Nigella (Nigella sativa), also known as black seed or black cumin) is one of those herbal medicines that is relatively new to those of us in Western societies – yet it actually has a fascinating history going back thousands of years. The herb (and particularly the seeds) are a popular addition to many traditional dishes in Middle Eastern, Indian and Southern Asian cultures, and the herb itself also features in the folk medicine of these areas. You have more than likely come across Nigella seeds if you have ever eaten Turkish bread – the small black seeds are often sprinkled across the top.
Nowadays, we are blessed with wonderful opportunities to learn more about the active constituents in herbal medicines, and how they work. Nigella is showing promise in quite a few areas of health, and it is one of my favourite herbs to use in the clinic. Here are some of the ways it may be used…
Nigella has been studied for its effect on blood pressure, cholesterol and lipids (blood fats). Interestingly, Nigella has shown to be effective in balancing both total cholesterol levels and LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) as well as supporting liver clearance of cholesterol (remember that you need a healthy liver to have healthy cholesterol levels).
One of the most valuable ways Nigella may be used is as an adjunct supportive treatment for blood sugar regulation. With diabetes and metabolic syndrome (‘pre-diabetes’) becoming increasingly common, Nigella’s demonstrated ability to improve blood sugar levels may be useful in conjunction with nutrition & exercise.
Digestive discomfort is something I see a lot of in my clinic, and often gut issues are related to an overgrowth or imbalance within the microbiome of our gut (our unique collection of gut bacteria). Irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, nausea, excess gas and indigestion can all point towards this occurring somewhere along the digestive tract. Nigella has been shown to possess antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antibacterial, antifungal properties, as well as an ability to settle griping. This means that it may be helpful when aiming to restore balance to the gut bacteria, and I often use Nigella as part of my gut reset programs.
One of the wonderful things about herbs that have an effect on the immune system is that we have this lovely group known as ‘immunomodulators’. Immunomodulators have the ability to in effect balance the immune system – boosting it if it needs support, and reducing overactivity if it is going a bit too crazy (as in the case of allergies). This is one of the reasons why Nigella has traditionally been used for both allergies and infections.
Pain and Inflammation
Most herbs also contain plenty of natural antioxidants, so in most cases they are a great inclusion to any kind of natural management strategy for pain. Ongoing, chronic inflammation can damage the body over time (as well as keeping it ‘stuck’ in a perpetual pain pattern). Nigella has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Why Quality Matters
Nigella as a herbal supplement is often easy to find under the name ‘black seed oil’. However, as with many natural supplements, it is important to ask where the original plant material was sourced from, where the product was manufactured, and what measures are in place to ensure you are getting what you pay for. Adulteration is an unfortunate part of natural medicine, and can particularly be a problem with supplements purchased from overseas, where manufacturing standards are not as high as they are in Australia. In the clinic I use Nigella in either practitioner-strength tableted form or liquid tincture which is easily absorbed.
Is Nigella Right For You?
So there you have it – another member of nature’s medicine cabinet, available for us to use to support so many areas of our health. Much of our knowledge to do with Nigella has come from traditional wisdom, but research is continuing using modern-day methods. Of course, please keep in mind that when it comes to herbs, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so please see a qualified practitioner for guidance regarding whether Nigella is right for you (particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are taking medication).