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Nigella sativa

Nigella sativa (Kalonji or simply Nigella) is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to south and southwest Asia. It 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 original black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).


The scientific name is a derivative of Latin niger (black).[2]

Common names[edit]

In English, Nigella sativa seed is variously called kalonji,[3] fennel flower,[4] nutmeg flower,[4] black caraway,[4] and Roman coriander.[4] Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are black cumin,[4] onion seed and black sesame. Synonymously, it may be referred to as thymoquinone after its principal extract under preliminary research for several possible effects in humans.[3]

Blackseed and black caraway may also refer to Bunium persicum.[5]

Nigella is used as part of the spice mixture paanch phoran or panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and by itself in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in naan bread.[6]


According to Zohary and Hopf, archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa "is still scanty", but they report supposed N. sativa seeds have been found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb.[7] Although its exact role in Egyptian culture is unknown, it is known that items entombed with a pharaoh were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.

The earliest written reference to N. sativa is thought to be in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the reaping of nigella and wheat is contrasted (Isaiah 28: 25, 27). Easton's Bible dictionary states the Hebrew word ketsah refers to N. sativa without doubt (although not all translations are in agreement). According to Zohary and Hopf, N. sativa was another traditional condiment of the Old World during classical times, and its black seeds were extensively used to flavor food.[7]

Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BCE.[8]


Seeds of Nigella sativa have a pungent bitter taste and smell.[3] It is used primarily in confectionery and liquors. Peshawari naan is, as a rule, topped with kalonji seeds. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.


Nigella sativa oil contains conjugated linoleic (18:2) acid, thymoquinone, nigellone (dithymoquinone),[9] melanthin, nigilline, damascenine, and trans-anethole.[3]

In 2010, Nestlé filed a patent application for use of extracted thymoquinone from N. sativa as a food allergy treatment.[10] Nestlé states that the patent would cover "the specific way that thymoquinone - a compound that can be extracted from the seed of the fennel flower - interacts with opioid receptors in the body and helps to reduce allergic reactions to food".[11][12]

Preliminary human research[edit]

Mainly for its seed oil extract, thymoquinone, Nigella sativa is under research for its potential to affect human diseases,[13] such as cancer or metabolic syndrome.[14][15]


  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". 
  2. ^ New International Encyclopedia
  3. ^ a b c d Bharat B Aggarwal. Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Spices. Google Books. p. 259. ISBN 978-981-4468-95-4. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "USDA GRIN Taxonomy". 
  5. ^ Bunium persicum - (Boiss.) B.Fedtsch. Common Name Black Caraway
  6. ^ Bramen L (16 February 2011). "Nigella Seeds: What the Heck Do I Do with Those?". The Smithsonian Online. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria (2000). Domestication of plants in the Old World (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 206. ISBN 0-19-850356-3. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Mohammad Hossein Boskabady, Batool Shirmohammadi (2002). "Effect of Nigella Sativa on Isolated Guinea Pig Trachea". Arch Iranian Med 5 (2): 103–107. 
  10. ^ Nutten S, Philippe D, Mercenier A, Duncker S; Nestec SA (18 May 2010). "Patent application: Opioid receptors stimulating compounds (thymoquinone, nigella sativa) and food allergy; WO 2010133574 A1". Google Patents Database. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Is Nestlé trying to patent the fennel flower?". Nestlé. 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Nestle defends plant patenting as 300,000 protest"., William Reed Business Media. 15 November 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  13. ^ Ali BH, Blunden G (2003). "Pharmacological and toxicological properties of Nigella sativa". Phytother Res 17 (4): 299–305. doi:10.1002/ptr.1309. PMID 12722128. 
  14. ^ Banerjee S, Padhye S, Azmi A, Wang Z, Philip PA, Kucuk O, Sarkar FH, Mohammad RM (2010). "Review on molecular and therapeutic potential of thymoquinone in cancer". Nutr Cancer 62 (7): 938–46. doi:10.1080/01635581.2010.509832. PMID 20924969. 
  15. ^ Razavi BM, Hosseinzadeh H (2014). "A review of the effects of Nigella sativa L. and its constituent, thymoquinone, in metabolic syndrome". J Endocrinol Invest. Aug 15 (pending publication). PMID 25125023. 


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