Nigella sativa

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Nigella sativa

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More
Nigella sativa

Common Names

  • Black cumin
  • Black caraway
  • Black seed
  • Kalonji

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

Black cumin seed has not been shown to treat cancer in humans.

Black cumin seed is used for cooking and in traditional medicine in India, Arabia, and Europe. Laboratory studies have shown that some components have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Small clinical suggest that black cumin seed may help to control high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • To treat cancer
    Animal studies have shown that black cumin seed can stop the growth of tumor cells and reduce the incidence of tumors. However, the effects in humans are unclear.
  • To protect the body from the adverse effect of radiation therapy
    Topical application of an N. sativa gel decreased the severity of acute radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients.
  • To decrease hypertension
    Small studies suggest benefits in lowering hypertension.
  • To decrease symptoms of asthma
    Studies show that black cumin seed may help to prevent asthmatic symptoms.
  • To treatment rheumatoid arthritis
    One study shows black cumin seed oil when taken orally, can help reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • To treat diabetes
    Small studies show benefits of black cumin seed in patients with diabetes.
What are the side effects?
  • Topical use of pure N. sativa oil caused allergic reactions.
  • High doses of Nigella sativa caused liver and kidney damage in rats. Human data are lacking.
What else do I need to know?

Do Not Take if:

  • You are taking cytochrome P450 substrate drugs: Nigella sativa may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs. Clinical relevance is not known.

For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Nigella sativa
Clinical Summary

Nigella sativa is a flowering plant found throughout India, Arabia, and Europe. The seeds, commonly known as black seeds or black cumin, are used in cooking and in traditional medicine to reduce inflammation, as well as to treat infections and cancer.

Constituents from N. sativa demonstrated immunomodulatory (1) (2) (11), antioxidant (15), antiparasitic (13) and hepatoprotective effects (14)in preclinical studies. 

Small clinical trials suggest benefits of seed extracts for the treatment of asthma (21), allergic diseases (12), rheumatoid arthritis (26), dyspepsia (27) (31), H. pylori infection (39), diabetes (28) (40), and for ameliorating hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (32). Data on anti-hypertensive effects are conflicting (22) (33) (41). Thymoquinone, a major constituent, conferred antiepileptic effects in children with refractory seizures (23)

Topical use of N. sativa oil reduced cyclical mastalgia (34), improved urinary incontinence in menopausal women (42), and both topical (35) and oral (43) use relieved osteoarthritic knee pain, but oral intake of N. sativa seed powder did not have similar benefit (36). Oral oil use improved metabolic parameters in patients with coronary artery disease (44) and had cardiovascular protective effects in patients with type-2 diabetes (45).

Thymoquinone and other constituents also showed anticancer effects (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (25). N. sativa oil, when injected, protected against radiation-induced tissue damage in a murine model (15). Oral intake of N. sativa seeds lowered the incidence of febrile neutropenia and length of hospital stay in children with brain tumors (37); and topical application of an N. sativa gel decreased the severity of acute radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients (38). Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Cancer
  • Radiation therapy side effects
  • Hypertension
  • Asthma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
Mechanism of Action

Thymoquinone, one of the chief constituents of N. sativa oil has antioxidant effects and restored the levels of lactate dehydrogenase, glutathione, and SOD in animal models (6) (7) (9). This may also explain its hepatoprotective effects (3) (4). Studies have also shown that N. sativa oil exerts anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase (18). Nigellone, a constituent of the crude seed extract, inhibited histamine release from rat peritoneal mast cells (10) and may reduce allergy symptoms in humans (12). N. sativa also decreased hypertension in rats likely via its diuretic effects (5), and decreased uterine smooth muscle contractions (14).

The antioxidant effects of nigella are thought to protect tissues from radiation injury (15). However, it is not clear if this would also make radiation therapy less effective. Possible antitumor mechanisms of thymoquinone include inhibition of DNA synthesis (7), and promotion of apoptosis by inhibiting cell growth in G1 phase (8). A methanol extract of N. sativa exhibited in vitro estrogenic activity following naringinase treatment (30).

Adverse Reactions
  • Contact dermatitis (19) (46) has been reported following use of N. sativa oil.
  • Eosinophilia and systemic symptoms: In a 28-year-old woman after application of N. sativa oil necessitating corticosteroid treatment  (47).
  • The fixed oil of N. sativa administered for 12 weeks did not produce any significant changes in hepatic enzymes, and did not affect mortality in murine model (16). However, high doses may cause liver damage (29). Human data are lacking.
Herb-Drug Interactions
  • Cytochrome P450 substrates: Nigella sativa inhibits CYP2D6 and CYP3A4 and can affect the intracellular concentration of drugs metabolized by these enzymes (24). Clinical relevance is not known.
  • Warfarin: Thymoquinone was shown to inhibit warfarin activity. Clinical significance is not known (48).
Herb Lab Interactions

In murine models, Nigella sativa oil decreased serum glucose, triglyceride, cholesterol levels, and leukocyte and platelet counts, but there was an increase in hematocrit and hemoglobin levels (16) (20).

  1. Haq A, Lobo PI, Al-Tufail M, et al. Immunomodulatory effect of Nigella sativa proteins fractionated by ion exchange chromatography. Int J Immunopharmacol 1999;21(4):283-95.
  2. Haq A, Abdulatif M, Lobo PI, et al. Nigella sativa: effect on human lymphocytes and polymorphonuclear leukocyte phagocytic activity. Immunopharmacology 1995;30(2):147-55.
  3. Ali BH and Blunden G. Pharmacological and toxicological properties of Nigella sativa. Phytother Res 2003;17(4):299-305.
  4. Dada MH and Abdel-Rahman MS. Hepatoprotective activity of thymoquinone in isolated rat hepatocytes.Toxicol Lett 1998. 95(1): p. 23-9.
  5. El Tahir KE, Ashour MM, al-Harbi MM. The cardiovascular actions of the volatile oil of the black seed (Nigella sativa) in rats: elucidation of the mechanism of action.Gen Pharmacol 1993;24(5):1123-31.
  6. El-Abhar HS, Abdallah DM, Saleh S. Gastroprotective activity of Nigella sativa oil and its constituent, thymoquinone, against gastric mucosal injury induced by ischaemia/reperfusion in rats. J Ethnopharmacol 2003;84(2-3):251-8.
  7. Badary OA, et al. Inhibition of benzo(a)pyrene-induced forestomach carcinogenesis in mice by thymoquinone. Eur J Cancer Prev 1999;8(5):435-40.
  8. Gali-Muhtasib H, Diab-Assaf M, Boltze C, et al. Thymoquinone extracted from black seed triggers apoptotic cell death in human colorectal cancer cells via a p53-dependent mechanism. Int J Oncol 2004;25(4): 857-66.
  9. Ait Mbarek L, et al. Anti-tumor properties of blackseed (Nigella sativa L.) extracts. Braz J Med Biol Res 2007;40(6):839-47.
  10. Chakravarty N. Inhibition of histamine release from mast cells by nigellone. Ann Allergy 1993;70(3):237-42.
  11. Islam SN, Begum P, Ahsan T, et al. Immunosuppressive and cytotoxic properties of Nigella sativa. Phytother Res 2004;18(5):395-8.
  12. Kalus U, Pruss A, Bystron J, et al. Effect of Nigella sativa (black seed) on subjective feeling in patients with allergic diseases. Phytother Res 2003;17(10):1209-14.
  13. Mohamed AM, Metwally NM, Mahmoud SS. Sativa seeds against Schistosoma mansoni different stages.Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 2005;100(2):205-11.
  14. Iddamaldeniya SS, Thabrew MI, Wickramasinghe SM, et al. A long-term investigation of the anti-hepatocarcinogenic potential of an indigenous medicine comprised of Nigella sativa, Hemidesmus indicus and Smilax glabra. J Carcinog 2006;11.
  15. Cemek M, Enginar H, Karaca T, Unak P. In vivo radioprotective effects of Nigella sativa L oil and reduced glutathione against irradiation-induced oxidative injury and number of peripheral blood lymphocytes in rats.Photochem Photobiol 2006;82(6):1691-6.
  16. Zaoui A, Cherrah Y, Alaoui K, et al. Effects of Nigella sativa fixed oil on blood homeostasis in rat. J Ethnopharmacol 2002;79(1):23-6.
  17. Ghosheh OA, Houdi AA, Crooks PA. High performance liquid chromatographic analysis of the pharmacologically active quinones and related compounds in the oil of the black seed (Nigella sativa L.). J Pharm Biomed Anal 1999;19(5):757-62.
  18. Houghton PJ, Zarka R, de las Heras B, Hoult JR. Fixed oil of Nigella sativa and derived thymoquinone inhibit eicosanoid generation in leukocytes and membrane lipid peroxidation. Planta Med 1995;61(1):33-6.
  19. Steinmann A, Schatzle M, Agathos M, Breit R. Allergic contact dermatitis from black cumin (Nigella sativa) oil after topical use. Contact Dermatitis 1997;36(5):268-9.
  20. Zaoui A, Cherrah Y, Mahassini N, et al. Acute and chronic toxicity of Nigella sativa fixed oil. Phytomedicine 2002;9(1):69-74.
  21. Boskabady MH, Javan H, Sajady M, Rakhshandeh H. The possible prophylactic effect of Nigella sativa seed extract in asthmatic patients. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2007 Oct;21(5):559-66.
  22. Dehkordi FR, Kamkhah AF. Antihypertensive effect of Nigella sativa seed extract in patients with mild hypertension. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2008 Aug;22(4):447-52.
  23. Akhondian J, Kianifar H, Raoofziaee M, et al. The effect of thymoquinone on intractable pediatric seizures (pilot study). Epilepsy Res. 2011 Jan;93(1):39-43.
  24. Al-Jenoobi FI, Al-Thukair AA, Abbas FA, et al. Effect of black seed on dextromethorphan O- and N-demethylation in human liver microsomes and healthy human subjects. Drug Metab Lett. 2010 Jan;4(1):51-5.
  25. Effenberger-Neidnicht K, Schobert R. Combinatorial effects of thymoquinone on the anti-cancer activity of doxorubicin. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2011 Apr;67(4):867-74.
  26. Gheita TA, Kenawy SA. Effectiveness of Nigella sativa oil in the management of rheumatoid arthritis patients: a placebo controlled study. Phytother Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):1246-8.
  27. Salem EM, Yar T, Bamosa AO, et al. Comparative study of Nigella Sativa and triple therapy in eradication of Helicobacter Pylori in patients with non-ulcer dyspepsia. Saudi J Gastroenterol. 2010 Jul-Sep;16(3):207-14.
  28. Bamosa AO, Kaatabi H, Lebdaa FM, et al. Effect of Nigella sativa seeds on the glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2010 Oct-Dec;54(4):344-54.
  29. Khader M1, Bresgen N, Eckl PM. In vitro toxicological properties of thymoquinone. Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Jan;47(1):129-33. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2008.10.019.
  30. El-Halawany AM, El Dine RS, Chung MH, et al. Screening for estrogenic and antiestrogenic activities of plants growing in Egypt and Thailand. Pharmacognosy Res. 2011 Apr;3(2):107-13. doi: 10.4103/0974-8490.81958.
  31. Mohtashami R, Huseini HF, Heydari M, et al. Efficacy and safety of honey based formulation of Nigella sativa seed oil in functional dyspepsia: A double blind randomized controlled clinical trial. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Dec 4;175:147-52.
  32. Darand M, Darabi Z, Yari Z, et al. The effects of black seed supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2019 Sep;33(9):2369-2377.
  33. Rizka A, Setiati S, Lydia A, Dewiasty E. Effect of Nigella sativa Seed Extract for Hypertension in Elderly: a Double-blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. Acta Med Indones. 2017 Oct;49(4):307-313.
  34. Huseini HF, Kianbakht S, Mirshamsi MH, Zarch AB. Effectiveness of Topical Nigella sativa Seed Oil in the Treatment of Cyclic Mastalgia: A Randomized, Triple-Blind, Active, and Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Planta Med. 2016 Mar;82(4):285-8.
  35. Tuna HI, Babadag B, Ozkaraman A, Balci Alparslan G. Investigation of the effect of black cumin oil on pain in osteoarthritis geriatric individuals. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 May;31:290-294.
  36. Salimzadeh A, Ghourchian A, Choopani R, et al. Effect of an orally formulated processed black cumin, from Iranian traditional medicine pharmacopoeia, in relieving symptoms of knee osteoarthritis: A prospective, randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trial. Int J Rheum Dis. 2017 Jun;20(6):691-701.
  37. Mousa HFM, Abd-El-Fatah NK, Darwish OA, Shehata SF, Fadel SH. Effect of Nigella sativa seed administration on prevention of febrile neutropenia during chemotherapy among children with brain tumors. Childs Nerv Syst. 2017 May;33(5):793-800.
  38. Rafati M, Ghasemi A, Saeedi M, et al. Nigella sativa L. for prevention of acute radiation dermatitis in breast cancer: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Dec;47:102205.
  39. Yousefnejad H, Mohammadi F, Alizadeh-Naini M, Hejazi N. Nigella sativa powder for helicobacter pylori infected patients: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial.  BMC Complement Med Ther. 2023 Apr 17;23(1):123.
  40. Hadi S, Daryabeygi-Khotbehsara R, Mirmiran P, et al. Effect of Nigella sativa oil extract on cardiometabolic risk factors in type 2 diabetes: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2021 Jul;35(7):3747-3755.
  41. Shoaei-Hagh P, Kamelan Kafi F, Najafi S, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial to evaluate the benefits of Nigella sativa seeds oil in reducing cardiovascular risks in hypertensive patients.  Phytother Res. 2021 Aug;35(8):4388-4400.
  42. Alizadeh A, Mohammah-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Khodaie L, Mirghafourvand M. Effect of Nigella sativa L. seed oil on urinary incontinence and quality of life in menopausal women: A triple-blind randomized controlled trial.  Phytother Res. 2023 May;37(5):2012-2023.
  43. Huseini HF, Mohtashami R, Sadeghzadeh E, Shadmanfar S, Hashem-Dabaghian F, Kianbakht S. Efficacy and safety of oral Nigella sativa oil for symptomatic treatment of knee osteoarthritis: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.  Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2022 Nov;49:101666.
  44. Tavakoli-Rouzbehani OM, Abbasnezhad M, Kheirouri S, Alizadeh M. Effects of Nigella sativa oil supplementation on selected metabolic parameters and anthropometric indices in patients with coronary artery disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.  Phytother Res. 2021 Jul;35(7):3988-3999.
  45. Kooshki A, Tofighiyan T, Rastgoo N, Rakhshani MH, Miri M. Effect of Nigella sativa oil supplement on risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.  Phytother Res. 2020 Oct;34(10):2706-2711.
  46. Assier H, Kouby F, Ingen-Housz-Oro S, Roux C. Severe allergic contact connubial dermatitis to Nigella Sativa Seed Oil due to repeated contacts to beard cosmetics.  Contact Dermatitis. 2023 Mar;88(3):245-246.
  47. Fargeas M, Calugareanu A, Ben-Said B. Drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS) syndrome after topical use of Nigella sativa (black cumin) oil.  Contact Dermatitis. 2022 Aug;87(2):203-204.
  48. Wang Z, Wang Z, Wang X, et al. Potential food-drug interaction risk of thymoquinone with warfarin.  Chem Biol Interact. 2022 Sep 25;365:110070.
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