What is black cumin seed oil, anyway?
Black seed oil (aka black cumin seed oil, kalonji oil, or nigella sativa oil) is an amber-hued oil extracted from tiny black seeds of the flowering Nigella sativa plant that originated in Southwest Asia and has been used throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
"People have used black cumin seeds and their oil to treat a wide range of conditions for thousands of years," says Vincent Pedre, M.D., mbg Collective member and board-certified internist and integrative medicine specialist in New York City.
Black cumin seeds were even found in King Tut's tomb, and apparently they got a mention in the Old Testament as being able to cure anything but death.
But what makes the oil of these small, unassuming black cumin seeds so great?
When you scan the label, you'll notice a variety of beneficial compounds listed, including things like omega-3, -6, and -9 essential fatty acids and cholesterol-lowering plant compounds called phytosterols2.
But the majority of its therapeutic perks probably have to do with a particularly potent active compound called thymoquinone3 (TQ), says Pedre, which is "an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, and immune-supporting properties."
Today, black cumin seed oil is sold in health food stores, grocery stores, and online as a liquid oil, as gel capsules, and in a blend with other extracts such as hemp oil. To reap its varied benefits, you can ingest it or apply it topically to the skin.
6 benefits of black cumin seed oil.
Research on black seed oil, or Nigella sativa, suggests that it may benefit your health in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most promising findings to date:
1. Supports digestive health.
One of the oldest traditional uses3 of black cumin seeds was to promote overall digestive health, with tinctures of the seeds frequently being used for indigestion and bloating, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
Additionally, studies3 have found that a black cumin seed solution helped prevent the formation of gastric ulcers in rats. Researchers speculate that this is due to the gastroprotective effects of thymoquinone, which has been shown to inhibit acid secretion and help maintain the layer of mucus that lines and protects the gut.
2. Helps support the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (the body's "master regulatory system") might benefit from black cumin seed oil, due to its phytocannabinoid content. Phytocannabinoids are beneficial plant compounds found in black cumin seed oil, hemp, hops, rosemary, and more4.
"Black cumin seed oil contains a key phytocannabinoid called beta-caryophyllene (BCP). BCP binds exclusively to the CB2 cannabinoid receptor. This receptor dominates in the peripheral nervous system, immune system, gut, liver, skin, and bones—so supporting it is important to maintaining health in these systems," explains Robert Rountree, M.D., a functional medicine pioneer.
3. Promotes healthy skin and hair.
Legend has it that Cleopatra's secret to radiant skin was actually black seed oil! While we can't officially confirm this historical anecdote, one 2015 review study5 in the Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery did find that applying a lotion of 10% black seed oil significantly and positively affected acne after two months, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Other research6 has found that topical application of black seed oil speeds wound healing, which may help reduce blemishes and scarring.
Black seed oil can also be diluted with a carrier oil (or added to shampoos) and applied to the scalp to soothe and reduce flakiness.
4. Aids in weight maintenance.
With a quick "black seed oil + weight" search, you'll find a number of bloggers and vloggers raving about this oil's ability to melt away the pounds. While this may (rightly) induce some eye-rolling, some research suggests black cumin seed oil could somewhat aid in weight maintenance or at least fight risk factors for obesity.
In one eight-week study out of Iran, women took black seed oil or a placebo while following a calorie-restricted diet. By the end, the black seed oil group experienced greater reductions in weight and waist circumference.
That said, it's not a magic bullet. "Most of its weight loss benefits would likely be indirect," says Pedre. "Inflammation is a key driver in obesity, for instance, so the anti-inflammatory properties of thymoquinone could support normal levels of inflammation and therefore aid weight loss. But I wouldn't consider it a primary weight loss aid."
5. Fights seasonal allergies.
Black seed oil may help manage symptoms of seasonal allergies. In one randomized, controlled study7, patients with allergic rhinitis (aka hay fever) who were given black seed oil daily experienced a positive impact in nasal congestion, nasal itching, runny nose, and sneezing attacks within the first two weeks of treatment. These results are likely due to the fact that thymoquinone acts as an antihistamine, says Pedre.
6. Soothes aching joints.
Black cumin seed oil may help soothe achy joints. In one 2011 study1, 40 women with aching joints who were given a 500-mg dose of black seed oil capsules twice a day experienced a positive impact on swollen joints and morning joint stiffness. Another more recent study8 in 2016 found that women who took the oil had lower blood levels of certain inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein.
How to find a high-quality black cumin seed oil.
As mentioned above, black seed oil is available in liquid form and in gel caps. Topically, black seed oil can be combined with lotions, shampoos, or carrier oils (like jojoba, rosehip, argan, and avocado oil) and applied to the skin or scalp. Always do a patch test first to make sure you're not allergic.
Here are a few specific things to look for in a black seed oil to ensure you're getting the best possible product:
- Choose an oil that is cold-pressed since other methods of extraction typically involve high heat that can damage the beneficial compounds and fatty acids in the oil.
- Opt for an organic black seed oil, which will ensure you're getting a product with no (or very low) pesticide residue.
- Avoid black seed oil products that list multiple ingredients and additives. You only need one thing: 100% black cumin seed oil.
- Choose an oil that comes in a light-blocking bottle (think dark amber glass or something similar), which will help prevent rancidity.
What's the right dosage of black cumin seed oil?
No official black seed oil dosage has been established for treating specific conditions (large clinical trials must be done before this can happen), so it's best to follow the recommended dose on the label, which is typically between 1 and 3 teaspoons per day.
If you're trying it for the first time, start with ½ teaspoon per day and gradually work your way up. Keep in mind, potency and serving size may vary depending on the brand, so always read your labels carefully.
How should you take black cumin seed oil?
If you're going to consume it, black seed oil can be ingested by the teaspoonful or taken in convenient capsule form.
If you're a cook, think of it as a flavoring or finishing oil as opposed to a cooking oil. You can use it in dressings, add it to smoothies, drizzle it over grain dishes, or incorporate it into anything you'd normally top with an aromatic oil. Just be sure you're not drizzling on more than the recommended daily serving, and don't add it to anything too hot or you'll degrade its delicate nutrients.
Black seed oil does have a pretty pungent, bitter, somewhat peppery flavor, so proceed with caution before you potentially ruin a perfectly good meal! If you're not a fan of its natural flavor, consider taking it as a supplement or trying it in a healthy homemade dressing, like this one.
Honey Mustard Dressing With Black Seed Oil
Makes about 1 cup (8 2-tablespoon servings)
- ¼ cup black cumin seed oil
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons raw honey
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
- salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together ingredients until well-combined. Drizzle onto salads or grain-based sides, or use it as a dip for veggies. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Are there any black cumin seed oil side effects?
When consumed in appropriate amounts (hint: More is not better!), black seed oil is unlikely to cause any side effects. However, black seed oil can thin the blood9, which makes it unsuitable for certain people. Consuming too much, for anyone, may cause damage to the liver and kidneys10. Topically, black seed oil may cause a rash or hives, so it's always a good idea to do a small patch test before slathering it on.
"With certain health conditions, taking black cumin oil can potentially be harmful, including bleeding disorders and for pregnant women," says Pedre. "Always consult with your physician before taking black cumin oil or any other supplements, especially if you have an underlying chronic condition or are currently taking medication."
The bottom line?
Black seed oil shows true promise in preliminary studies and is likely safe (both orally and topically) for most people, suggesting that it may be an easy way to help promote overall health—as long as you don't exceed a few teaspoons a day. That said, it shouldn't be considered a miracle cure for any one thing. Larger human clinical trials must be done before black seed oil can be used to actually treat any health condition.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).