Cumin From Confusion to Clarity on Black Cumin Botanicals

Cumin From Confusion to Clarity on Black Cumin Botanicals

Cumin From Confusion to Clarity on Black Cumin Botanicals

 Confused about Black Cumin?

You’re Definitely Not Alone!

  Left - Nigella sativa                Right - Bunium bulbocastanum

So here you have 2 botanicals – each having its own list of medicinal uses...both are spices, and both are commonly referred to as ‘Black Cumin”.   Yes, no confusion here!

Prophet Mohammed is quoted as saying, ‘this black cumin is healing for all diseases except death.’Which Black Cumin was he referring to you ask?  Nigella sativa.

Is Love-in-a-mist the same as Nigella sativa?

  • Love-in-a-mist and black cumin both belong to the same genus, Nigella.
  • It is easy to tell them apart by their leaves. 
  • True black cumin (Nigella sativa) has no hair-like bracts and looks altogether less delicate.
  • Pictured above is Nigella damascena.

Love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena, is a charming old-fashioned annual flower that blooms in spring and early summer. The genus name Nigella comes from the Latin niger (black), referring to the intense black seeds. One of about 15 species in this genus in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), N. damascena comes from southern European and northern Africa. In its native habitat it grows in fields, along roadsides and in rocky or waste ground.

Nigella damascena Inside the seed pods are black seeds from which the name Nigella and many of its folk names derive. Love-in-a-mist is native to Europe and Northern Africa. Its seeds were ground and used as a spice for foods before black pepper became widely available. The ground seed is said to have a flavor like peppery oregano.


Nigella sativa.  Talking Points:

  1. Black Cumin, also known as Roman Coriander, fennel flower, black caraway and kalonji, and is an attractive flowering herb that dates back to Egyptian times.
  2.  Nigella sativa is an annual flowering herb plant native to parts of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Annuals establish and grow quickly from freshly harvested seeds.
  3.  The small flowers are attractive with pale, blue-white petals and surround a star shaped center. Plants mature to a height of 8 to 12 in tall and can be grown in cottage garden, kitchen gardens, containers and window boxes.
  4.  Black cumin flavour is reminiscent of onions, black pepper and oregano. The seeds can be used in a number of culinary dishes and is sought after for Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. The Nigella sativa plant grows to be almost 3 feet and has an airy foliage, and the flowers turn into ornamental fruit pods that are filled with many black seeds that are about the size of a caraway seed.
  5.  Black Cumin is also used medicinally as well to treat headaches, skin issues and intestinal problems and was used for centuries to treat everything from abscesses to herpes zoster. Nigella sativa seeds contain numerous active ingredients including a powerful compound called thymoquinone. Thymoquinone is said to:
  • reduce inflammation
  • enhance the immune system
  • protect against cancer

Considerable research is being conducted to determine potential applications for Nigella sativa for the treatment of a range of conditions, including cancer, allergies, infection control and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cancer: Nigella sativa is gaining much interest as a possible anti-cancer agent; recent studies look at its role in controlling the beginning, growth and spreading of tumors and there appears to be a cancer-cell-killing potential that holds hope for future prevention and treatment protocols.
Source: The USA National Library of Medicine

Allergies: A large body of research supports the use of Nigella sativa for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Recent studies concluded that N. sativa relieves most common nasal allergy symptoms, including congestion, runny nose, sneezing and swelling of the nasal passages.
Source: The USA National Library of Medicine
Infection control:

Infection Control: Nigella sativa is showing promise as a treatment for bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
Source: European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology
Alzheimer’s disease: Animal research indicates that N. sativa warrants further investigation for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease because of its isolated compound thymoquinone has significant anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may represent an effective neuroprotective agent and shows promise for use as a prevention of cognitive decline.
Source: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience


Bunium Bulbocastanum: Talking Points:

The 2nd botanical also referred to as ‘Black Cumin’ is known as Bunium bulbocastanum, as well as Great Pignut, Soil Chestnut and Black Zira.

  1. Bunium bulbocastanum is native to Northern Africa, Southeastern Europe and Southern Asia. The Bunium bulbocastanum plant is about 2 feet tall and is topped with umbel type white flowers that are like Queen Anne’s lace.  It also is similar in looks to Cuminum cynimum or common cumin.
  2. The species is a hermaphrodite having both male and female organs and is pollinated by insects; it is self-fertile.
  3.  All parts of the Bunium bulbocastanum have are used; small round taproots are edible and taste similar to coconuts or chestnuts and the leaves can be used as herb or a garnish similar to parsley. The seeds are valued as a garnish for higher valued and special Indian dishes.
  4. Although there hasn’t been extensive research on the therapeutic uses of B. bulbocastanum, several studies indicate that the herb may be effective in several treatment areas. Source: Wiki

Infection Control:
Research studies show that Bunium bulbocastanum may be useful as an antibacterial drug. It has shown to help fight Staphylococcus aureus, which is the primary cause of skin and soft tissue infections that are often vancomycin-resistant and methicillin-resistant (MRSA), and are non-responsive to antibiotics.
Alternative treatments such as B. bulbocastanum would be highly beneficial.
Source: Science Direct

Studies of the fruit of Bunium bulbocastanum shows it to be an antioxidant with potential cancer-fighting effects, although more research is required.
Source: Research Gate Publication

According to research from the OMICS, (a journal of integrative biology that seeks quality original research papers dealing with all aspects of integrative biology and their integration, data analysis and modelling), Bunium bulbocastanum has antioxidant properties and improves cell function to prevent aging and cell breakdown.
In the future, B. bulbocastanum may prove to be effective at reducing the effect of diabetes complications and aging due to oxidation and glycation. These processes are known to damage our cells, and contribute to a host of medical conditions.
Source: OMICS journals

In summary, although Nigella sativa seed and its active compounds have been historically recognized as an effective herbal panacea, and can establish a balanced inflammatory response by suppressing chronic inflammation promoting a healthy immune response, more research and clinical trials are required before N. sativa can be heralded as a cure. This also applies to Bunium bulbacastanum.

Both of these ‘Black Cumin’ derive from the Apiaceae genus of plants, and both are edible.
 Taste-wise, however, they are quite different from one another. Cumin in general is a popular spice used in Latin-America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and India for many traditional regional dishes.
 Nigella sativa has a somewhat more bitter taste but the medicinal qualities makes this an incredibly useful herb and the flowers and airy foliage are quite an attractive addition to any garden.
We hope this information helps to clear up any confusion about Black (seed) Cumin and the other Cumin, and the benefits of each one.

K Rawlins
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