The Immune-Supporting Benefits of Black Cumin Seeds + How to Use Them
In a world full of endless pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs promising to address all our health woes, we can sometimes forget that nature was our first medicine.
If this seems “woo-woo” to you, you should know that up to 50 percent of the drugs approved in the last 30 years have come directly or indirectly from natural products. (1) Aspirin, which is based on a natural compound isolated from the white willow plant, is one great example. Opioid pain-killers, derived from the poppy plant, are another; penicillin, which comes from a mold that grows in nature, is a third example of how if we turn to nature, it usually has our back.
Pretty crazy, isn’t it? What’s even crazier is that there are so many MORE therapeutic plants we have yet to discover. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 15 percent of herbal species on the globe have been explored for their medicinal potential. (2)
Today, I want to dive into one natural ingredient that I believe has a lot of potential for the immune system and beyond: black cumin seeds.
Keep reading for everything you need to know.
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What are black cumin seeds?
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.
What are the benefits of back cumin seeds?
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.
Can black cumin seeds help you fight infection?
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)
Can black cumin seeds fight inflammation?
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)
What’s the best way to take black cumin seed?
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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- Veeresham C. Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2012;3(4):200-201. doi:10.4103/2231-4040.104709
- De Luca V., Salim V., Atsumi S. M., Yu F. Mining the biodiversity of plants: A revolution in the making. Science. 2012;336(6089):1658–1661. doi: 10.1126/science.1217410.
- Yimer EM, Tuem KB, Karim A, Ur-Rehman N, Anwar F. Nigella sativa L. (Black Cumin): A Promising Natural Remedy for Wide Range of Illnesses. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:1528635. Published 2019 May 12. doi:10.1155/2019/1528635
- Takruri H. R. H., Dameh M. A. F. Study of the nutritional value of black cumin seeds (Nigella sativa L) Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 1998;76(3):404–410. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-0010(199803)76:3<404::AID-JSFA964>3.3.CO;2-C.
- Ramadan, M. F. (2007). Nutritional value, functional properties and nutraceutical applications of black cumin (Nigella sativa L.): an overview. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 42(10), 1208–1218. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2621.2006.01417.x
- Rafati S, Niakan M, Naseri M. Anti-microbial effect of Nigella sativa seed extract against staphylococcal skin Infection. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2014;28:42. Published 2014 Jun 8.
- Oyero OG, Toyama M, Mitsuhiro N, et al. SELECTIVE INHIBITION OF HEPATITIS C VIRUS REPLICATION BY ALPHA-ZAM, A NIGELLA SATIVA SEED FORMULATION. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2016;13(6):144-148. Published 2016 Sep 29. doi:10.21010/ajtcam.v13i6.20
- Hadi V, Kheirouri S, Alizadeh M, Khabbazi A, Hosseini H. Effects of Nigella sativa oil extract on inflammatory cytokine response and oxidative stress status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2016;6(1):34-43.
- Noor NA, Fahmy HM, Mohammed FF, Elsayed AA, Radwan NM. Nigella sativa amliorates inflammation and demyelination in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis-induced Wistar rats. Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2015;8(6):6269-6286. Published 2015 Jun 1.
- Mollazadeh H, Hosseinzadeh H. The protective effect of Nigella sativa against liver injury: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2014;17(12):958-966.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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