Medically reviewed on December 11, 2017
Scientific Name(s): Nigella sativa L. Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercups)
Common Name(s): Black seed , black cumin , charnushka , “black caraway” (not true caraway), baraka (the blessed seed), fitch (Biblical), “love in the mist”
Kalanji has been used for a number of illnesses and conditions including GI disorders, hypertension, diabetes, inflammation, cough, bronchitis, headache, eczema, fever, dizziness, and influenza. Studies have been conducted on its immunoprotective and anticancer effects; anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant actions; and antidiabetic, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, and antiparasitic properties. More human studies are needed before kalanji can be recommended for any indication.
There are no clinical data upon which to base dosing recommendations.
Contraindications have not yet been identified.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
The seed and its constituents are characterized by a very low incidence of adverse reactions and toxicity. However, two cases of contact allergic dermatitis have been reported with topical use of the oil.
No major toxicities have been reported with kalanji.
Kalanji is an annual plant with terminal, grayish-blue flowers reaching between 30 and 60 cm in height. The toothed seed pod contains the distinctive tiny (1 to 2 mm long), black, 3-sided seeds that are the plant parts used for medicinal purposes. 1 , 2
Kalanji has been used for 3,000 years, with historical records of traditional medicinal use of the seed dating back 2,000 years. Its use began in the Middle East and spread throughout Europe, Africa, and India. Seeds were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Ancient Egyptians believed that medicinal plants such as kalanji played a role in the afterlife. In the first century AD, the Greek physician Dioscorides documented that the seeds were taken for a variety of problems, including headache, toothache, nasal congestion, and intestinal worms. 1 There is a common Islamic belief that kalanji is a remedy for all ailments but that it cannot prevent aging or death. 3
In a survey of plants used in the traditional treatment of hypertension and diabetes in southeastern Morocco, N. sativa was found to be widely used. 4
N. sativa seeds contain fixed oils (36% to 38%), proteins, alkaloids, saponin (melanin), and essential oil (0.4% to 2.5%). 5 The fixed oil is composed mainly of unsaturated fatty acids (linoleic and oleic acids). 6 The major component of the essential oil is thymoquinone (28% to 57%). 3 , 7 Four alkaloids have been isolated: nigellicine and nigellidine (indazoles), and nigellimine and nigellimine N-oxide (isoquinolines). 3 Other constituents include palmitic, glutamic, ascorbic and stearic acids; arginine; methionine; lysine; glycine; leucine; and phytosterols. Crude fiber, calcium, iron, sodium, and potassium are also present. Nutritional composition of the seeds has been determined as 21% protein, 35% carbohydrate, and 36% fat. 1 , 2 , 3 , 8 , 9
Thymoquinone, dithymoquinone (nigellone), thymohydroquinone, and thymol are considered the main active constituents. 10
Uses and PharmacologyRespiratory
At least 2 studies claim that the respiratory effects of kalanji make it beneficial for allergies, cough, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, flu, and chest congestion. 2 In low concentrations, the constituent nigellone inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells. 11 The essential oil inhibited human neutrophil elastase activity in vitro and could be considered a natural antielastase agent for the treatment of injuries resulting from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. 12Animal data
The volatile oil of kalanji, with thymoquinone removed, acts as a central respiratory stimulant in guinea pigs. 13Clinical data
Nigellone suppressed symptoms in the majority of patients when given orally to those suffering from bronchial asthma. 14 In a clinical study, treatment with N. sativa oil in 152 patients with allergic diseases, including rhinitis and bronchial asthma, decreased the IgE and eosinophil count 15 and inhibited 5-lipoxygenase (the main enzyme in leukotriene biosynthesis), 16 supporting the use of N. sativa oil as adjuvant therapy for these conditions.Antioxidant
The fixed oil and thymoquinone have been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation. 17 , 18 In addition, compounds isolated from N. sativa have shown free radical scavenging properties. 7 , 19 It appears the compounds in the oil act synergistically; therefore, it is important to use the whole oil or crude extract of the seeds in pharmacological studies. 3 , 10Animal data
The antioxidant effects of N. sativa have been examined using different hepatic, kidney, and gastric toxicity models in vivo. N. sativa protected against CCl 4 -induced hepatotoxicity. 20 , 21 , 22 In gentamicin-induced toxicity, treatment with N. sativa oil produced dose-dependent amelioration of the biochemical and histological indices of nephrotoxicity. 23 , 24 Pretreatment with N. sativa in rats undergoing ethanol-induced gastric ulcer caused an increase in glutathione level, mucin content, and free acidity compared with controls. 25 Accordingly, a potential benefit of N. sativa seeds is the reduction of toxicity from anti-cancer drugs or from environmental or infectious factors because of its antioxidant properties. 10Immune system
Kalanji enhances production of human interleukin and alters macrophages in vitro, suggesting an enhanced immune response. 26 Studies in the last decades suggest that ongoing use of N. sativa can enhance immune responses in humans. 10 The majority of subjects treated with N. sativa oil for 4 weeks showed a 53% increase in CD 4 to CD 8 T cells ratio and a 30% increase in natural killer cell function. 27
In contrast to this enhancing effect on T cell-mediated immune response, N. sativa constituents have shown a tendency to down regulate B cell-mediated immunity. 27 , 28 In one study, treatment with N. sativa oil induced a 2-fold decrease in antibody production in response to typhoid vaccination as compared with control rats. 29 Accordingly, it is likely that N. sativa may enhance cellular immunity but suppress humoral immunity. 10 However, further studies are required to validate this hypothesis.Cancer
In vitro and in vivo studies indicate that the oil and the active constituents of N. sativa seeds possess anti-tumor effects. 10 , 29 , 30 , 31 Thymoquinone protected against induced hepatotoxicity in mice in vivo 20 and in rat hepatocytes. 23 A mixture containing kalanji seeds was protective against diethylnitrosamine-mediated carcinogenic changes in rat liver. 32 The constituents thymoquinone and alpha-hederin have demonstrated cytotoxic actions in human cell lines as well. 33Animal data
There are no clinical data regarding the use of kalanji for cancer.Anti-inflammatory and analgesia
Traditional use of kalanji as a poultice of ground seeds for inflammatory ailments such as rheumatism, headache, and certain skin conditions is supported by modern studies. A fixed oil preparation demonstrated anti-eicosanoid and antioxidant activity, supporting the seeds' use for anti-inflammatory actions. 17 Thymoquinone is a potent inhibitor of thromboxane B 2 and leukotriene B 2 through the inhibition of cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase, respectively. 17 , 36Animal data
Research in mice using various models of analgesia concluded that N. sativa oil has strong antinociceptive actions. 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 In addition, it is likely that N. sativa polyphenols are particularly beneficial in alleviating pain of inflammatory origin. 39 In another study, the effects of thymoquinone on acetic acid-induced colitis in rats showed that pretreatment for 3 days led to complete protection against colitis with a comparable effect to sulfasalazine. 41 It has long been observed that N. sativa oil has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties: systemic and local administration of black cumin seed essential oil resulted in potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects in mice. 40 In another study in rats with induced arthritis, oral thymoquinone suppressed the markers of arthritis both clinically and radiologically. 42Clinical data
There are no clinical data regarding the use of kalanji for inflammatory or pain states.Antidiabetic
In a recent survey of plants used in the traditional treatment of hypertension and diabetes in southeastern Morocco, N. sativa was the plant most frequently used by medical herbalists and others. 3Animal data
Treatment of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats with N. sativa caused a decrease in elevated serum glucose, an increase in serum insulin concentrations, and partial regeneration or proliferation of pancreatic beta cells, causing an increase in insulin secretion. 31 , 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 In another study, N. sativa treatment of diabetic rats increased the area of insulin immunoreactive beta-cells, suggesting that N. sativa might be used as a safe and effective therapy for diabetes. 48Clinical data
There are no clinical data regarding the use of kalanji for diabetic ailments.Antihypertensive
In a survey of plants used in the traditional treatment of hypertension and diabetes in southeastern Morocco, N. sativa was the plant most frequently used by medical herbalists and others. 3Animal data
Kalanji may decrease arterial blood pressure in rats, suggesting its use as an antihypertensive agent. 49 Thymoquinone is effective in protecting rats against N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME)-induced hypertension and renal damage, perhaps via antioxidant activity. 50 It reduced the increase in systolic blood pressure induced by L-NAME in a dose-dependent manner. 50Clinical data
There are no clinical data regarding the use of kalanji for hypertension.Antimicrobial/Antiparasitic
Kalanji traditionally has been used for conjunctivitis, 2 abscesses, parasites, and other infections. The essential oil of the seed has been reported as an effective antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anthelmintic agent. 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 , 55Animal data
Kalanji has eradicated staphylococcal infections in mice and has also displayed other gram-negative and gram-positive antibacterial actions, some of which are synergistic with other antibiotics. 52
An aqueous extract of N. sativa seeds inhibited the growth of Candida albicans when inoculated into mice. 54 In vitro, the extract and its active constituent, thymoquinone, inhibited 8 clinical isolates of common dermatophytes. 53
In vivo treatment with N. sativa oil induced a striking antiviral effect against murine cytomegalovirus infection. 55
There are no clinical data regarding the use of kalanji as an antimicrobial or antiparasitic agent.Miscellaneous uses
Kalanji also plays a role in women's health, stimulating menstruation and increasing milk flow. 1 One study reports kalanji to have an anti-oxytocic potential in rat uterine smooth muscle, inhibiting spontaneous contractions. 59 Another report discusses the use of a seed extract to prevent pregnancy in rats 1 to 10 days postcoitum. 60
Kalanji has also been used as a flavoring or as a spice.
There are no clinical data for kalanji upon which to base dosing recommendations in humans.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
There are at least 2 case reports of allergic contact dermatitis from topical use of the oil. 61 , 62 The seed extract and its constituents are characterized by a very low degree of toxicity/adverse reactions. 3
While very few studies have addressed the possible toxicity of N. sativa seeds and its constituents, no major toxicities have been reported. 10 Further studies are required.
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