Do you have seeds of doubt about which cumin is the real black cumin? You’re not alone. Two botanicals, Bunium bulbocastanum and Nigella sativa, are commonly referred to as black cumin. Both are purported to have therapeutic properties and both are spices. So what’s the difference? Let’s cut through the confusion.

Nigella Sativa

The prophet Mohammed is quoted as saying in the Koran, “This black cumin is healing for all diseases except death.” The black cumin he was referring to is Nigella sativa. It’s been used for centuries to treat everything from abscesses to herpes zoster.

Also called fennel flower, black caraway, and kalonji, Nigella sativa is a flowering plant. It’s native to parts of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. The plant grows nearly three feet, and has wispy foliage, small pale flowers, and fruit pods filled with seeds.

These seeds, about the size of caraway seeds, contain a number of active ingredients, including a powerful compound called thymoquinone (TQ). TQ is said to reduce inflammation, enhance the immune system, and protect against cancer.

Considerable research is being conducted to determine potential applications for N. sativa in the treatment of a range of conditions, including: 


N. sativa has gained interest as a possible anti-cancer agent. TQ has been shown to reduce the size of cancerous tumors in a number of animal studies. Laboratory studies in India found that TQ effectively slowed the growth of leukemia and myeloid lymphoma cells.


A large body of research supports the use of N. sativa for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. One study concluded that N. sativa relieves most common nasal allergy symptoms, including:

  • congestion
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • swelling of the nasal passages

Alzheimer’s Disease

Animal research indicates that N. sativa warrants further investigation for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that N. sativa enhances memory, attention, and cognition.

Bunium Bulbocastanum

B. bulbocastanum is also called black cumin, great pignut, soil chestnut, and black zira. It’s native to northern Africa, southeastern Europe, and southern Asia. The plant is about two feet tall, topped with white flowers similar to Queen Anne’s lace.

All parts of B. bulbocastanum have uses. The edible roots taste like coconut or chestnuts, while the leaves can be used as herbs. But the seeds of B. bulbocastanum are most prized.

Although there hasn’t been extensive research on the therapeutic uses of B. bulbocastanum, several studies indicate that the herb may be effective in several treatment areas.

Infection Control

Researchers are exploring B. bulbocastanum as an antibacterial drug. A study found that derivatives of the plant are effective in fighting certain forms of bacteria. Most notably, it helps fight Staphylococcus aureus, which is the primary cause of skin and soft tissue infections. These infections are often vancomycin-resistant and methicillin-resistant (MRSA) and don’t respond to antibiotics. Alternative treatments like B. bulbocastanum would be very beneficial.


According to some research, B. bulbocastanum has antioxidation and antiglycation properties. In the future, B. bulbocastanum may prove to effective at reducing the impact of diabetes complications and aging due to oxidation and glycation. These processes damage our cells and contribute to a host of medical conditions.

Human research and clinical trials are required before N. sativa and B. bulbocastanum can be heralded as cures. N. sativa in particular may pan out as a panacea for certain conditions.