Nigella sativa is called Kalvanji in Urdu and Kalonji in Hindi, and although I understand what it is, a small black seed, I didn’t know what its name is in English. Being naturally curious, I set about trying to find out. What follows are the results of this research.
First of all, I read that the name in English is a garden flower which was a favourite in Elizabethan gardens; Love-in-the Mist, but on looking up its Latin name I found it is Nigella damascena, and not Nigella sativa. This being the case, it would be better if those wishing to avail themselves of the cure-all effects of Nigella sativa do not substitute it with a relative such as Love-in -the-Mist.
Then I looked at sites which claimed that Nigella sativa was black cumin seed, black onion seed, black caraway, and black sesame seed, among others. It most definitely is none of these things. The nearest name in English that others use is simply black seed or blackseed. In this article, I shall use the terms black seed or Nigella sativa.
When I mentioned that the small black seeds I take a pinch of when I need to clear my head were black cumin seeds, I was told categorically they were not. We went to the computer, where we found the name, black cumin. To demonstrate the difference I was taken to the spice shop in the local bazaar. The spice seller showed me white cumin, black cumin and black seeds. I tasted some of each and can say that they are all different. They look different too.
White cumin is the type I normally purchased in Britain; a pale green-grey colour. Black cumin is actually brown and much more pungent than the white variety.Black seed looks nothing like cumin, and five grains of it laid end to end would be the length of a cumin seed.
White cumin is used with many dishes, including biryanis, and black is used in garam masala, and with meat dishes. Black seed, which is a very good description, is used a pinch at a time and can improve the efficiency of the immune system if taken regularly over a period of time. When you take a pinch and chew it, this has the effect of clearing a muzzy head and the nasal passages. It is also used in meat dishes on the Indian subcontinent.
So what, you might be thinking? The problem with this confusion is that people who are looking for the oil of Nigella sativa might just be given the oil of black cumin, black caraway or black onion seed, which have different properties to the real thing. If you buy essential oils and want the beneficial results from Nigella sativa, make sure that this name is clearly written on the packaging. Other oils will give different benefits, but may exacerbate the ailment you are trying to cure.
Apart from relieving headaches, black seeds used as oil can alleviate the symptoms of eczema, and treat other skin problems, whereas other oils might prove detrimental to skin problems. Black seed can also help with digestive problems and can be used to increase your appetite, or to help break down fatty cells. It’s known in Arabic as ‘the seed of blessing’-habbatul barakah. The other seeds are not.
If you are buying these products take care that you are not being given the wrong ones. Always read the packaging carefully. Take care that they are not classed with black onion seed,black caraway seed or black cumin seed. The only names on the packaging should be Nigella sativa or Black seeds.