Black seed has been used as a remedy for a huge range of ailments for thousands of years. It’s been said to help with nearly everything at one stage or another, from cancer to hay fever, from malaria to obesity. It was found buried alongside the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh King Tut, and it is described by Islamic literature as “a cure for every disease, but death.”
With such a long history, and considering its massive list of supposedly beneficial effects, it is worth asking about black seed oil: what does it do? Is it worth adding this ancient panacea to your daily regimen? In this article, we will explore the known uses of black seed, both as an oil and in some of its other forms.
What Is Black Seed Oil?
Black seed oil is made from the seeds of a plant called Nigella sativa, which originated in Asia and has since spread to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. It’s also called black caraway, fennel flower, black coriander, black onion seed, among many other names. It is commonly mistaken for black cumin, which it is sometimes used as a substitute for in cooking. The seeds are, appropriately enough, black, though the oil itself is amber colored.
Probably the most well-known use for black seed in cooking is in naan bread, but it also features in other Indian dishes, especially ones from the Bengal area, as well as in Indian five spice (panch phoron). It’s even sometimes used in Polish food, as well as in Middle Eastern cuisine.
What Are the Benefits?
Most of the early research on the potential beneficial effects of using black seed oil was conducted on animals. Some of these results have been contradicted by later studies. So, it’s worth being cautious if you’re looking to use the oil for one of its many supposed positive effects.
There are a few conditions where clinical trials have been conducted on human subjects, with beneficial results.
Black seed oil has been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, encouraging the “good” HDL type while reducing amounts of the “bad” LDL cholesterol. It may also help with managing blood sugar, as one study showed that it can reduce insulin resistance. The exact mechanisms of how it does this are still being studied, along with most other possible benefits of the plant.
In the study, the subjects were taking capsules with black seed powder in them, so the effects of the oil may not be the same. The results suggested that a dose of 2 grams per day could help supplement hypoglycemic medications for diabetics.
Early research has indicated that the use of black seed oil can help asthma sufferers. According to a 2017 study, asthmatics who took the oil daily over the course of a month found that it helped improve their asthma control and general lung functioning, as well as lessening allergic reactions. The subjects of this study were taking 500mg capsules of black seed oil twice a day, although other studies have been performed using smaller doses of oil, as well as of black seed extract.
So far, the effects of using the oil have only been researched in women. A 2015 study showed a link between using black seed oil in combination with a low-calorie diet, and reductions in waist circumference, weight, and triglyceride levels. While how this works requires more study to be understood, subjects that took one gram of black seed oil before every meal over the course of eight weeks showed a significant improvement compared to those who only had a placebo.
Studies have shown that using black seed oil can potentially help in treating allergies such as acute rhinitis, also known as hay fever. For example, a 2011 study concluded that use of the oil may have helped to reduce the effects of hay fever, including a runny nose, sneezing, nasal itching, and congestion. The study suggested that it should be considered as a treatment in situations where normal medicines need to be avoided.
Other Possible Benefits
More research is needed across the board to confirm the results and to help to understand how black seeds’ beneficial effects work.
The list of different diseases and conditions that could potentially be treated by black seed oil is pretty extensive, but we’ll summarize some of the more important ones for you here.
- Eczema – has been shown to help when taken orally, but rubbing on the skin doesn’t seem to help
- Shown to influence programmed cell death in brain cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia
- May help to reduce immune system damage during cancer treatment
- May reduce chances of leukemia returning after treatment
- Mental performance – improvements were shown in some measures of memory and attention in boys and men
- Epilepsy – use of black seed extract, but not oil, has been shown to possibly reduce the instance of seizures in children
- Hepatitis C – taking the oil by mouth daily for three months reduces viral load and lower limb swelling
- Opioid withdrawal – taking black seed extract three times a day for 12 days may help reduce withdrawal symptoms
- Osteoarthritis– using oil on the knee for around a month can help ease the pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis – studies show that black seed oil can improve pain and stiffness in patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and are already taking methotrexate
The Bottom Line
Black seed oil has been used for thousands of years by cultures around the world as a folk remedy for ailments from indigestion to malaria, and modern science is finally catching up. Research has shown that using products made from black seeds may have a range of positive effects.
So, it is definitely worth looking into black seed oil. What does it do? It can reduce your cholesterol, help with allergies, help you lose weight, and it even eases asthma symptoms.
But while it seems like the surface has just been scratched on all that this wonder-plant can do, conclusive results are not yet in, so take any claims about it with a pinch of salt.