There are thousands of herbal remedies that have been implemented in traditional medicine over many centuries. However, perhaps no other herb has received quite as much attention as black seed.
In this article, we’ll go over the benefits of black seed, including its beneficial nutrients and bioactive compounds. We’ll also look at black seed’s safety and history.
Table of Contents
- What is Black Seed?
- Health Benefits of Black Seed:
- Black Seed Safety?
- How to Incorporate Black Seed into Your Diet:
- Naming and Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Black Seed?
Black seed, also called black cumin, is a flowering plant found in many parts of the world. Specifically, it is native to Southeastern Europe (particularly the Mediterranean), Southwestern Asia, and Northern Africa.
This flowering shrub produces fruits that contain many tiny black seeds, which is where it gets its descriptive name.
Black seed contains numerous nutrients and bioactive compounds and is a significant source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One of the most well-known bioactive components of black seed is thymoquinone, which offers many potential health benefits.
Black seed also contains many other beneficial nutrients besides thymoquinone, including:
- Iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals
- B-complex vitamins (e.g thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid)
- Linoleic acid
- Palmitic acid
- Stigmasterol and other phytosterols
- Essential oils
Health Benefits of Black Seed:
Black seed evidently has many different nutrients and compounds, and research has identified quite a few potential health benefits of black seed and its compounds.
It is particularly exciting to see a significant amount of human clinical research involving black seed.
Overall, black seed benefits the body in the following ways:
1. Anti-Diabetic Properties
Due to its various nutritional compounds, research suggests that black seed benefits blood sugar and has other anti-diabetic effects.
First, in a placebo-controlled clinical trial with 114 type 2 diabetic (T2D) patients, those who supplemented with black seed had significantly improved markers of blood sugar balance. Specifically, they had lower levels of fasting blood sugar and HbA1C (a marker that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months).
In a randomized trial, supplementing with black seed oil and a hypoglycemic drug resulted in significantly lower HbA1C levels in 99 metabolic syndrome patients after 20 days.
In another study in 94 T2D patients, those who supplemented with black seed had around a 20% reduction in triglycerides and an 11% reduction in total cholesterol. They also improved their HDL to LDL ratio. A significant improvement compared to the placebo group.
Another placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 43 T2D men and women found that supplementing with black seed oil extract led to improved glycemic control, blood pressure, lipids, and body weight compared to placebo.
Finally, a comparative clinical trial looked into the effects of black cumin vs. Metformin (a diabetes drug) in diabetes management. While black cumin was inferior in some aspects compared to Metformin, it was equally effective for decreasing weight, waist circumference, and BMI. It also showed positive effects on fasting insulin.
Summary:Several studies show that black seed may be a beneficial herb for balancing blood sugar.
2. May Support Heart Health
Research suggests that black seed benefits heart health and blood pressure.
In a placebo-controlled trial involving 39 overweight women, black seed oil supplementation led to significant increases in HDL and significant reductions in LDL, systolic blood pressure, and triglycerides compared to control.
In another placebo-controlled trial involving 70 healthy volunteers, supplementing with black cumin oil led to significant decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared to controls.
Next, in a placebo-controlled trial in patients with mild hypertension (high blood pressure), black seed extract led to significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared to placebo. The study participants also showed reductions in total and LDL cholesterol.
Fourthly, a study in hypertensive patients with the same design as those above found that treatment with black seed oil was associated with significant increases in HDL alongside significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, LDL, and total cholesterol.
Summary:Black seed has been found by researchers to benefit heart health by improving cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure.
3. Antioxidant Properties
Black seed may also exert various antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
In a clinical trial involving 50 obese women, supplementing with black seed alongside a low-calorie diet led to significant decreases in bodyweight alongside significant increases in superoxide dismutase (SOD) compared to placebo. SOD is an antioxidant enzyme that protects against free radical damage.
Next, in a placebo-controlled trial in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, treatment with black seed oil lead to significant reductions in oxidative stress markers and inflammation compared to placebo.
In a randomized clinical trial in 60 patients with psoriasis, black seed skin ointment and oral administration were associated with a complete cure of lesions in 85% of patients, with an 18% relapse rate. The researchers noted that this was, in part, due to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as antibacterial effects.
Finally, in a study in patients with ulcerative colitis, Nigella sativa supplementation was associated with improvements in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress compared to the control group.
Summary:Black seed shows evidence of having antioxidant effects that help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress markers.
4. May Improve Brain Function
Research indicates that black seed benefits brain health and cognitive function even while protecting against neurodegeneration.
One study in 49 adolescent males found that supplementing with Nigella sativa significantly improved mood, reduced anxiety, and increase some aspects of cognition, such as short-term recall.
Another randomized clinical trial involving 20 college students found that combined supplementation of Asian ginseng and Nigella sativa was associated with greater improvements in cognitive function compared to ginseng alone. Black seed by itself appeared to improve choice reaction time, a test that measures how quickly one can choose a correct response between two stimuli.
Next, a very intriguing clinical trial in 52 men with depression showed that black seed extract significantly lowered depression scores compared to placebo. Plus, men taking the extract had significantly higher levels of BDNF (a protein that’s important for the growth and development of the brain and central nervous system).
In a study in rats with induced cognitive decline, supplementing with black seed extract was associated with the prevention of learning and memory impairments. Moreover, this extract helped improve biomarkers associated with improved learning.
Next, in a study on rats with neurotoxicity, thymoquinone was associated with significant improvements in cognition, as well as total antioxidant capacity. Overall, thymoquinone appeared to offer neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities in the brain.
Finally, a study done on rats with repeated seizures found that a hydroalcoholic extract from black seed offered numerous antioxidant effects and had beneficial effects on learning and memory impairments compared to controls.
Summary:Black seed has been shown to benefit brain function, however, additional human studies are required to confirm this finding.
5. May Improve Male Fertility
One of the more unique health benefits of black seed is male fertility and sexual health.
A placebo-controlled clinical trial in 68 infertile men showed that supplementing with black seed oil led to significant improvements in sperm count, motility, and morphology, and increased semen volume compared to the placebo.
In a longitudinal clinical study in 55 infertile men, supplementing with black seed capsules led to significant improvements in sperm count, motility, normal morphology, and viability, Moreover, they observed significant increases in semen volume, testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone, all indicative of improved fertility and sexual health.
In another study on sexually dysfunctional rats, supplementing with black seed helped to improve sperm health, testosterone, and antioxidant status.
Lastly, another rat study found that black seed extract led to significantly higher testosterone levels, increased weight and size of the testes, and higher sperm concentrations compared to controls.
A few more clinical trials would be helpful, but this still shows some pretty solid evidence for the effects of black seed on fertility and sexual health in men.
Summary:Trials have found that black seed may improve male fertility and sexual health. Additionaly human clinical trials are needed.
6. Anti-Cancer Properties
It also appears that black seed may have anti-cancer effects for many different types of cancer.
However, many of the studies looking at black seed and cancer are lab-based and only one so far is a human clinical study. Listed below are some of the main in vivo and clinical trials. But if one is interested in the overall anti-cancer research (since there are dozens of studies), it is recommended to look at this review study.
In a preliminary study in 48 children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, supplementing with black seed along other cytotoxic drugs proved to be the most effective combination compared to two other drug-based therapy groups. The group that took black seed showed lower remission rates and higher survival.
In an in vivo study, thymoquinone showed anti-metastatic in bladder cancer cells, partly by inhibiting cancer cell invasion and migration. Thymoquinone also inhibited key signaling pathways and metabolic factors related to cancer cell progression.
Another in vivo study in mice showed that thymoquinone had inhibitory effects on leukemia cell progression in the lungs and liver.
Next, in an in vivo study in rats with lung cancer, thymoquinone appeared to significantly increase cancer apoptosis and decreased pulmonary artery hypertension.
Lastly, in a rat model of induced breast cancer, supplementing with melatonin, retinoic acid, and black seed was associated with significant decreases in carcinogenic activity, as well as decreased endocrine dysfunction, oxidative stress, and tumor activity.
Summary:Lab-based studies show that black seed may be helpful in cancer treatment. Human clinical trials are needed to verify the benefits of black seed for cancer.
7. May Improve Asthma Symptoms
The final health benefit we’ll look at for black seed is its potential anti-asthmatic activity.
In a placebo-controlled trial in 60 patients, supplementing with black seed oil was associated with significant improvements in asthma symptoms and a trend towards enhanced lung function compared to placebo. The researchers also noted a significant improvement in blood eosinophils (a marker of inflammation often associated with worsened asthma).
Next, a randomized controlled trial in 52 subjects found that Nigella sativa supplementation improved various markers of lung function and inflammation compared to placebo.
Also, a placebo-controlled phase-II clinical trial found that black seed oil significantly improved asthma control, blood eosinophil levels, and inflammation compared to the placebo.
Lastly, a randomized, single-blind controlled trial in children showed that supplementing with Nigella sativa oil significantly improved asthma control and cytokine levels compared to control.
Summary:Research indicates that black seed may be beneficial in supporting individuals with asthma by improving lung function.
Black Seed Safety?
Overall, research from multiple clinical trials has shown that black seed and its different forms are generally safe to consume.
Some possible side effects of black seed are typically limited to nausea, bloating, and burning sensations.
Black seed may also slightly alter kidney and liver markers, but still within the normal range.
Black seed has typically been used as a seed extract or seed oil form. The typical dose for health benefits is 1 to 3 grams per day.
How to Incorporate Black Seed into Your Diet:
Whole, raw seeds from black seeds can’t be eaten.
They have to be heated up and then ground in order to be digested.
Black seed is commonly taken as a supplement, either in pill or oil form. Supplements consist of either crushed seed extract or seed oil.
Consumers can also create their own black seed powder by heating up the seeds and then grinding them in a coffee grinder.
Black seed oil can even be used topically by massaging it into the skin.
Lastly, it is recommended in some cases to mix black seed oil with honey or lemon juice, due to its strong flavor.
Naming and Taxonomy:
Black seed is scientifically known as Nigella sativa. It’s part of the Ranunculaceae (i.e. buttercup) family of plants.
It is a flowering plant identified by its pale-blue to pale-purple flowers that bloom in the spring and produce fruits that contain numerous black seeds. It typically has five petals in a star-like shape.
History & Traditional Use:
Black seed has been used throughout many parts of the world for thousands of years, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. In fact, it has been considered one of the most treasured herbs in history throughout the world.
This plant was featured in numerous cultures for medicinal purposes, including in Ayurveda, Greek-Roman, Siddha, Malay, Jewish, Unani and other cultures.
These cultures used black seed for liver, lung, kidney, stomach, and psychological ailments. Moreover, black seed was used for skin disorders, infections, and even for boosting fertility.
It was deemed in many cultures as a miracle herb and a cure for any disease. And in Islamic tradition, black seed was known as the cure for everything except death.
Black seed is, without a doubt, one of the most intriguing medicinal herbs.
Numerous studies, many of which are clinical trials, have shown the potential benefit of black seed for diabetes, heart health, antioxidant effects, brain function, fertility, cancer, and asthma, among other diseases.
Additionally, black seed can be incorporated into the diet in many ways, with high tolerability and safety.
Thus, it is certainly worth at least considering the implementation of black seed into one’s routine for potential health benefits.