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Health Corner: Kitchen Herbs - Black Seeds Or Black Onion Seeds (Kalaunji Or Mangrela)

Pratibha Shah

This article focuses on the last one of ‘jeerak trai’ - the black cumin or ‘kalaunji’, also known as ‘mangrela’. In Sanskrit it is called ‘kalajaji’ or ‘upkunchika’. Its Latin name is Nigella sativa. It is called by many names in English, like fennel flower, small fennel, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander, black seed, black caraway, black cumin or black onion seed. It is commonly confused with onion seed and black sesame, both of which are similar-looking but unrelated.

Black seeds are an annual shrub, found naturally or cultivated in Southwest Asia and some parts of Southern Europe. Chemically, the seeds contain volatile as well as fixed oils, including nigellone and thymochinone, which are responsible for its anti-histamine, anti-oxidant, anti-infective and broncho-dilating effect. Properties according to Ayurveda are – light and dry in digestion and hot in potency.

Ayurveda ascribes the following health benefits to ‘kalaunji’:
-    Just like the other two in ‘jeerak trai’, black seeds are carminative, anthelmintic (rids worms), digestive, increase appetite and therefore can be used in anorexia, help in binding the stools in diarrhea and also relieve distension due to gas.
-    Black seeds can be chewed to get rid of bad breath.
-    Due to their brocho dilatory and mucolytic properties, black seeds are effectively used in cough, bronchitis and asthma.
-    Black seeds pacify ‘vaata’ and therefore are effectively used in ‘vaata’ disorders like pain, trembling, claudications, etc.
-    A decoction of the seeds is administered to relieve difficult labor and also to cleanse and tone the uterus post delivery.
-    Just like the other two in its group, black seeds are effective galactogogues and are also used to relieve painful menstruation and certain other menstrual disorders.
-    Its oil can be used for massaging in ‘vaata’ disorders.
-    Like its counterparts, it is used as a diuretic in various conditions.
-    Externally, a paste of the seeds is effective in non-hereditary alopecia and also relieves headaches, when applied locally.
-    Fumigation with its seeds relieves symptoms of cold and also shrinks external piles mass.
-    Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, paste of seeds applied locally relieves swelling of the joints.

A few research updates on the black seed:
-    Anti-tumor sterol and beta-sitosterol have been found in black seeds lending credence to its traditional use to treat abscesses and tumors of the abdomen, eyes, and liver.
-    Nigella sativa oil has been reported to be effective in treating opioid dependence.
-    Researchers at the Kimmel Cancer at Jefferson in Philadelphia have found that thymoquinone, an extract of nigella sativa seed oil, blocked pancreatic cancer cell growth and killed the cells by enhancing the process of programmed cell death.
-    Also been found effective in treating prostate cancer.
-    The pharmacological actions of the crude extracts of black seeds (and some of its active constituents, e.g. volatile oil and thymoquinone) that have been reported include protection against nephrotoxicity and hepatotoxicity induced by either disease or chemicals. The seeds/oil have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antimicrobial and anti-neoplastic (anti-tumor) activity. The oil decreases blood pressure and increases respiration.
-    Its anti oxidant properties have been proved.
-    The pharmacological properties of the black seed oil support its traditional use as a treatment for rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases.   
-     Thymoquinone (TQ), the most abundant constituent present in black seed, is a promising dietary chemo preventive agent.
-    The ether extract of black seeds has been successfully shown to eradicate a non-fatal subcutaneous staphylococcal infection in mice.
-    Research suggests that nigella sativa has a protective role in atherosclerosis and that is due to its hypolipidemic activity, and therefore can be used effectively to treat high levels of bad cholesterol.

Wow, it does not cease to amaze me that these tiny little herbs in our kitchen are such a power packed pharmacy, right inside our house. Please utilize them to their fullest and stay healthy.

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