Monday, October 4, 2010

Black Cumin: Oil of the Ancients

“Let fall these Black Seeds upon you, these contain cure for all diseases except death.”
-The Prophet Muhammad

Although Black Cumin is the moniker that most people in the West know the herb Nigella sativa by, it’s about as closely related to Cumin Seed as Broccoli is to Chamomile. Some of its other names are even more confusing: Black Seed, Black Onion Seed, Black Caraway, Black Sesame, and Roman Coriander., but Nigella sativa is absolutely unrelated to onion, caraway, sesame or coriander. Perhaps the Biblical name “fitch” should make a come back to mitigate the confusion, or we should honor the holier references like “Blessed Seed” or “Herb from Heaven.”
Nigella sativa is a charming plant in gardens; it is approximately 18” tall and adorned with feathery leaves and white blossoms that may sport a bit of pale blue at the tips of the petals. Take note that the popular garden ornamental Nigella damascus (also known as “Love in a Mist”), is a related species, but is not considered medicinal; another relative, N. garidella is considered toxic. Nigella’s seed head is as attractive as her flowers; a balloon-like pod that encapsulates the pale seeds opens in the shape of a five pointed star. The small triangular seeds, covered with fine hair turn a matte black as they dry and mature.

Growers of Black Cumin will harvest large bunches of stalks laden with pods before dawn to keep the dew from settling upon them, and dry them evenly over sheets so that the seeds will be easily gathered when the pods open. Some of the seeds are sown in September to ensure the next year’s crop, while the bulk of the harvest is ground and cold-pressed into oil in the traditional way. Some producers will seek to get more of the final product by extracting the oil with solvents; these chemically treated oils should never be used for healing. Always know your source and do not trust “sale items.” The best oil comes from Egypt, where traditional methods of cold expression have been passed down through generations.

Black Cumin is native to the hot, dry climates of the Middle East, where the herb is so popular that more acreage is devoted to growing the Blessed Seed every year, and families are stockpiling the esteemed herb and its oil. Nigella sativa has a long history of healing human-kind, a reference to its value above wheat is found in the Old Testament, Book of Isaiah. For thousands of years the seed and its oil have been used for health conditions ranging from asthma and allergies to wounds and worms. A vial of the precious seed was found in the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamen, presumably to ensure his health in the afterlife.

Black Cumin was frequently praised by the forefathers of modern medicine; In the Cannon of Medicine by Ibn Sina (980-1037) it states, “{Black Cumin}stimulates the body’s energy and helps recover from fatigue or dispiritedness.” Doiscorides used the herb to treat a variety of ailments and Hippocrates particularly favored it for liver and digestive complaints. Modern medicine recognizes that its strong anti-bacterial qualities make Black Cumin effective against Cholera, E. coli, and nearly all strains of Shigella (except S. dysentriae), comparing favorably –and it some instances outperforming- several pharmaceutical antibiotics.

Black Cumin seeds are very nutritious; they contain 35% oil, most of which are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and 21% protein. The EFA’s like Linoleic Acid (LA) and Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) acid help strengthen and maintain cell integrity, heal skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, reduce wrinkles, and heal wounds. My friends and I discovered that Black Cumin Seed Oil (BCSO) makes an amazing sunscreen! To fancy it up a little, we would add a couple of drops of medicinal grade Lavender essential oil (my preference is Spike Lavender). With nothing but this, we have all avoided sunburn, even with our fair skin! Naturally, you will use common sense and not unduly expose yourself to irresponsible amounts of strong sun.

Cleopatra herself used Black Cumin to enhance her beauty and vitality; taken internally or applied topically, the oil encourages smooth skin and a radiant complexion. Try infusing  a half cup of raisins in 8 oz of BCSO for about a week and then take one tablespoon of the mixture daily for beautiful skin. Beauty is not just skin deep however, and BCSO also addresses numerous internal conditions such as lowering blood pressure, improving brain function,  as well as regulating the CNS and activating the immune system.

Since 1960, over 200 university studies have been conducted on the medicinal properties of Black Cumin. A study conducted in India in 1991 found that the herb was 100% effective in preventing the growth of Ehrlich ascites carcinoma, a common form of cancer. The study concluded, “It is evident that the active principle isolated from Nigella sativa seeds is a potent anti-tumor agent, and the constituent long chain fatty acid may be the main active component.”

Immunomodulators in BCSO balance the immune system in order to increase resistance to pathogens, and protect against auto-immune diseases. Studies conducted in 1986 and 1993 concluded that the majority of test subjects given the BCSO displayed a significant increase (up to 72%) in the ratio of helper to suppresser T-cells as well as an improvement of natural killer (NK) cell function. This is profoundly important when it comes to the treatment of various Cancers, AIDS and other auto-immune diseases. When combined with Garlic and administered in normal dosages, the immunomodulatory action rivals that of interferon because there are no side effects from BCSO.

Science has isolated more than one hundred chemical components in Black Cumin including 15 amino acids- eight of which are essential and cannot be produced by the body. Vitamins and minerals such as carotene, potassium, calcium and iron, as well as mono and polysaccharides also contribute to the overall benefits of BCSO. Thymoquinone and other volatile oils in BCSO exhibit strong anti-cancer properties that have been shown to increase apoptosis (programmed cell death) and can effectively suppress leukemia and pancreatic cancer. With the addition of Astragalus, the effect on normalizing white blood cells would be amplified.

One of the volatile oils in BCSO, called Nigellone is a powerful anti-histamine that is excellent for treating seasonal allergies and asthma symptoms triggered by a histamine response.  The active properties of Black Cumin are vasodilating, mucous reducing and relax the airways, making it perfect for the treatment of asthma and chronic bronchitis. Taking a teaspoon of the oil twice daily in hot water or nettles tea and a little raw honey is a delicious way to reduce asthma and allergy symptoms without side effects. When taken long-term, at least 3-6 months, studies have indicated that BCSO can bring  up to 90% improvement in allergy symptoms.

Black Cumin is often used as a culinary herb, and like most herbs found in the kitchen, it has a beneficial effect on digestion. As a carminative, Black Cumin prevents bloating, gas and cramping, as well as relieving diarrhea and vomiting. It’s pedantic effects on the alimentary canal does nothing to decrease the deliciousness of Black Cumin seeds sprinkled on naan, a tasty flatbread from India traditionally baked in a clay oven. Black Cumin seed is also a wonderful seasoning for stews, beans, cabbage and is indispensable when making curries or garam masala.

Add this wonderful, health-promoting seed to your spice cabinet, and don’t forget to include it in your recipes. For even more profound effects on your well-being, ask your herbalist for a bottle of high-quality Black Cumin Seed Oil from Egypt and take a teaspoonful twice a day in tea. The benefits listed in this article barely skim the surface of the numerous advantages that BCSO can give you in the form of Vitality, Vigor, Strength… and oh, did I mention Libido?

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
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