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Nigella sativa


Nigella sativa  

[span class=alert]In regards to the Traditional Use and Therapeutic Action sections of Essential Oils, the oils are rated as is standard practice in the French school of aromatherapy and others. The ratings ranked from one (+) to four (++++) with four indicating the highest value, indicate the oil’s therapeutic value from a practicing clinician’s point of view. The French rating system mentioned are obtained from this book reference entitle ‘Les Cahiers Pratiques D'Aromatherapie Selon L'Ecole Francaise’ (Authors: Francine Baudry, Pascal Debauche & Dominique Baudoux). However, further clarification might be required and will be updated once additional information of the rating system is obtained.[/span]

Family Name


Genus Name


Vernacular Name

Black cumin, black seed, small fennel, black cumin seed, fennel flower, mercy oil

Original Habitat

Though native to North and West Africa, Nigella sativa is quite popular throughout India and used in Ayurvedic medicine. Usually found in areas with little shade, the plant can grow in almost any soil, ranging from sandy to clay.

Plant Part Used



Black cumin oil is found in the foods and beverage industry as a flavouring agent, particularly in Indian and Middle Eastern products. It is also found in alcoholic beverages. It is less often used in the fragrance industry, but is found in some body care products. In therapeutic aromatherapy, it is used as single oil and in more complex formulations. 


The steam-distilled oil of black cumin is thin and clear to yellowish in colour. It has a spicy bitter and very pungent aroma.

N. sativa is an annual plant that has leaves that are about 10 cm long that grow in pairs. The hermaphroditic, bluish flowers bloom in July and encase the seeds until the seeds are mature, which usually occurs in fall. The essential oil is derived from the seeds of the plant. This plant should not be confused with Cumunum cyminum, commonly known as cumin.

Chemical Constituents


Medicinal Uses


 Antibacterial- The active constituent of black cumin oil, thymoquinone exhibited strong antibacterial activity against gram + bacteria.[2]

Anti-inflammatory- Using a rat model of arthritis, the active thymoquinone derived from black cumin seed oil was tested against different proven treatments of inflammation in arthritis including methotrexate. The results showed that thymoquinone was clinically effective in inhibiting arthritis in rats.[6] In addition to the anti-inflammatory effect, one study showed analgesic activity, thought to be due to the thymoquinone content.[7]

Anticancer Activity- In both Vero and P815 cell lines, essential oil from black cumin seed showed cytotoxic activity.  When injected into tumors in mice, the essential oil greatly reduced solid tumor development. In addition, mouse survival rate also increased.[8]

In rats, the essential oil was tested against colon cancer. The results showed that there was significant antiproliferative activity in both the initation and post-initiation phases, with the most dramatic effect occurring in the post-initiation phase.  Nigella sativa was able to exhibit these results without damage to other organs.[9]

When tested against five human cancer cell lines and measuring the cell death, N. sativa essential oil illustrated immunosuppressive cytotoxicity, indicating possible further use as such.[10]

Antielastase- Human neutrophil elastase is implicated in many diseases illustrating tissue damage, including emphysema.  A component of N. sativa seed, carvacrol, inhibited human neutrophil elastase.  It was concluded that this compound could be used as a natural anti-elastase.[11]

Antioxidant- Many studies have confirmed N. sativa essential oil as an effective antioxidant.[12][13] One study showed that the anti-hypertensive effects of this oil are due to its antioxidant activity, as shown in an animal model. Thymoquinone was able to increase glutathione and steady creatine levels in hypertension-induced mice, through its antioxidant action.[14]

Traditional Use

Respiratory disorders+++
Digestive complaints+++
Rheumatic pain+++
Parasitic diseases++ [15]

 Fumigant- N. sativa was tested among other essential oils for its fumigant activity against Callosobruchus chinensis (also known as the pulse beetle). N. sativa and two other oils caused death in both the larvae and adult beetles but only N. sativa showed fumigant activity through the most life cycles of this beetle.[16]

There are no clinical studies available to support the traditional use of this oil.

Contraindications and Precautions

When used topically, a few cases of contact dermatitis have been reported.[15]

Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women.

Not to be used with children.


[span class=alert]Keep out of reach of children as oils are highly concentrated.Essential oils are irritating to the eyes.  Avoid contact with eye area.Always dilute essential oils with carrier oil, lotion, cream or gel even when using in diffuser or bath.Essential oils are sometimes prescribed to be used internally, but should only be used internally under professional supervision.[/span]

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  1) Botanical Info

  2) Safety


  1. Kacem R. Effects of essential oil extracted from Nigella sativa (L.) seeds and its main components on human neutrophil elastase activity. Yakugaku Zasshi. Apr2006;126(4):301-305.
  2. Kokoska L. Comparison of chemical composition and antibacterial activity of Nigella sativa seed essential oils obtained by different extraction methods. J Food Prot. Dec2008;71(12):2475-2480.
  3. Nickavar B. Chemical composition of the fixed and volatile oils of Nigella sativa L. from Iran. Z Naturforsch C. Sep-Oct2003;58(9-10):629-631.
  4. Domaracký M. Effects of borneol and thymoquinone on TNBS-induced colitis in mice. Folia Biol (Praha). 2008;54(1):1-7.
  5. Ghosheh OA, Houdi AA, Crooks PA. High performance liquid chromatographic analysis of the pharmacologically active quinones and related compounds in the oil of the black seed (Nigella sativa L.). J Pharm Biomed Anal. Apr1999;19(5):757-762.
  6. Tekeoglu I. Effects of thymoquinone (volatile oil of black cumin) on rheumatoid arthritis in rat models. Phytother Res. Sep2007;21(9):895-897.
  7. Hajhashemi V. Black cumin seed essential oil, as a potent analgesic and antiinflammatory drug. Phytother Res. Mar2004;18(3):195-199.
  8. Ait Mbarek L. Anti-tumor properties of blackseed (Nigella sativa L.) extracts. Braz J Med Biol Res. Jun 2007;40(6):839-847.
  9. Salim EI. Chemopreventive potential of volatile oil from black cumin (Nigella sativa L.) seeds against rat colon carcinogenesis. Nutr Cancer. 2003;45(2):195-202.
  10. Islam SN. Immunosuppressive and cytotoxic properties of Nigella sativa. Phytother Res. May2004;18(5):395-398.
  11. Kacem R. Effects of essential oil extracted from Nigella sativa (L.) seeds and its main components on human neutrophil elastase activity. Yakugaku Zasshi. Apr2006;126(4):301-305
  12. Abdel-Wahhab MA. Antioxidant property of Nigella sativa (black cumin) and Syzygium aromaticum (clove) in rats during aflatoxicosis. J Appl Toxicol. May-Jun2005;25(3):218-223.
  13. Burits M. Antioxidant activity of Nigella sativa essential oil. Phytother Res. Aug2000;14(5):323-328.
  14. Khattab MM. Thymoquinone supplementation attenuates hypertension and renal damage in nitric oxide deficient hypertensive rats. Phytother Res. May2007;21(5):410-414.
  15. Ali BH. Pharmacological and toxicological properties of Nigella sativa. Phytother Res. Apr2003;17(4):299-305.
  16. Chaubey MK. Fumigant toxicity of essential oils from some common spices against pulse beetle, Callosobruchus chinensis (Coleoptera: Bruchidae). J Oleo Sci. 2008;57(3):171-179.

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