(NaturalNews) Black Cumin, or Nigella sativa, is one the most revered medicinal seeds in history. Black cumin seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and they are mentioned in the Bible as well as in the words of the Prophet Mohammed. Today they are used for a wide variety of conditions including cancer, immune disorders, asthma, digestive disorders and much more.
The famous Greek physician Dioscorides used black cumin seeds to treat headaches and toothaches. Mohammed said that black cumin cures every disease but death itself. The reason might be found in the complex chemical structure of the seeds. These little seeds have over one hundred different chemical constituents, including abundant sources of all the essential fatty acids. It is the oil that is most often used medicinally, but the whole seeds, which are a bit spicy, are often used whole in cooking-curries, pastries, and Mediterranean cheeses.
Although black cumin seed has been used medicinally for at least 3,000 years, until about 40 years ago it was not well understood and lightly researched. Since that time, more than 200 studies have been conducted in universities and other research facilities which have shown that compounds from the seeds show that they boost the production of bone marrow, natural interferon, and immune cells, helping to fight off diseases. Several of the studies have shown that black cumin seed extract could assist individuals with autoimmune disorders, and could possibly help to fight cancer as well.
The first major study of Nigella sativa in cancer prevention and treatment was performed by scientists at Cancer Immuno-Biology Laboratory of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. They concluded that a healthy immune system will detect and destroy cancer cells before the cancer endangers the patient. The immune system does this by supporting increased production of immune cells, bone marrow cells, and B-cells that produce antibodies. Black cumin stimulates neutrophil activity. These are the short-lived immune cells that are normally found in bone marrow but mobilized into action when there is a bacterial infection. Extracts of black cumin have also been shown to modulate production of interleukins, a quality it shares with some other highly revered herbs: ginseng, astragalus, mistletoe, garlic, and cat's claw.
In animal studies, while none of the subjects in the control group survived, two-thirds of the mice that had been given black cumin seed oil were still alive 30 days after deliberate efforts to cause cancer in the subject groups. Black cumin is particularly useful in aggressive cancers whose growth depends on angiogenesis.
In vitro studies performed in Jordan and the United States have determined that the volatile oil is anti-leukemic. Studies performed in Spain as well as England found that the fixed oil is useful in the treatment of rheumatism and other inflammatory diseases. This property is attributed to thymoquinone which is as high as 25% in the Egyptian seed and missing entirely is some seeds.
One of the more recent studies on black cumin seed oil demonstrated that it was effective against the very difficult pancreatic cancer - one of a very few botanicals that have shown such effectiveness (the other most notable one is oleander extract).
In 1996, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a medicine incorporating an extract of black cumin seeds for immune system support. Naturopaths sometimes recommend regular doses of black cumin seeds to patients with weakened immune systems, as the whole seeds have been shown to boost the immune system.
Black cumin extract has a reputation for exceptional results in treating allergies and asthma. These two ailments are known to react to the extract rather speedily unless there is an infection, in which case, the infection should be done away with before treatment. If the black cumin seed is used regularly for a period of six months or more, the typical results are obvious. The extract has also been shown to regulate the production of lymphokines that play a role in cell-mediated immunity. Black cumin seeds mixed with honey and garlic are excellent tonics for people with asthma or coughs as well as those who want to enhance their immunity during cold and flu season or when an infection is setting in.
Black cumin seeds have been used for centuries in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and India to treat a variety of ailments, and have been adopted for homeopathic use in Europe and other nations as well. Both the seeds and potent extracts can be found for sale in natural food stores, and doctors who practice complementary alternative medicine may prescribe them for a wide variety of conditions. The unique nutritional composition of black cumin seeds, which includes numerous essential fatty acids, appears to support the immune system, improve the skin, help with respiratory ailments, and address digestive conditions.
The seeds of the black cumin plant have very little aroma but are carminative, meaning they tend to aid digestion and relieve gases in the stomach and intestines. They aid peristalsis and elimination. The essential oil of black cumin is antimicrobial and helps to rid the intestines of worms. The plant on which black cumin seeds grow is a member of the buttercup family. They are not related to the common cooking herb, cumin, from the Cuminum cyminum plant, although the two look similar. Black cumin seeds are very dark, thin, and crescent shaped when whole. They are available for cooking use in many Middle Eastern and Indian supply stores, but seeds designated for cooking may not be as potent or as pure as seeds intended for medicinal use. In some regional cuisines, they are also used in cooking, as they add a unique nutty flavor to food and appear to have health benefits.
Black cumin seeds are small. They can be used to make tea by simply pouring hot water over the seeds and letting the brew steep for 10 minutes, about a tablespoon makes a nice cup of tea, but it is better to keep the cup covered until ready to drink so as to prevent the aroma from escaping. Some people add a few seeds to their favorite tea or coffee and allow their imaginations to conjure up images of camels and nomads. The seeds can also be added to casseroles or breads, used in canning, or extracted in wine or vinegar. Some people grind the seeds and mix them with honey or sprinkle them on salads. They make a nice addition to salad dressings and even stir fry dishes, especially when combined with lemon, cilantro, and tahini.
Black cumin plants are native to the western parts of Asia. It is grown both in the wild and cultivated on farms. Egypt, India and the Middle East also produce this medicinally revered herb. The best seeds come from Egypt where they grow under almost perfect conditions in oases where they are watered until the seed pods form. Other names for black cumin extract are nigella, Black Caraway, Black Cumin, Damascena, Devil in-the-bush, Fennel flower, Melanthion, Nutmeg Flower, Roman Coriander, and Wild Onion Seed. (Note: Some of those same names are also used for other plants. This article refers ONLY to Nigella sativa black cumin.)
Most people seeking the benefits of black cumin take the oil in capsule form. Over a period of time, usually a few months, the hair and fingernails are strengthened and have more luster. However, some people use the oil externally, for beauty as well as for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. One can buy a ready-made cream, add some oil to a favorite cream, or make one's own cream from scratch by warming equal parts (by volume) of black cumin seeds and a nice carrier oil, like shea butter or jojoba. It's best to use a double boiler or be lazy (like me) and use a yogurt maker because the temperature is very even so you can safely ignore the process for hours. The oil will darken. When you feel this has been warmed long enough, melt a little beeswax into the warm oil. Stir it with a glass rod or new chopstick. If you like, you can add an essential oil or combination of oils just before the beeswax stiffens. Choose this for aesthetic or health reasons. Some people use such mixtures on burns or skin infections; some just use these creams to feel good, moisturize the skin, relieve joint or pain, or make wrinkles vanish.
Many combine vinegar and oil. In this case, mix one cup of black cumin seeds in organic apple cider vinegar. Let this sit anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Then, strain the mixture, first through a conventional strainer, then through a finer filter, like cheesecloth or a chemical-free coffee filter or tea bag. Mix the remainder with equal parts black cumin vinegar and black cumin oil. Heat this for a few minutes and then put into a mason jar and refrigerate. Apply this to problem skin such as areas with acne or take one tablespoon before meals for flatulence and digestive problems.
With a seed containing so many constituents and having such a long ethnobotanical history, it is not surprising that many throughout the Mediterranean and Asia believe that black cumin is basically good for all that ails us. However, the claims are not outrageously far-fetched if one considers how complete the seeds are in terms of their many chemical constituents, especially the major essential acids which make up the bulk of black cumin seed oil.
Black Cumin Seed Oil Composition:
oleic acid - 49%
linoleic acid - 38%
linolenic acid - 2%
Since black cumin is regarded by many as a virtual cure-all, it may not be taken seriously by some, but for those inclined to dismiss folklore, it should be noted that these humble seeds have been found superior to almost every other natural remedy when used for autoimmune disorders, conditions in which patients suffer greatly because their own systems attack their bodies. Black cumin, especially when combined with garlic, is regarded as a harmonizer of the imbalance which allows immune cells to destroy healthy cells. The technical language to describe this property is "immunomodulatory action." The difference between black cumin and interferon is that there are no known side effects with black cumin when administered in normal dosages. The saying goes that the beauty of black cumin is their capacity to restore harmony.
NOTE: More than one plant is often called "Black Cumin". Only the genuine Nigella sativa is referred to in this article.