Medicinal plants have been used for curing diseases for many centuries in different indigenous systems of medicine as well as folk medicines. Moreover, medicinal plants are also used in the preparation of herbal medicines as they are considered to be safe as compared to modern allopathic medicines. Many researchers are focusing on medicinal plants since only a few plant species have been thoroughly investigated for their medicinal properties, potential, mechanism of action, safety evaluation and toxicological studies.
Among various medicinal plants, Nigella sativa (N. sativa) (Family Ranunculaceae) is emerging as a miracle herb with a rich historical and religious background since many researches revealed its wide spectrum of pharmacological potential. N. sativa is commonly known as black seed. N. sativa is native to Southern Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia and it is cultivated in many countries in the world like Middle Eastern Mediterranean region, South Europe, India, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia
The seeds of N. sativa and their oil have been widely used for centuries in the treatment of various ailments throughout the world. And it is an important drug in the Indian traditional system of medicine like Unani and Ayurveda. Among Muslims, it is considered as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine available due to it was mentioned that black seed is the remedy for all diseases except death in one of the Prophetic hadith. It is also recommended for use on regular basis in Tabb-e-Nabbing (Prophetic Medicine.
9 Impressive Health Benefits of Kalonji (Nigella Seeds)
Also known as black cumin, nigella or by its scientific name Nigella sativa, kalonji belongs to the buttercup family of flowering plants.
It grows up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall and produces a fruit with seeds that are used as a flavorful spice in many cuisines.
In addition to its culinary use, kalonji is known for its medicinal properties.
In fact, its use can be traced back several centuries as a natural remedy for everything from bronchitis to diarrhea (1Trusted Source).
This article discusses 9 of the most impressive science-backed benefits of kalonji, plus how you can add it to your diet.
1. Packed With Antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that neutralize harmful free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to cells.
Research shows that antioxidants can have a powerful effect on health and disease.
In fact, some studies indicate that antioxidants may protect against several types of chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity (2Trusted Source).
Several compounds found in kalonji, such as thymoquinone, carvacrol, t-anethole and 4-terpineol, are responsible for its potent antioxidant properties (3Trusted Source).
One test-tube study found that kalonji essential oil also acted as an antioxidant (4Trusted Source).
However, further research is needed to determine how the antioxidants found in kalonji may impact health in humans.
2. May Lower Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found throughout your body. While you need some cholesterol, high amounts can build up in your blood and increase your risk of heart disease.
Kalonji has been shown to be especially effective at lowering cholesterol.
One review of 17 studies found that supplementing with kalonji was associated with significant decreases in both total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as blood triglycerides.
Interestingly, it also found that kalonji oil had a greater effect than kalonji seed powder. However, only seed powder increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
Another study in 57 people with diabetes showed that supplementing with kalonji for one year decreased total and LDL cholesterol, all while increasing HDL cholesterol
Lastly, a study in 94 people with diabetes had similar findings, reporting that taking 2 grams of kalonji daily for 12 weeks reduced both total and LDL cholesterol
3. Could Have Cancer-Fighting Properties
Kalonji is high in antioxidants, which help neutralize harmful free radicals that may contribute to the development of diseases like cancer.
Test-tube studies have found some impressive results regarding the potential anti-cancer effects of kalonji and thymoquinone, its active compound.
For instance, one test-tube study found that thymoquinone induced cell death in blood cancer cells
Another test-tube study showed that kalonji extract helped inactivate breast cancer cells
Other test-tube studies suggest that kalonji and its components may also be effective against several other types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, cervical, prostate, skin and colon cancers
However, there is no evidence on the anti-cancer effects of kalonji in humans. Studies are needed to examine whether kalonji has any cancer-fighting benefits when used as a spice or taken as a supplement.
4. Can Help Kill off Bacteria
Disease-causing bacteria are responsible for a long list of dangerous infections, ranging from ear infections to pneumonia.
Some test-tube studies have found that kalonji may have antibacterial properties and be effective at fighting off certain strains of bacteria.
One study applied kalonji topically to infants with a staphylococcal skin infection and found that it was as effective as a standard antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections (11Trusted Source).
Another study isolated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of bacteria that is difficult to treat and resistant to antibiotics, from the wounds of diabetic patients.
Kalonji killed off the bacteria in a dose-dependent manner in over half of the samples (12Trusted Source).
Several other test-tube studies have shown that kalonji can help inhibit the growth of MRSA, as well as many other strains of bacteria
Yet, human studies are limited, and more research is needed to look at how kalonji may affect different strains of bacteria in the body.
5. May Alleviate Inflammation
In most cases, inflammation is a normal immune response that helps protect the body against injury and infection.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation is believed to contribute to a variety of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease
Some studies have found that kalonji may have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
In one study in 42 people with rheumatoid arthritis, taking 1,000 mg of kalonji oil daily for eight weeks reduced markers of inflammation and oxidative stress
In another study, inflammation was induced in the brain and spinal cord of rats. Compared to a placebo, kalonji was effective at protecting against and suppressing inflammation
Similarly, a test-tube study showed that thymoquinone, the active compound in kalonji, helped reduce inflammation in pancreatic cancer cells
Despite these promising results, most human studies are limited to people with specific conditions. More research is needed to understand how kalonji may affect inflammation among the general population.
6. Could Help Protect the Liver
The liver is an incredibly important organ. It removes toxins, metabolizes drugs, processes nutrients and produces proteins and chemicals that are crucial to health.
Several promising animal studies have found that kalonji may help protect the liver against injury and damage.
In one study, rats were injected with a toxic chemical, either with or without kalonji. Kalonji reduced the toxicity of the chemical and protected against liver and kidney damage (19Trusted Source).
Another animal study had similar findings, showing that kalonji protected rats against induced liver damage, compared to a control group (20Trusted Source).
One review attributed the protective effects of kalonji to its antioxidant content and ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (21Trusted Source).
However, more studies are needed to measure how kalonji may influence liver health in humans.
7. Can Aid in Blood Sugar Regulation
High blood sugar can cause many negative symptoms, including increased thirst, unintentional weight loss, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
Left unchecked in the long term, high blood sugar can lead to even more serious consequences, such as nerve damage, vision changes and slow wound healing.
Some evidence shows that kalonji could help keep blood sugar steady and thus prevent these dangerous adverse side effects.
One review of seven studies showed that supplementing with kalonji improved levels of fasting and average blood sugar (22Trusted Source).
Similarly, another study in 94 people found that taking kalonji daily for three months significantly reduced fasting blood sugar, average blood sugar and insulin resistance (23Trusted Source).
8. May Prevent Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are painful sores that form when stomach acids eat away at the layer of protective mucus that lines the stomach.
Some research shows that kalonji could help preserve the lining of the stomach and prevent the formation of ulcers.
In one animal study, 20 rats with stomach ulcers were treated using kalonji. Not only did it result in healing effects in about 83% of rats, but it was also nearly as effective as a common medication used to treat stomach ulcers (24Trusted Source).
Another animal study showed that kalonji and its active components prevented ulcer development and protected the lining of the stomach against the effects of alcohol (25Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that current research is limited to animal studies. Further research is needed to determine how kalonji may affect stomach ulcer development in humans.
9. Easy to Add to Your Routine
There are a variety of ways to add kalonji to your diet.
With a bitter taste that is described as a mix between oregano and onions, it is often found in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines.
It’s usually lightly toasted and then ground or used whole to add flavor to bread or curry dishes.
Some people also eat the seeds raw or mix them with honey or water. They can also be added to oatmeal, smoothies or yogurt.
What’s more, the oil is sometimes diluted and applied topically as a natural remedy that’s said to increase hair growth, reduce inflammation and treat certain skin conditions.
Lastly, supplements are available in capsule or soft-gel form for a quick and concentrated dose of kalonji.
When the black seed is used in food or medicinally in small amounts for a short period of time, it is possibly safe.6 But there isn’t enough information to know for sure if it is safe in higher amounts or for longer periods of time.
Taking Nigella sativa during chemotherapy may hamper the effects of chemotherapy drugs. Tests on animals indicate that high doses of Nigella sativa may damage the kidney and/or liver.8
There is no standardized dose of Nigella sativa, but different amounts have been studied in research. For example, when studying black seed’s effect on asthma, two grams of ground nigella sativa has been used daily for 12 weeks. Also, 500 milligrams of black seed oil has been taken twice daily for four weeks. When studying its effect on blood pressure, a half to two grams of black seed powder has been taken daily for up to 12 weeks.4
Certain people should exercise caution and speak to their healthcare provider before taking or using nigella sativa, including those with low blood pressure. Although studies analyzing any effect Nigella sativa might have on pregnancy and breastfeeding have focused on animals, women are advised to talk to their doctor before consumption.
Using Nigella as an Herb in the Kitchen
Growing nigella in the garden not only allows you to collect the seeds for herbal and medicinal use but also to enjoy a pretty annual. It grows 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm.) tall with fine, wispy leaves and delicate blue or white flowers. Allow the flowers to wither and develop into pods and you can collect and use the small, black seeds. When using nigella plants for the culinary value of the seeds, you have several options. You can use the seeds whole or grind them, and you can toast them first or use them raw. The flavor of the seeds has been described as bitter and a combination of oregano, pepper, and onion. Use nigella seeds in sauces and curries, ground up as a pepper alternative, on salads and vegetables, and in stir fries. Some traditional uses for nigella include adding it to string cheese recipes, potato dishes, and in breads, either mixed into the dough or sprinkled on top. There are many traditional nigella herbal remedies from several cultures, and while it is generally considered a safe herb, it is always important to talk to your doctor before using any herb for medicinal purposes. One traditional use has been for respiratory problems, including asthma, infections, allergies, and emphysema. Other uses in Mediterranean cultures are for liver disease, diarrhea, dysentery, colic, parasites, and abscesses.