Biochemical Composition and Traditional Uses of Black Cumin

By Attiqa Rahman

commonly known as Black Cumin is an annual herb possessing a wide range of medicinal uses not withstanding its commercial significance as a spice yielding plant


Nigella sativa L.                                                       

 (Family: Ranunculaceae)

commonly known as Black Cumin is an annual herb possessing a wide range of medicinal uses not withstanding its commercial significance as a spice yielding plant . Black cumin seeds are most revered (Holy herb of the Middle East can heal every disease except death – Islamic prophet Mohammad; stimulates body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue and dispiritedness – The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna; included in the list of natural drugs of ‘Tibb-eNabavi’; valuable remedy for number of diseases – Unani Tibb system of medicine) medicinally. WHO (World Health Organization) is providing emphasis on the exploration of medicinal plant species for benefit of human care system. Emphasis has been laid mainly on scientific information, on the safety, efficacy, quality control / quality assurance, dosage, toxicity description of the plant species, therapeutic uses, clinical trials, drug interactions amongst other but genetic resources and its induction must also be taken into consideration for significant utilization of a plant species under consideration. Effective utilization of N. sativa for therapeutic purposes as well as for trade will vastly depend upon yield (raw plant product- seeds; bioactive compounds- essential oil) and its quality. Existing germplasms may not substantiate the need for future, if not, at present. Therefore, it is of utmost essentiality to raise desirable plant type(s) in N. sativa through induced genetic variations and efficient breeding endeavour. Considering nearly all essential aspects of N. sativa, a monograph is conducted with the laid formulation of WHO as well as with other significant parameters which will provide unabridged repository of references for present and future researchers who are looking to eugenize the species as a ‘potential medicinal herb’ for human benefits.                                 

Biochemical constituents;

Constituents of N. sativa seeds are

  • Fixed oil – 32 to 40% (saturated fatty acids- about 30%; palmitic acid, stearic and myristic acid; unsaturated fatty acids: arachidonic, eicosadienoic – 3%, linoleic – 50 to 60%; oleic acid – 20%; dihomolinoleic fatty acids – 10%)
  • Volatile oil- 0.4 to 0.45% (nigellone, thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone, dithymoquinone, thymol, carvacrol, Į and ȕ-pinene, dlimonene, d-citrlnellol, p-cymene)
  • Proteins ,9% (arginine, glutamic acid, leucine, lysine, methionine, tyrosine, proline, threonine)
  • Minerals 1.79-3.74% (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, iron)
  • Carbohydrate 33.9%, fibre 5.50%
  • Water 6.0%.

Apart from physical constants: 2% w/w, foreign matter; 6% w/w, total ash; 0.2% w/w, acid insoluble ash; 20% w/w, alcohol soluble extractive; 15% w/w, water soluble extractive; 3.91% w/w organic matter; 4% w/w, loss on drying. The seeds contain carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in liver . Acetylated triterpene saponin (penta hydroxyl pentocyclic triterpene) has been isolated from the species .

Traditional applications of black cumin seed;

Black cumin has many nutritional and pharmaceutical uses. The seed can be added to tea, coffee, casseroles or breads, used in canning, or extracted in wine or vinegar. The ground seed could be mixed with honey or sprinkled on salads. In addition, most people seeking the benefits of black cumin take the oil in capsule form. However, some people use the oil externally, for beauty as well as for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. A mixture of oil with beeswax can be used for burns, skin infections, moisturisers, joint pain reliever, or an anti-wrinkle agent. In addition, black cumin seeds are extensively used as natural remedy and the seeds are extensively used as spice, carminative, condiment and aromatic .Traditionally, they have been used as diuretic, diaphoretic, stomachic, liver tonic and digestive. As a confection with other ingredients, they are used in diarrhoea, indigestion, dyspepsia and sour belching as well as a breath deodorizer. The seeds are given with buttermilk to cure obstinate hiccups and are also useful in loss of appetite, vomiting, dropsy and puerperal diseases. In different combinations with other ingredients, the seeds have been used in obesity and dyspnoea. They have anti-bilious property and are administered internally in intermittent fevers. The herb has been regarded as a valuable remedy in hepatic and digestive disorders as well as stimulant in a variety of conditions ascribed to cold humours. They have also been used in chronic headache and migraine. They have been useful in mercury poisoning, sores and leprosy. Brayed in water, its application removes swellings from hands and feet. Black cumin seed is also used externally in leucoderma, alopecia, eczema, freckles and pimples. The seeds have also been used as anthelmintic and antibacterial agent.