Nigella sativa is a small flowering shrub with purple or white-tinged flowers that grows in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and western Asia.
While it may look unsuspecting, the shrub produces fruits that have tiny black seeds. These black seeds have been used in remedies for thousands of years.
Archaeologists even found black seeds in King Tut’s tomb, emphasizing their importance in history for healing and protection. They’re also used in cooking to add flavor to breads, curries, and pickles. When eaten, the seeds have a bitter flavor that’s often compared to cumin or oregano.
Some additional names for black seed oil include:
- black caraway
- black cumin
- black onion seed
Black seed oil has been shown to have antioxidant properties. These can help relieve inflammation inside the body and on the skin. Herbs and supplements are not monitored by the FDA. Research and use reputable brands.
Black seed oil has shown promise in treating some of the most common health conditions, including high blood pressure and asthma. It also shows strong antifungal activity against Candida albicans — yeast that can overgrow in the body and lead to candidiasis. Examples of other black seed oil health benefits include:
- Reducing high blood pressure: Taking black cumin seed extract for two months has been shown to reduce high blood pressure in people whose blood pressure is mildly elevated.
- Reducing high cholesterol: Taking black seed oil has been shown to reduce high cholesterol. It’s high in healthy fatty acids that can help you maintain healthier cholesterol levels. Examples of these fatty acids include linoleic acids and oleic acid. The levels of the oils can vary depending on where the black seeds are grown. People may also see results when consuming the crushed seeds.
- Improving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: Taking oral black seed oil may help to reduce inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- Decreasing asthma symptoms: The anti-inflammatory effects of black seed oil may extend to improving asthma symptoms. Its effect in reducing inflammation in the airways may also help with bronchitis symptoms.
- Reducing stomach upset: Eating black seeds or taking black seed oil is associated with relieving stomach pain and cramps. The oil can help to reduce gas, stomach bloating, and the incidence of ulcers as well.
Black seed oil is also thought to have anticancer properties. It may help fight against skin cancers when applied topically.
Portions of black seed oil known as thymoquinone and other seed potions were able to reduce the growth of tumors in lab rats. The oil also may help to reduce the tissue damaging effects of radiation that is used to kill cancer cells. But these results haven’t been studied in humans. Black seed oil shouldn’t be used as a substitute for conventional cancer treatments.
Black seed oil has several applications and benefits for problematic skin conditions. The oil is found in many health foods stores and pharmacies. Examples of applications for beauty and skin include:
- Acne: According to the Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery, applying a lotion prepared with 10 percent black seed oil significantly reduced the incidence of acne after two months. Those who participated in the study reported 67 percent satisfaction.
- Hydrating hair: Black seed oil can be applied to human hair to soften it and promote shine.
- Psoriasis: Applying black seed oil has been shown to reduce the incidence of psoriasis plaques.
- Softening skin: Black seed oil has been added to oils and moisturizers to improve skin moisture and hydration.
- Wound healing: Application of black seed oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and the presence of bacteria to aid in wound healing. While it doesn’t seem to be helpful in growing new collagen fibers, it does stimulate other growth factors to help the body create new, healthy skin.
Remember, black seed oil shouldn’t replace prescription treatments that a doctor may give you. But it does have some beauty benefits that can work in addition to these treatments to enhance your skin.
It’s possible that black seed oil can increase the effects of medicines that the body processes through the cytochrome P450 pathway. Enzymes in this pathway metabolize 90 percent of common medications. Examples of common medications can include beta-blockers such as metoprolol (Lopressor) and the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin).
If you take any prescription medications regularly, talk to your doctor before starting to take black seed oil. You shouldn’t stop taking any of your regular medications without talking to your doctor first.
Black seed oil can be helpful to liver function, but taking too much black seed oil can also be harmful to your liver and kidneys. If you have problems with either of these organs, talk to your doctor to determine a safe dose (if any). Also, topical black seed oil can cause allergic reactions. Do a patch test before applying it to a large area on your skin.
If you’re looking to expand your palate, you can incorporate black seeds into your dishes. Suggestions on foods to add black seeds to include:
- toasted and sprinkled on flatbreads like naan
- toasted and sprinkled over bagels or biscuits
- added to soups, curries, and stir-fries
- grinding them and mixing them with other seasonings like mustard, fennel, and cumin seeds
You can also purchase black seed oil at most health stores and pharmacies. The oil is often packaged into capsules for daily consumption. It’s also sold as an oil that can be applied to the skin and hair or taken by the spoonful.
Currently, there aren’t specific daily recommendations for how much black seed oil to take for good health. Incorporating the unprocessed seeds into dishes and skin products is the safest way to use black seed oil. If you choose a product with individual packaging, follow the recommended dose — usually a daily intake of about 1 to 2 teaspoons. Talk with your doctor before you start taking black seed oil, and include it on your home medication list.