What Is Nigella Sativa?

Nigella Sativa powder, capsules, seeds, and oil

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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Nigella sativa is a small black seed that comes from a flowering plant in the Ranunculacea family. Native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean, it now grows throughout India, the Middle East, and Europe. Nigella sativa has been used for centuries in herbal medicine to treat certain health conditions including asthma, bronchitis, and inflammation. It has also long been used as a spice and food preservative.

While research on Nigella sativa's health effects is limited, findings from in vitro, animal, and a small number of human studies show that it may offer immune-boosting and antioxidant benefits.

What Is Nigella Sativa Used For?

To date, there is a lack of clinical trials testing Nigella sativa's health effects. Because of this, it's simply too soon to recommend it as a principal standard treatment for any condition.

Some of the research that does exist suggests that the seed holds promise for the treatment and/or prevention of asthma, blood pressure, and certain cancers. This is believed to be owed to thymoquinone, an active ingredient in Nigella sativa oil extract that has anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, antibacterial, and anti-cancer properties.

Asthma and Allergies

According to a 2013 review investigating the therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa in boiled extract form, authors concluded that the natural substance has potential to alleviate the symptoms of asthma by widening the bronchioles to allow airflow to the lungs.

Similarly, a month-long 2011 study looked at Nigella sativa's impact on allergic rhinitis. In a sample of 66 men and women who experienced nasal congestion, runny and itchy nose, and sneezing, Nigella sativa reduced symptoms during the first two weeks.

High Blood Pressure

Nigella sativa is widely reported to have anti-hypertensive properties, which aid in reducing blood pressure. A 2013 study found that Nigella sativa oil significantly decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure among 70 participants.

However, a study from 2017 sought to test Nigella sativa's diuretic properties and ability to curb overactivity in the sympathetic nervous system to gauge whether it positively impacted blood pressure. After administering Nigella sativa seed extract twice per day for 28 days, blood pressure was lowered, but not to a significant degree.

Further studies on humans are needed to confirm this benefit.


While most Nigella sativa research has been done on animals, a 2019 review cited past studies on human breast, bladder, cervical, prostate, and renal cancer cells that found that Nigella sativa has the potential to fight cancer.

Studies showed that thymoquinone inhibited cancer cell multiplication and in some cases, killed cancer cells.

Other Illnesses and Ailments

Some limited studies have suggested that Nigella sativa may have potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and high cholesterol. Other popular uses include:

That said, there is not enough scientific evidence to know for sure if Nigella sativa can aid in the treatment of these conditions.

If you are considering using Nigella sativa, speak with your healthcare provider first. Self-treating a chronic condition and avoiding or delaying the use of recommended care can have serious health consequences.

Possible Side Effects

When black seed is used in food or medicinally in small amounts for a short period of time, it is possibly safe. But there isn't enough information to know for sure if it is safe in higher amounts or when taken for longer periods of time.

There is no standardized dose of Nigella sativa, but different amounts have been studied in research. For example, when studying black seed's effect on asthma, two grams of ground Nigella sativa has been used daily for 12 weeks. Also, 500 milligrams (mg) of black seed oil has been taken twice daily for four weeks. When studying its effect on blood pressure, a half to two grams of black seed powder has been taken daily for up to 12 weeks.

While anyone should consult with their healthcare provider before starting any herb or supplement, caution and consult are especially important for particular individuals due to concerns such as the following:

  • Tests on animals indicate that high doses of Nigella sativa may damage the kidney and/or liver. Use may be considered carefully in individuals with existing kidney or liver problems or risks.
  • Taking Nigella sativa during chemotherapy may hamper the effects of chemotherapy drugs.
  • Because Nigella sativa may further reduce blood pressure, it poses risk for those with hypotension.
  • Although studies analyzing any effect Nigella sativa might have on pregnancy and breastfeeding have focused on animals, women are advised to talk to their healthcare provider before consumption.

Lastly, Nigella sativa may cause an allergic reaction when applied topically.

Nigella sativa seeds

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Nigella sativa is found in some specialty grocery stores because the ingredient is used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. The seeds are known to have a strong aroma with notes of onion, oregano, and black pepper. You'll find them used in curries and lentil dishes.

Store Nigella sativa seeds like you would store your other spices. Keep them in airtight containers away from heat and light.

The natural substance is also sold as a dietary supplement, and sometimes as an oil or in capsule or powder form. Always read the label of any product you choose to make sure there are no other unexpected ingredients.

Keep in mind, however, that all of these options are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While it is illegal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment or cure for a disease or to reduce symptoms, the FDA does not test products for safety or effectiveness. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the amount specified on the label. There have also been published reports of supplements containing ingredients not disclosed on the label.

When choosing a supplement, try to buy from a familiar seller such as your local pharmacy. Ask questions if you are not sure which product to choose. Also, it's best to look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeia, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is black seed oil?

    Black seed oil is extracted from the seeds of Nigella sativa, a plant that is grown in India, the Middle East, and Europe. People have used it for centuries as an herbal medicine to treat asthma, bronchitis, and inflammation. Additionally, the seeds are used as a spice or food preservative.

  • How do you use black seed oil?

    Black seed oil can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin. However, you should talk to your doctor before using the oil, as it can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

  • Are there Nigella sativa capsules?

    Yes. Nigella sativa seeds are sold as a dietary supplement in the form of a capsule, an oil, or a powder.

  • What are common names for Nigella sativa?

    A few common names for Nigella sativa include Black Caraway, Black Cumin Seed Oil, Fennel Flower, and Kalonji, but there are many more.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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