Black seed is a delicious herb and its oil is highly nutritious and healing. The herb has been used in the Middle East, Africa and by the Roman Empire for thousands of years. But like all things that recently seem to be making a belated introduction into the New World, there are plenty of misconceptions as to what the black seed actually is. Black seed is being erroneously labeled as black cumin seed and sometimes onion seed. Read on to understand what black seed really is.

My first introduction to black seed came when I was a young teenager. I was learning the Indian culinary arts. Black seed is a common herb/spice used to add an almost oregano like taste to dishes with a peppery bite. It is also used commonly to top Middle Eastern bread. I wondered where this tasty seed had been hiding all of my life. Soon black seed became a staple in my home as we added it to our curries more for its health benefit than for its flavor. My favorite use for black seed today is in a boiled egg curry in fresh tomato sauce with curry leaf (I think I should share this with you one day). Whenever someone is sick we make sure to add black seeds to our chicken broth, too. Black seed oil is a regular part of scalp massages to strengthen hair. My kids even take black seed oil mixed with honey without being told.

Black seed (nigella sativa) looks very similar to black sesame seed (sesame on the left). However, they have completely different tastes and are not interchangeable.

Egyptian black seed oil was one of the first products I introduced in 2000. Wanting to share the natural skin and body remedies of Africa and the Middle East this was on the top of the list. Now that black seed oil is finally starting to show up on retail shelves, like many “new” things, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding what the black seed actually is. Black seed is suffering a bad case of mistaken identity. Black cumin and onion seed are only a few erroneous names. They are not the same and should not be confused for one another.

For better illustration I will turn to my knowledge of Indian cooking, a cuisine I believe to use more herbs and spices than any other. In Indian cooking there are two types of cumin seeds, called jeera. There is the common cumin seed (cuminum cyminum), and then there is a darker, smaller one called kala jeera (bunium bulbocastanum)or black cumin. Cumin, the spice that gives many Mexican dishes their distinctive taste, are also used to make an essential oil. Neither “cumin” nor “black cumin” is black seed. Black cumin IS NOT black seed and although plenty of products now erroneously label themselves as black cumin, the two should not be confused. Black cumin is actually from the plant bunium bulbocastanum, which is in the Apiaceae family. Black seed, which the sought after oil is made from, is actually nigella sativa and not related to cumin at all.

On the front are common cumin seeds. On the top left are black cumin seeds (NOT the seeds that produce black seed oil). On the top right are actual black seed, nigella sativa, which produce black seed oil. Black seed is erroneously being called black cumin. Black seed is not a cumin at all.


Black seed oil, nigella sativa, comes from the beautiful Love-in Mist flower. In Indian cooking the seeds are called kalonji. They are sometimes added whole to Indian curries and are often seen on top of Afghan and Middle Eastern breads. Common cumin which is ground into a fragrant powder and used in many Mexican and Indian dishes is called jeera. Black cumin, which is less flavorful than its cumin relative, is called kala jeera meaning black cumin. Black seed and black cumin come from two totally different species and are not interchangeable in any way, not for health benefits, nor cooking.

When looking for black seed oil make sure that the botanical name is listed as is required by law, and that it states nigella sativa. Black seed oil should always be bought from a very reputable source. Numerous scientific studies have shown that Egyptian black seed oil has the highest therapeutic quality. Most black seed oil commonly comes from India. Freshness and purity varies greatly. Black seed oil is often cut with inexpensive oils. Black seed oil should always be freshly pressed and kept in amber glass out of direct sunlight. The aroma and taste should be very pungent. It is often mixed with honey to make it palatable. In skin care products look for the distinctive aroma to ensure that an effective dosage of black seed oil has been used in the product. Even in soap the distinctive aroma of black seed oil should be present.

Egyptian Black Cumin

Archeologists have discovered Black Cumin oil in the tomb of Tutankhamun, an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh also known as King Tut. This proves that Black Cumin seeds were known and often widely used by Egyptians. The seeds were used to treat colds, infections, headaches, and toothaches. Cosmetically, Black Cumin was used for strengthening hair and nails and giving them a healthy luster and shine. Black Cumin may also be used to treat stomach problems and skin conditions including irritation, rashes, and sores.

Native to Southern Africa, Southeastern Europe, and Southern Asia, Black Cumin (Bunium Bulbocastanum) is praised for its multifaceted benefits. Research studies have found that the plant can help fight bacteria and infection.

Kalonji Seeds or Nigella Sativa

Nigella Sativa is also known as Kalonji seeds. Kalonji seeds are used for their medicinal properties and their delicious contribution in the kitchen. Whether you want to add Kalonji seeds to add flavor to your dishes or take it as a daily supplement along with a teaspoon of honey, Kalonji may provide multitude of benefits to your health. Kalonji seeds can increase hair growth, reduce inflammation, treat rashes, and irritation of the skin. Kalonji may regulate blood sugar, and kill off bacteria.

Benefits of Kalonji Seeds:

  • May help lower cholesterol
  • Could have anti-cancer effects
  • Kills Bacteria
  • Can reduce Inflammation
  • May removes Toxins
  • May Strengthen and protect the liver
  • Can regulates high blood sugar
  • Can prevent stomach ulcers

*Always consult your doctor before taking a new medication, especially if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

If you have really sensitive skin, test a bit of the product you are going to use to see if any allergic reactions appear.

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