Last updated: August 15, 2018
Black seed oil, also called black cumin seed oil, is the oil derived by pressing or cold extracting the seeds from the Nigella sativa species. This variety is not related to the Cuminum cyminum species known as cumin.
The herbaceous N. sativa plant is common to Mediterranean locations as well as southwestern Asian countries like India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ground seeds are a utilized spice in these regions, especially in Middle Eastern and Indian foods. They don't taste anything like "regular cumin" but have a pungent, bitter flavor that is normally combined with other spices.
Historical evidence of black seeds dates back to Ancient Egypt, often popularized as one of the found items in King Tut's tomb. Other references to the use of the seeds are noted by Hippocrates for digestive issues and in Bible text as the curative "black cumin." The pressed oil is also reported to have been one of Cleopatra's beauty secrets for the hair and skin.
But what is black cumin seed oil and are its many claimed benefits based on truth or hype?
Black cumin seed oil is basically a nutritive as well as medicinal type of oil and definitely tastes like one. If you've ever used fresh thyme or oregano, it has a very similar bitter and slightly spicy quality. In fact, it also happens to have some of the same beneficial properties as the oil derived from both of these herbs.
The oil is used for supplemental purposes in small amounts, unlike other healthy dietary fats you might use more liberally like coconut oil, olive oil or hemp seed oil. A one teaspoon portion of black cumin oil, or 3 soft gel caps, is the typical dose amount recommended daily for average effectiveness.
It is a relatively new oil product that is extensively marketed and sold now by over 70 different company’s since only a few years ago. We were a little skeptical upon our first experience with it due to all the hype and "believe-it-or-not" health claims. But, as it turns out, after over 6 months of using it off and on for several weeks at a time, we can see that there is some valid evidence to support its touted benefits.
Black seed oil is in fact composed of several of volatile oils such as carvacrol and thymol, also found in the herb oregano, as well as linalool, p-cymene and thymol, also found in the herb thyme. Thymol is a known disinfectant used in mouthwashes and is a natural monoterpenoid phenol known for its aromatic scent and antiseptic nature.
Black seed oil consequently has some very similar properties to that of both these herbs. One being that it has potent antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral qualities that can be great for sinus infections, allergies and clearing the respiratory tract.
When taking the oil in the morning before vigorous exercise, we noticed it helped to open up the lungs allowing for deeper respiration during running sessions. We also found it to be quite useful during California wildfire season when the outdoor air quality can become drastically impaired. For this, it helps to ease breathing as well as boost immune response.
In a 2018 article published in Integrative Medicine Research, we discovered that the fixed seed oil has actually been investigated for its therapeutic potential for the management of sinusitis. It was shown to be helpful for alleviating nasal congestion, inhibiting inflammation in the respiratory airways as well as lessening microbial infection in these regions.
In other unofficial reports, it has also been claimed to be beneficial for chronic dry coughs and its sinus clearing effects have likewise been claimed by some individuals to have a positive impact on getting a better night's sleep.
Working as a natural antihistamine, documented research on the oil also provides evidence that it may be good for those with allergies and/or asthmatic conditions. In one study, it was shown that symptoms such as nasal itching, congestion and sneezing attacks were reduced in patients suffering from allergic rhinitis after 2 weeks of N. sativa treatment.
In a 2017 double-blind, placebo-controlled study, it was additionally confirmed that the anti-asthmatic effect of black cumin oil supplementation improved "asthma control with a trend in pulmonary function improvement."
There have been hundreds of scientific studies conducted on black cumin seed and its derived oil, especially since the 1990's.
Because of all this accrued evidence for many health conditions, it is often viewed as a type of "miracle curative" that, as we mentioned, has been highly marketed.
However, anyone with a little common sense about diet and lifestyle choices may agree that there is usually a bit more involved to achieving one’s health goals than simply taking an herb or dietary supplement.
But, as it turns out, the oil does in fact contain a potent amount of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory constituents that may be of particular benefit to a wide range of health issues.
That being said, black cumin oil might indeed be one of those superfoods to consider adding to a dietary protocol.
The most studied components identified in black seed oil are thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone (also called nigellone) as well as the mentioned thymol.
All of these bioactive ingredients possess strong antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. It is not only useful for inflammatory conditions of the sinuses and respiratory pathways, but also viewed as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent for the entire body.
Since inflammatory-related issues are often considered to be at the root of many diseases and health conditions, we can see how black seed oil can be perceived as a type of "cure-all" for many common ailments. Again, this is not to say, however, that supplementation should go without remedying the initial cause of inflammation.
The potent antioxidant
compound called thymoquinone is found in the largest concentration and
thus one of the most researched constituents. Its greatest claim to fame
is as an "anticancer molecule" and potential preventative for a number
of different types of cancers. (*)
Digestive Aid and Stimulant - As a carminative it is good for stomach upset, bloating, flatulence and heartburn; its bitter component may help to improve digestion. Its warming and pungent attributes can have an energizing effect on the bodily systems.
Immunity Enhancer and Antimicrobial - Black cumin seed oil can encourage improved immune response, potentially beneficial for autoimmune conditions (*), and can inhibit microbial infections. It is known to be effective against certain "superbugs" which have developed a resistance to antibiotic treatments, like MRSA infection (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). (*)
Gastrointestinal Health and Parasites - Beneficial to gastrointestinal tract and may help with parasitic infections. (*) It is shown to combat E. coli and infections caused by Schistosoma mansoni, an intestinal blood parasite. (*) As an antifungal, it is often a recommended dietary supplement for candida overgrowth.
Analgesic and Anti-Neurodegenerative Actions - Its anti-inflammatory actions also help to reduce associated pain and can have a protective effect on neurotoxicity as a AChE inhibitor, which can be beneficial for certain nervous system disorders. (*)
Antidiabetic Properties - Thymoquinone has been shown to have a potentially protective effect against the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. (*)
Heart Health and Blood Pressure - The seeds have been identified to help to balance cholesterol, lowering LDL and increasing HDL. (*) In other evidence the oil shows it may be helpful for reducing blood pressure in adults. (*)
Protective Effects to Liver and Kidney - Positive effects against renal diseases have been identified, according to 2018 research. (*) It was likewise recognized to have a protective influence on liver and renal tissues due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. (*)
Fungal Skin Issues - Used topically for fungal infections and skin issues like psoriasis. (*) Thymol, one of the active ingredients in black seed oil, has been used medications for the treatment of tinea or ringworm.
According to the book, Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Spices: Modern Uses for Ancient Medicine by Bharat B. Aggarwal, the main fatty acids in black seed oil include:
It is known to contain some B vitamins and folic acid as well as the minerals calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and copper.
It is best to purchase high quality pure organic oils that are cold-pressed without solvents and not diluted with other oils or additives.
We like brands that use dark glass bottles to preserve volatile oil content as well as shield essential fatty acids from possible rancidity.
Black seed oil is used as a dietary supplement and, in our opinion, should not be used liberally on foods or as a cooking oil. The unsaturated omega fats are especially sensitive to high heat.
One to two teaspoons of oil is the typical dose recommended for daily consumption.
Because it has a stronger flavor some people prefer to take it in soft gel capsule form.
The herb-like flavor of the oil goes will in salad dressings blended with olive oil. It can also be poured directly onto foods in small amounts.
The dark black seeds are traditionally ground and added to food or mixed into honey as a medicinal preparation. They can be steeped as a tea or blended into drinks.
The oil can also be used topically as a skin or hair treatment.
We recommended refrigerating bottled oils after opening to preserve nutrients.