patent the fennel flower?". Nestlé. 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  14. ^ "Nestle defends plant patenting as 300,000 protest"., William Reed Business Media. 15 November 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  15. ^ Ali BH, Blunden G (2003). "Pharmacological and toxicological properties of Nigella sativa". Phytother Res 17 (4): 299–305. doi:10.1002/ptr.1309. PMID 12722128. 
  16. ^ 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. PMC 4167365. PMID 20924969. 
  17. ^ "Efficacy and safety of honey based formulation of Nigella sativa seed oil in functional dyspepsia: A double blind randomized controlled clinical trial.". J Ethnopharmacol. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.09.022. PMID 26386381. 

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