Also known as “nigella,” black cumin seed comes from the Nigella sativa plant. In the same family as the buttercup, Nigella sativa produces fruits and, of course, seeds, which have been used for their medicinal and culinary value for centuries.
Black cumin seeds have been referred to as “one of the most treasured nutrient-rich herbs in history” and that’s no exaggeration. (3) Besides being a great source of protein, fat and fiber, black cumin seeds are also rich in amino acids and contain significant levels of essential nutrients like iron, copper, zinc, phosphorus, calcium, thiamin, niacin, pyridoxine, and folic acid. (4) And that’s not it, either. They also contain high amounts of plant compounds, including alkaloids, saponins, sterols, and essential oils that may also contribute to their health benefits.
Black cumin seeds are frequently used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines and you can find them in curries, lentil dishes, and even breads and pastries.
When it comes to the health benefits of black cumin seeds, there’s a lot to cover. They’ve been used for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments and have exhibited a bunch of different healing properties. According to a study published in the Journal of International Food Science and Technology, “The black cumin oil seed had been shown to be anticancer, antidiabetic, antiradical and immunomodulator, analgesic, antimicrobial, anti‐inflammatory, spasmolytic, bronchodilator, hepatoprotective, antihypertensive and renal protective.” (4) That’s a pretty impressive list, isn’t it?
Their healing properties are, at least in large part, thanks to one compound in particular, called thymoquinone. Studies have found that thymoquinone is “medicinally very effective against chronic illnesses like neurological and mental illness, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, and infertility as well as various infectious diseases due to bacterial, fungal, parasitic, and viral infections.” (5)
When it comes to the benefits of black cumin seeds, the list seems to get more impressive the harder you look.
One of the most exciting benefits of black cumin seeds is their ability to fight off infections of all kinds. For example, one study showed that black cumin seed applied to infants with a staph infection was as effective as standard antibiotic treatments (6); another study showed that black cumin seed was effective at reducing hepatitis C virus viral load. (7)
If you’re a frequent reader of my blog or books, you know that inflammation is at the center of every major health condition in the world. And that’s why black cumin seed’s anti-inflammatory properties are worth highlighting. One study showed that black cumin seed oil taken daily for 8 weeks reduced markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in humans with rheumatoid arthritis. (8) Another study on 42 people showed that black cumin seed was protective against and suppressed inflammation. (9) And finally, a study on liver damage found that black cumin seed had protective effects on the liver thanks to its ability to reduce inflammation and lower oxidative stress. (10)
Hopefully, the last three sections of this article were enough to convince you that black cumin seeds should definitely be on your radar. But the next question is: How do you get them in your diet?
Black cumin seeds have a bitter taste — think somewhere between cumin and oregano — and Lisa Braman, in an article for the Smithsonian Magazine, wrote that to her, “they taste like the bits of burned onion, poppy and sesame seeds that fall off of a toasted everything bagel.”
The best way to use them in the kitchen is to lightly toast them (to release the essential oils) and either grind them and add them to dishes like curries, soups, smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt. Or, simply toss them in whole. You can also find black cumin seed oil, which can be added to dishes, taken plain, or even used directly on the skin.
I always recommend a food-first approach to natural ingredients, but if you don’t like the taste of black cumin seed, you can also find it in capsule-form. That way, you take them like any other supplement and not have to incorporate it into your meals at all.
Nature provides so much of what we need. It’s our job to pay attention and make sure we’re filling our plates with high-nutrient, healing foods. Black cumin seeds are the perfect example of how to take your meal to a whole new level of healthy.
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