The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds which are used as spice, sometimes as a replacement for black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).
The seeds of N. sativa are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, and also in Polish cuisine. The black seeds taste like a combination of onions, black pepper, and oregano. They have a pungent, bitter taste and smell. In Palestine the seeds are ground to make bitter qizha paste.
The dry-roasted seeds flavor curries, vegetables, and pulses. They can be used as a seasoning in recipes with pod fruit, vegetables, salads, and poultry. In some cultures, the black seeds are used to flavor bread products, and are used as part of the spice mixture panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and alone in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in naan. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.
Archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa is unrecorded, but N. sativa seeds were found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb. Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BCE.
N. sativa may have been used as a condiment of the Old World to flavor food. The Persian physician, Avicenna, in his Canon of Medicine, described N. sativa as a treatment for dyspnea. N. sativa was used in the Middle East as a traditional medicine.
N. sativa oil contains linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, and trans-anethole, and other minor constituents. Aromatics include thymoquinone, dihydrothymoquinone, p-cymene, carvacrol, α-thujene, thymol, α-pinene, β-pinene and trans-anethole. Oils are 32% to 40% of the total composition of N. sativa seeds. The seeds also contain thymoquinone.
One meta-analysis of clinical trials found weak evidence that N. sativa has a short-term benefit on lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure, with limited evidence that various extracts of black seed can reduce triglycerides and LDL and total cholesterol, while raising HDL cholesterol.
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