Are Black Seeds (Nigella) Healthy?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on March 28, 2024
7 min read

Black seed is the common name for the seeds of the Nigella sativa plant. This plant is a small shrub with green leaves and white and purplish flowers. It grows worldwide, but most commonly in southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and southwest Asia. It’s also known as nigella, black cumin, fennel flower, black caraway, Roman coriander, Habbatul Barakah (Arabic), and Tikur azmud (Amharic).

Black seed oil is extracted from these seeds. Capsules of the oil may be found in health stores and online. The oil and the seeds, which can be eaten raw or lightly toasted, have long been used as medicinal plants in the regions where N. sativa is grown. It even appears in the words of the Prophet Muhammad, who describes the seeds as "a remedy for every illness except death." Early herb specialists described it as "the herb from heaven." The seeds were also mentioned in the Holy Bible and ancient Greek medicine.

Black seed vs. black cumin​​

Black seed and black cumin are both used to refer to the seeds of the N. sativa plant.

But another plant, Bunium bulbocastanum, is also called black cumin. Known as kala jeera, B. bulbocastanum is more commonly found in India. It’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for treatments related to colds, throat infections, and even hyperglycemia.

N. sativa is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup or crowfoot family), and B. bulbocastanum is a member of the Apiaceae family. Kala jeera seeds look more or less like typical cumin bought in grocery stores, and they’re often used to flavor meat and rice dishes. Nigella seeds have a different look -- darker in color and funnel-shaped.

Black seed can be used in various forms -- whole, as an oil, in a capsule, and as a powder.

Because black seed oil contains the compound thymoquinone, it’s believed to have various properties that can support your health. Thymoquinone is:

  • Hepatoprotective (prevents damage to the liver)
  • Analgesic (eases pain)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal
  • Cytotoxic and anti-cancer (can attack cancer cells)

People consume the oil, usually in capsule form, to help with conditions such as:

  • Inflammation and pain
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • High cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Infertility
  • High blood pressure
  • Neurological disorders

Still, more research is needed to confirm if thymoquinone in black seed oil products can actually treat certain conditions. It shouldn't be used as the sole treatment for any condition.

Other ways to use black seed include:

Skin treatments. You can apply black seed oil on your body. Small-scale studies have shown it may help with eczema, psoriasis, and acne.

Soap. Black seed, along with other ingredients, can be used as a cleansing and moisturizing soap to wash your body. It may help you manage skin blemishes and irritation.

Hair treatments. Black seed is also an ingredient in shampoos and hair masks, which manufacturers say can help improve hair strength and shine.

Healing wounds. Due to its antiseptic and antibiotic properties, black seed oil can help treat small skin cuts and prevent scar formation at the site of the cut.

Cooking. Black seeds are commonly used as a spice for flavoring when cooking dishes such as rice, meat, vegetables, and bread.

Black seed powder

Black seed can be ground into a powder supplement. Researchers have studied black seed powder to explore how it can help manage conditions such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, obesity, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Most people take 1-2 grams of black seed powder daily for 8-12 weeks. But talk with your doctor before taking black seed powder as a supplement. Don’t take it to manage any condition unless your doctor recommends it.

One teaspoon of black seed oil contains:

  • Calories: 45
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Fatty acids: 1 gram
  • Sodium: 0 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams

Black seed is a good source of:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Thiamin
  • Niacin
  • Phosphorous
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B2

Besides offering a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals, black seeds have many potential health benefits:

Black seed for inflammation

Black seed has been proven to reduce inflammation and relax smooth muscles, easing the symptoms of people with asthma in clinical studies.

Combined with its antioxidant properties, these effects help prevent gastrointestinal disorders and ease related symptoms.

Black seed may even help with neuroinflammation, or inflammation of brain tissue, which may lead to the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So far, research has only been done on animals, so more studies are needed to confirm this potential benefit in humans.

Black seed oil for skin

Research suggests that black seed oil may help manage skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, acne, and skin pigmentation problems like vitiligo, and skin infections. 

You may also use black seed oil for daily skin care to cleanse, moisturize, and manage skin irritation.

Black seed oil is known for its wound-healing effects. It can help speed up wound healing, reduce tissue damage, keep bacteria from spreading, and prevent scar formation. So, it can be used to treat minor burns, wounds, and injuries. However, for higher-degree burns or more serious injuries, you should consult a medical professional.

Black seed oil for hair

Black seed oil may help moisturize your hair and scalp. It may also help treat scalp wounds and hair loss. A small study done on 90 people with hair loss found that herbal hair oil that included black seed oil reduced hair fall by up to 76%. 

Hair products such as shampoos and masks often contain black seed oil, claiming that it can enhance hair's strength, texture, shine, and volume.

Black seed for weight loss

Taking black seed oil as a supplement may help manage obesity and metabolic disorders. Recent studies suggest that its use as a supplement may reduce body weight and BMI, but more research is needed.

Black seed for allergies

Black seed oil in nasal drops may help improve itchy, runny, or stuffy nose, sneezing attacks, and other allergy symptoms in people with hay fever. But it might make your nose dry.

It may also help manage allergy symptoms in people with asthma and eczema.

Pay attention if your allergy or asthma symptoms don't improve. If you experience any sudden wheezing, rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing, seek medical help right away.

Black seed for blood pressure and cholesterol

Initial research has found that black seed supplements may help lower blood pressure in healthy people.

It also lowers cholesterol. Women who combined black seed supplements with a low-calorie diet lowered their cholesterol more than women who didn’t take the supplements.

Black seed for diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes who take black seed supplements have shown lower blood sugar levels, lowering their risk for future diabetes-related complications.

Black seed and black seed oil have proven largely safe in small doses, but some people may have a few side effects. Consider the following before taking black seed supplements:

Digestive issues. Some people have reported nausea and bloating after eating black seed.

Medication interference. Because black seed can affect your metabolism, it may interfere with some prescription medications. Talk to your doctor if you are on any drugs that might be affected.

Pregnancy.  You can still eat foods containing black seeds while pregnant, but taking additional black seed oil or powder isn’t recommended. In pregnant people, black seeds may slow down uterus contractions or even stop them if taken in large amounts.

Bleeding problems. Black seed might make you more likely to bleed and slow blood clotting. It may also worsen symptoms in people with a bleeding disorder.

Surgery. Black seed oil may interact with medicines used during and after surgery, leading to potentially serious side effects. Stop taking black seed at least 2 weeks before surgery, and be sure to tell your doctor about how much black seed you take.

Allergic reaction. You could get severe acute contact dermatitis (a serious itchy rash) when you apply black seed oil directly on your skin.

Kidney health. Though black seeds may protect kidney health, older research suggests that taking too much black seed oil, about 2,000-2,500 milligrams daily, may affect your kidneys. Talk to a doctor before taking black seed supplements.

Most people take 1-2.5 grams of black seed oil by mouth daily. But talk with a doctor before starting it, and they can recommend the correct dose for you.

Black seed is a versatile natural product from the Nigella sativa plant, recognized for its healing and health-improving benefits. It’s available in many forms, including powder, tablets, sprays, gels, creams, shampoos, soaps, oils, and masks. Speak with your doctor before using black seed regularly for any health issues. They can advise you on whether to take it and how to use it safely.

What is black seed good for?

Black seed may be good for acne, asthma, hay fever and allergies, diabetes, weight loss, high blood pressure, pain, and other health concerns.

Who should not take black seed?

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with bleeding disorders, and people who are scheduled to have surgery shouldn't consume black seed products. Also, avoid black seed if you’re taking medications, herbs, and supplements for blood pressure, blood sugar, blood clotting, sleep, low iron, anxiety, and depression.