The History of Nigella Sativa

Nigella Sativa is an annual flowering plant that belongs to the ranunculus family (Ranunculaceae) native to south and southwest Asia. The plant’s history can be traced back to around 4000 years ago when it was used in various medicines, cosmetic and therapeutic practices. Nigella sativa plants can grow up to 12 inches tall. These days the seeds are still used for a wide array of purposes, including medicinal, cooking, and in cosmetics. Nigella sativa seeds are known by many different names. Amongst these are black seeds, black cumin, and kalonji. Oil, which is derived by means of compression, is widely used for many different purposes, as has been mentioned. The plant is currently grown in countries all across the globe.

One of the oldest references to Nigella Sativa can be found in the Old Testament where, in Hebrew, it is referred to as ‘ketzah’. Black cumin was used as a spice used for cakes and bread. Isaiah compared black cumin to wheat, saying that “… the black cumin is not threshed with a threshing-sled, nor is a cartwheel rolled over the cumin, but the black cumin is beaten out with a stick, and the cumin with a rod.”

Nigella Sativa is also mentioned in the testimonies of Prophet Muhammad. In the Arabic language, the black seeds referred to as ‘Habbatul barakah” which literally means, “the seed of blessing”. It is considered an important and sacred plant in Islamic culture. Prophet Muhammad said, “Hold on to the use of the black seed oil for it has a remedy for every disease except death.

Black seeds were also part of Egyptian culture. Some were found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti were also lovers of kalonji seed and kalonji oil, both using the latter as part of their daily beauty routines. Both queens were widely renowned for their beauty. They used the seeds and oil in several of their beauty products to ensure a glowing skin and healthy scalp. Several beauty companies use black seeds in their products because of its anti-aging properties.

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A book titled Kreutterbuch, written by Hieronymous Bock, published in 1546 refers to Nigella sativa as “the loveliest Nigella”. Jacobus Theodorus, often referred to as the “father of German Botany”, praised the medicinal properties of the plant in his book “NieuweKreuterbuch”. It was published in 1588. A book on Assyrian vegetable drugs that describes the detailed use of black seeds in medicine and its ability to cure numerous diseases was published in 1924. Written by R. Campbell Thompson and named The Assyrian Herbal, it accounts of how people in India incorporate these seeds in their daily lives.

Black cumin oil has long been used in Ayurvedic practices and is used to balance the three doshas in the human body. It was also used by these practitioners for various medical and therapeutic purposes. The last two decades or so has seen a sharp rise in ayurvedic practices across the globe with the use of Nigella sativa taking center stage.