|Article by Ann Walker|
Black seed (Nigella sativa) is a herb that is not traditionally used by herbalists in western herbal medicine, but how much longer can we ignore it? The use of the herb goes way back into history (black seeds were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, for example). They were (and continue to be) used for their flavour in cooking and as a medicine in many countries bordering the Mediterranean and throughout the Islamic world, where they are advocated as something of a panacea.
There is increasing research interest in the herb - also known as black cumin, black onion seed or kalonji. It is easy to see the growing number of scientific papers published on black seed by consulting PubMed. This is the free public interface to MEDLINE, the world’s leading scientific database on medicine. Using the Latin name as the search term, over 1100 papers can be found at the time of writing - many on laboratory studies - but fifty describing clinical trials on black seed! To have this large number of clinical trials reported on a single herb is extremely unusual.
Looking at the fifty clinical trials, it is amazing to see the diversity of the disease conditions addressed by black seed in these studies, including asthma, diabetes, anxiety, improved sperm quality, dyspepsia and hypothyroidism However, recently, a study was reported on the topical use of the pressed oil from black seed, which I want to highlight here. The oil, as well as the whole seed, has a long history of use as medicine for internal use, and in this study it was used without dilution as a massage oil for arthritic knees (PMID: 29705470). A group of sixty elderly people with painful knee arthritis were randomly divided to use the black seed oil massage or no massage (control group). Although the control group continued with their routine prescriptions, those rubbing black seed oil onto their knees (three times a week for a month) showed a significant decrease in pain compared to the control group by the end of the study.
Many of the studies on black seed come from Iran, Saudi Arabia or Egypt and this fact alone will raise doubts about the validity of the results in the minds of those sceptical of the medicinal value of plants. Apart from the fact that design standards for clinical studies worldwide are improving all the time, the complex chemistry of black seed with its many active compounds would indicate that it has the potential to effect beneficial changes in many aspects of human physiology in disease conditions.
PMID = PubMed identifier
Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM