Black seed (Nigella sativa) comes from a plant native to Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The seeds have been used as medicine for more than 2,000 years; some were found stored in King Tut’s tomb and the oil was reputed to be used by Cleopatra. Black seeds have been used to treat headaches, toothaches, asthma, arthritis, infections and parasites, and many other ailments. More recently they have been promoted for treatment of diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. Black seed oil is occasionally recommended for treatment of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis as well as various digestive problems.
Some studies have suggested that black seed extract can help relieve coughing and wheezing and improve lung function in people with asthma. Black seed powder may improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels in those with diabetes. And there is some evidence that it might slightly lower blood pressure. The oil may improve sperm production and function in infertile men, and a topical gel containing it may reduce breast tenderness associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Beyond that, researchers have investigated black seed oil and black seed powder for treatment of a wide variety of health problems, ranging from hayfever, eczema, indigestion, epilepsy, and high cholesterol to rheumatoid arthritis, cancer prevention, digestive problems, flu, headache and menstrual disorders, but these studies haven’t produced sufficient evidence to demonstrate efficacy. If you have any serious medical condition, I wouldn’t advise using black seeds or black seed oil without the knowledge and consent of your physician.
I’m more familiar with the seeds as an ingredient in Indian cuisine. They also can be sprinkled on breads or added to soups and stir-fries. Some people use the oil in food preparation, but note that it has a strong taste you may not like.
Andrew Weil, M.D.