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Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Nigella sativa Ranunculaceae Western Asia

Nigella is one of the most revered medicinal spices in ancient history and throughout recorded history has been touted as a cure-all. Nigella has been used for thousands of years for a thousand uses. Nigella seeds were found in Tutenkhamen's tomb and are mentioned in the Bible.

The Romans used nigella as a culinary spice. Throughout Asia nigella seeds were used to cure toothaches and insect infestation, and to repel pests like mosquitoes.  In (northern) India, nigella seeds are known as Kalonji, and are so referenced in Indian cookbooks and recipes.

Nigella derives its name from the Latin nigellus, meaning 'black'. The tear-drop shaped seeds are a matte black and the Nigella sativa plant belongs to the buttercup family.

Whole nigella seeds have no aroma, but once ground they smell like a mix between pepper and oregano. Their flavor is onion-like and somewhat bitter, with peppery undertones.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Nigella has been used for hundreds of years in ancient Islamic systems of medicine and still in many Islamic countries, nigella is considered a natural remedy for almost all that ails you. It is said that the prophet Mohammed claimed nigella could cure everything but death. Although we now know this to be false, it is true that nigella is still used to treat a number of different ailments.

Historically, nigella has been used to:

  • Aid digestion
  • As a good source of essential fatty acids
  • Relieve coughs
  • Increase production of breast milk
  • As a source of calcium iron and potassium
  • As a diuretic
  • Stimulate appetite
  • Stimulate mental alertness
  • As a carminative
  • As an antimicrobial

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription or prescription natural or homeopathic substance or pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medication.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, nigella is a popular addition to many bread and vegetable dishes. Nigella is sprinkled on naan bread and is a main ingredient in panch phora, a Bengalese mix of five whole spices. Nigella has a somewhat bitter taste and smells slightly of oregano.  Food for thought:

  • Substitute nigella for black pepper, in a grinder.
  • Slightly roast whole nigella seeds before adding to a dish
  • Sprinkle ground nigella over vegetables, salads, poultry and fish
  • Add whole nigella seeds to curries and vegetable dishes
  • Use whole nigella seeds to decorate breads such as Indian naan.

view other A-Z Spices