Nigella sativa
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae
Genus: Nigella
N. sativa
Binomial name
Nigella sativa
  • Nigella cretica Mill.
  • Nigella indica Roxb.
  • Nigella truncata Viv.

Nigella sativa (black caraway, also known as black cumin, nigella, kalonji, charnushka[2])[3][4][5] is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to eastern Europe (Bulgaria and Romania) and western Asia (Cyprus, Turkey, Iran and Iraq), but naturalized over a much wider area, including parts of Europe, northern Africa and east to Myanmar.[1] It is used as a spice in many cuisines.[6]


The genus name Nigella is a diminutive of the Latin niger "black", referring to the seed color.[6][7] The specific epithet sativa means "cultivated".[6]

In English, Nigella sativa and its seed are variously called black caraway, black seed, black cumin, fennel flower, nigella, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander,[3][6] black onion seed[8] and kalonji.[5]

Black seed and black caraway may also refer to Elwendia persica, which is also known as Bunium persicum.[9]


N. sativa grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds which are used as spice, sometimes as a replacement for Bunium bulbocastanum (also called black cumin).[6]

Culinary uses

The seeds of N. sativa are used as a spice in many cuisines.[6] In Palestine, the seeds are ground to make bitter qizha paste.[10]

The dry-roasted seeds flavour curries, vegetables, and pulses. They can be used as a seasoning in recipes with pod fruit, vegetables, salads, and poultry. In some cultures, the black seeds are used to flavour bread products. They are used as a part of the spice mixture panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in some variations of naan, such as nân-e barbari.[11] Nigella is also used in tresse cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration classifies Nigella sativa as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use as a spice, natural seasoning, or flavouring.[12]


Archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa dates back three millennia, with N. sativa seeds found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including the Tomb of Tutankhamun.[5][13] Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BC.[14]

N. sativa may have been used as a condiment of the Old World to flavour food.[6][13] The Muslim physician Avicenna described N. sativa as a treatment for dyspnea in his The Canon of Medicine.[15] N. sativa was used in the Middle East as a traditional medicine.[16]


Oils are 32% to 40% of the total composition of N. sativa seeds.[5][17] N. sativa oil contains linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, and trans-anethole, and other minor constituents, such as nigellicine, nigellidine, nigellimine, and nigellimine N-oxide.[5] Aromatics include thymoquinone, dihydrothymoquinone, p-cymene, carvacrol, α-thujene, thymol, α-pinene, β-pinene and trans-anethole.[5] Protein and various alkaloids are present in the seeds.[5]

Medical research

One meta-analysis of clinical trials found weak evidence that N. sativa has a short-term benefit on lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure,[18] with limited evidence that black seed oil or powder can reduce triglycerides and LDL and total cholesterol, while raising HDL cholesterol.[19] Despite considerable use of N. sativa in traditional medicine practices in Africa and Asia, there is insufficient high-quality clinical evidence to indicate that consuming the seeds or oil can be used to treat human diseases.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Nigella sativa L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  2. ^ Falkowitz, Max. "Spice Hunting: Charnushka". Serious Eats. Retrieved 25 March 2023.
  3. ^ a b "Nigella sativa". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  4. ^ Heiss, Andreas (December 2005). "The oldest evidence of Nigella damascena L. (Ranunculaceae) and its possible introduction to central Europe". Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. 14 (4): 562–570. Bibcode:2005VegHA..14..562H. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s00334-005-0060-4. JSTOR 23419312. S2CID 18895456.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Kalonji". Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Engels, Gayle; Brinckmann, Josef (2017). "Nigella sativa". Herbalgram, American Botanical Council. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  7. ^ Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R.J. (1995). Plants and their names: a concise dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866189-4. p. 341.
  8. ^ "Nigella seed". BBC Good Food. Retrieved 16 July 2023.
  9. ^ Bunium persicum - (Boiss.) B.Fedtsch. Common Name Black Caraway
  10. ^ Berger, Miriam (28 March 2019). "Is the world ready for this Palestinian dish?". BBC News - Travel. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  11. ^ Bramen L (16 February 2011). "Nigella Seeds: What the Heck Do I Do with Those?". The Smithsonian Online. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Substances generally recognized as safe: Sec. 182.10. Spices and other natural seasonings and flavorings". US Food and Drug Administration, Code of Federal Regulations, 21CFR182.10. 1 April 2019. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  13. ^ a b Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria; Weiss, Ehud (2012). Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (Fourth ed.). Oxford: University Press. p. 206. ISBN 9780199549061.
  14. ^ Saliha B, Sipahib T, Oybak Dönmez, E (2009). "Ancient nigella seeds from Boyalı Höyük in north-central Turkey". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 124 (3): 416–20. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2009.05.039. PMID 19505557.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Avicenna (1999). Canon of Medicine. Chicago: Kazi Publications.
  16. ^ Hassanien, Minar M. M.; Abdel-Razek, Adel G.; Rudzińska, Magdalena; Siger, Aleksander; Ratusz, Katarzyna; Przybylski, Roman (15 July 2014). "Phytochemical contents and oxidative stability of oils from non-traditional sources". European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology. 116 (11): 1563–1571. doi:10.1002/ejlt.201300475. ISSN 1438-7697.
  17. ^ Gharby S, Harhar H, Guillaume D, Roudani A, Boulbaroud S, Ibrahimi M, Ahmad M, Sultana S, BenHaddah T, Chafchaouni-Moussaouii I, Charroufa Z (2015). "Chemical investigation of Nigella sativa L. seed oil". Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences. 14 (2): 172–177. doi:10.1016/j.jssas.2013.12.001.
  18. ^ Sahebkar A, Soranna D, Liu X, et al. (2016). "A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials investigating the effects of supplementation with Nigella sativa (black seed) on blood pressure". Journal of Hypertension. 34 (11): 2127–35. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000001049. PMID 27512971. S2CID 3226588.
  19. ^ Sahebkar A, Beccuti G, Simental-Mendía LE, Nobili V, Bo S (2016). "Nigella sativa (black seed) effects on plasma lipid concentrations in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials". Pharmacological Research. 106: 37–50. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2016.02.008. hdl:2318/1562112. PMID 26875640.