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 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 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.
The dry-roasted 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. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.
Archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa "is still scanty", but N. sativa seeds were found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb. Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BCE.
N. sativa may have been used as a condiment of the Old World to flavor food. The Persian physician, Avicenna, in his Canon of Medicine, described N. sativa as a treatment for shortness of breath (or dyspnea).
Preliminary studies have investigated claims from traditional medicine that N. sativa has efficacy as a therapy, mainly using the seed oil extract, volatile oil, and isolated constituent thymoquinone. One meta-analysis of clinical trials found weak evidence that N. sativa has a short-term benefit on lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and another found limited evidence that various extracts of black seed can reduce triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol.
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- Bunium persicum - (Boiss.) B.Fedtsch. Common Name Black Caraway
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- Sahebkar A, Beccuti G, Simental-Mendía LE, et al. (2016). "Nigella sativa (black seed) effects on plasma lipid concentrations in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials". Pharmacol Res. 106: 37–50. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2016.02.008. PMID 26875640.
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