What is Nigella Sativa ?
Nigella Sativa is a flowering plant, native to southwest Asia that grows to 20-30 cm tall with linear leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually colored in pale blue and white, with 5-10 petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of 3-7 united follicles, each containing numerous seeds. The seed is used as a spice. There are a lot of names given to the plant over the world.
Nigella Sativa seed is also known as Kalonji (Hindi), Kezah (Hebrew), Habbat-el-barakah (literally seeds of blessing Arabic) or Siyah Daneh (Persian). In English, it is also called Fennel Flower, Black Caraway, Nutmeg Flower or Roman Coriander. Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are Onion Seed and Black Sesame. The seeds are frequently referred to as Black Cumin; this is, however, also used for a different spice, Bunium Persicum. It is also sometimes just referred to as Nigella or Black Seed.
Nigella Sativa belongs to the Plant family of Ranunculaceae (buttercup family). Nigella seeds have little odour, but when ground or chewed they develop a vaguely oregano-like scent. The taste is aromatic and slightly bitter; It has been called “pungent” and “smoky” and even compared to black pepper, but it is difficult to agree with that comparison. There is, however, some pungency in unripe or not yet dried seeds.
Nigella Sativa originated probably from Western Asia. Although nigella is not mentioned in the common Bible translations, there is good evidence that an obscure plant name mentioned in the Old Testament means nigella; if true, this would indicate that nigella is cultivated since far more than two millennia. Today, the plant is cultivated from Egypt to India.
The seeds contain numerous esters of structurally unusual unsaturated fatty acids with terpene alcohols (7%); furthermore, traces of alkaloids are found which belong to two different types: isochinoline alkaloids are represented by nigellimin and nigellimin-N-oxide, and pyrazol alkaloids include nigellidin and nigellicin.
In the essential oil (avr. 0.5%, max. 1.5%), thymoquinone was identified as the main component (up to 50%) besides p-cymene (40%), a-pinene (up to 15%), dithymoquinone and thymohydroquinone. Other terpene derivatives were found only in trace amounts: Carvacrol, carvone, limonene, 4-terpineol, citronellol. Furthermore, the essential oil contains significant (10%) amounts of fatty acid ethyl esters. On storage, thymoquinone yields dithymoquinonene and higher oligocondensation products (nigellone).
The seeds also contain a fatty oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids, mainly linoleic acid (50 – 60%), oleic acid (20%), eicodadienoic acid (3%) and dihomolinoleic acid (10%) which is characteristic for the genus. Saturated fatty acids (palmitic, stearic acid) amount to about 30% or less. Commercial nigella oil (“Black Seed Oil”, “Black Cumin Oil”) may also contain parts of the essential oil, mostly thymoquinone, by which it acquires an aromatic flavor.
Benefits of Nigella sativa
Mahfouz and El-Dakhakhny, prominent Egyptian researcher, isolated the active principle nigellone from Black Seed's essential oil in 1959. There are over 100 different chemical components in the seed.
Nigella and melatin are two ingredients in Black Seed that contribute greatly to its highly diversified powers. These substances work together to provide the digestive benefits that have been revered in the Black Seed. They also promote cleansing and assist with overall eliminating action.
Two of the most volatile oils found in Black seed are nigellone and thymoquinone which were first discovered in the herb in 1985. Nigellone offers both anti-spasmodic and bronchodilating properties which contribute to Black Seed's potency against respiratory ailments. It also acts as an antihistamine which helps to reduce the negative symptoms of allergy sufferers.
Thymoquinone contains excellent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is also a strong antioxidant and helps cleanse the body of toxins. Both nigellone and thymoquinone work in conjunction with one another to enhance Black Seed's action against respiratory ailments. It also provides a healthy alternative to the more commonly prescribed cortisone based therapies used by allergy sufferers. Black seed provides a rich supply of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These ingredients play a key role in daily health and wellness. They help regulate the metabolism, carry toxins to the surface of the skin for elimination, balance insulin levels, regulate cholesterol, improve body circulation, and promote healthy liver functions. A deficiency in polyunsaturated fatty acids can lead to a wide number of health problems including nervous system disorders, uninhibited growths, and skin diseases.
Black seed contains over 100 valuable nutrients. It is comprised of approximately 21% protein, 38% carbohydrates, and 35% plant fats and oils. The active ingredients of black seed are nigellone, thymoquinone and fixed oils. Black seed also contains significant proportions of protein, carbohydrates and essential fatty acids. Other ingredients include linoleic acid, oleic acid, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin B2, niacin, and vitamin C.
A 1994 study conducted in London by King's College revealed that Black Seed has properties that inhibit certain enzymes, which also inhibit the production of certain prostaglandins. This is more proof that the rich and complex combination of elements found in Black Seed work together for a total effect.