All herbal medicine systems (e.g., Unani, Tib, Ayurveda, Siddha) regard seeds and oil as useful in treating various ailments. In Unani, black cumin seed is mentioned as an important remedy. Hippocrates recommends black cumin, or melanthion in Greek, to treat digestive and liver ailments.
(Featured picture credit – Sanjay Acharya’s work)
Dioscorides used the spice to treat intestinal parasites, toothaches, headaches, respiratory congestion, and amenorrhea. He also used it as a diuretic and to enhance lactation. Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia lists black cumin for snake bites, scorpion stings, old tumors, abscesses, and skin rashes. Egyptian seeds grown in near perfect-conditions by oases were especially prized.
In Arabo-Islamic culture, black cumin has been prescribed for various ailments including fever, asthma, chronic headaches, diabetes, digestion, back pain, infections, and rheumatism. In Arabic culture, black cumin is known as Habbatul barakah, the seed of blessing. In fact, since its rise in popularity in the 7th century, it is still regarded as an important family medicine and the oil most often used medicinally.
Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna (980–1037 AD), mentions it in his Canon of Medicine: “that which stimulates the body’s energy and helps recover from fatigue or dispiritedness.” The spice is also believed to be good for purification and detoxification of the body; reduction of mucous and improved lung function; fever, coughs, and colds; toothache; headache; skin diseases and wound treatments; intestinal parasites and worms; and poisonous bites and stings.
The medicinal properties of the species have been tested in modern research. Khan et al. (2013) have found the plant to be effective against S. aureus, depending on the extraction solvent and processing methodology. The fruit extracts have been tested in studies of diabetic complications and aging (Ahmed et al., 2014).
According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, various scientific studies indicate that molecules from the plant have immune-modulating, antioxidant, antiparasitic, and hepatoprotective properties, meaning that the seed of N. sativa may be useful in treating asthma, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, dyspepsia, diabetes, dermatitis, and even cancer. The U.S. FDA has granted two patents for using the oil to treat cancer-related ailments and improve immune systems.
The immunomodulatory effect of proteins in N. sativa seeds was demonstrated in experiments conducted by Haq et al. (1999). Dada et al. (1995) also found that the species had a hepatoprotective effect on rats. Other scientific studies show that the seed and oil are cardioprotective (El Tahir et al., 1993) and gastroprotective (El-Abhar et al., 2003). These studies give scientific rigor to the Prophet Muhammad’s teaching that black cumin can treat every ailment. However, as in most herbal medicines, further investigation must be conducted to corroborate these findings and support the development of new drugs.
Book link: Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants
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