Arabic: Habba Souda, Habbat al-Barakah;
Other English: Fennel Flower, Black Cumin Nigella sativa; Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)
Native to the Mediterranean and grown throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia, Nigella sativa is cultivated for its seeds, which are known as the “seeds of blessing.” For the Arabs, black seed is not only a food but also a valued traditional medicine that has long been used to treat such ailments as asthma, flatulence, polio, kidney stones, abdominal pain and so on. It has served as an important health and beauty aid for thousands of years.
According to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad described black seed as a cure for every disease except death. The great physician Ibn Sina (980–1037), better known as Avicenna, stated that black seed works as an expectorant, stimulates the body’s energy and helps overcome fatigue and dispiritedness.
How to use: 1) Eat black seeds plain; 2) Eat a teaspoon of black seed mixed with honey; 3) Boil black seed with water. Strain and drink; 4) Heat black seed and warm milk until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat. Cool, then drink; 5) Grind black seed and swallow it with water or milk; 6) Sprinkle on bread and pastries; 7) Burn black seed with bukhoor (incense) for a pleasant scent.
In the kitchen: Black seed is aromatic with a slight peppery flavor. It is one of the distinct flavors of Arab pastries. It is often sprinkled on breads and cheese. It is heated with milk for flavor. It is eaten ground with honey or with cakes and pastries.
Remedies across Arabia: In Arabia, black seed remains a traditional remedy for asthma, coughs, stomach aches, abdominal pain, colic, general fatigue, rheumatism, mouth and larynx diseases, skin diseases and cancer. It is also believed to strengthen a mother after childbirth; stimulate menstruation, urination and liver functions; aid digestion; dissolve kidney stones; and increase intelligence. Black seed is used to beautify skin, nourish hair and stimulate hair growth.
Did you know?
- Black seed was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. This suggests that black seed had an important role in ancient Egypt, since it was customary to place in tombs items needed for the afterlife.
- In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah contrasts Nigella (black cumin) with wheat. (See Isaiah 28: 25, 27.)