For Delicious Flavor and Antioxidants, Reach for Black Seed Oil

Photo: Getty Images/Rouzes
These days there's always some buzzy supplement that can rock our well-being world, and black seed oil is the latest on the list to peak people's interest. But if you're new to this particular conversation and wondering what is black seed oil? And better still, what are the actual benefits of black seed oil that makes it so special compared to anything else bottled or capsulized, you've come to the right place.

What is black seed oil?

Formally speaking, black seed oil is extracted from the fruit of the Nigella sativa plant, a small flowering plant that grows in Southwest Asia, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. And it's been around for a while: It's commonly used in Ayurveda, a holistic medicine practice that originated in India, and Unani Tibb medicine, which is traditionally practiced in Muslim cultures in South and Central Asia. Recorded use of black seed oil dates back to the 1600s, Rachelle Robinett, RH (AHG) founder of Supernatural and herbalist, tells us.

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"It's also known as Nigella and black cumin seed," Robinett says. "Nigella is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family, along with goldenseal, black cohosh, and yellowroot, which are also medicinal herbs, though with different benefits from black seed oil." Introducing these herbs to your diet can potentially have positive benefits the herbalist explains. "Like many plants that grow in difficult climates or conditions and develop natural defense mechanisms, Nigella passes those along to us. It's very much a superfood-slash-herb, if the color weren't convincing enough," she says.

What is black seed oil used for?

Black seed oil is a long-honored, researched-backed way to fortify your diet, Robinett explains. But no need to rely on its reputation alone—below, we break down eight concrete benefits of black seed oil, who it might be best suited for, and how to incorporate it into your diet.

9 benefits of black seed oil

1. It's packed with antioxidants

Black seed oil is packed with immune-boosting antioxidants. "Those antioxidants help protect your cells from damage from free radicals," says registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition. In particular, it's rich in thymoquinone1, a powerful component that is good for the lungs, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective (read: helps prevent damage to the liver).

2. It can help fight inflammation and reduce oxidative stress

You can credit the antioxidants for black seed oil's anti-inflammatory benefits. "They can help fight inflammation in the body, reduce the risk of certain chronic illnesses, like heart disease2, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease3," Zeitlin says. She also mentions it can reduce the risk of some cancers; among them are blood cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer4.

What's more, one small study published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine investigated how black seed oil impacted oxidative stress in patients with rheumatoid arthritis5. Researchers split 42 subjects into two groups—one received a placebo and the other twice-daily doses of black seed oil—and found an improvement in inflammation and reduced oxidative stress for those who consumed the supplement after eight weeks. While not fully conclusive, given the size of the study, the results are promising.

3. It can support respiratory health

This also bleeds into the next point, which is that it's believed to be a helpful aid with lung health6, including guarding against conditions such as bronchial asthma. "Because antioxidants help to fight inflammation and asthma results in inflammation on the airway, black seed oil has been shown to help reduce the inflammation in that airway6, helping to improve asthma control," Zeitlin says. Of course, be sure to consult a doctor before you start any treatment protocol.

4. It can potentially help lower cholesterol levels

If you struggle with high cholesterol, this ingredient might be a worth stocking up on. "Some studies have also linked black seed oil to lowering [the risk of] heart disease7 by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure," Zeitlin says. "These findings, again, are linked back to the antioxidant content in the oil."

5. It can potentially help maintain blood sugar levels

"We've seen is that the antioxidants in black seed oil can help regulate your blood sugar levels and that blood sugar regulation does help to maintain a healthy weight," Zeitlin says. In general, keeping your blood sugar regulated is beneficial for overall well-being. Consistently unstable blood sugar levels can increase the risk of heart and kidney disease; in the short term, unbalanced blood sugar levels can impact your mood and energy.

6. Offers a healthy dose of unsaturated fat

Robinett notes that the oil is rich in fatty acids. These are considered the 'good,' healthy, unsaturated kinds of fats, things like omega-6 and omega-9, which can't be naturally produced by the body. Omega-6 can help have many hair benefits, such as promoting growth and skin regeneration, while omega-9 can help increase energy and improve mood8.

7. It might even help with brain health

There's a sliver of research on this, but it's worth mentioning. Black seed can potentially be beneficial when it comes to memory and focus, according to one very small study of 20 elderly participants published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. The study investigated the effect of Nigella sativa on memory cognition and cognitive health9 in elderly volunteers. These participants were divided into two groups, with one group given a capsule twice daily for nine weeks and the other given a placebo. When given a series of tests, it was shown that the Nigella sativa had a positive impact on memory, attention, and cognition.

8. It can be good for skin health

For some folks, black seed oil is something you'd love to see as an ingredient in your skin-care routine. For example, it's been found to be beneficial when it comes to treating conditions such as psoriasis (due to its antipsoriatic effect) and acne10, according to one giant meta-analysis published in the Journey of Tropical Medicine.

9. It can promote wound healing

Some studies indicate that the compound thymoquinone, found in the oil, can potentially help with wound healing11. How do you use black seed oil on your skin? When applied topically, it can have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects on wounds, namely excisional, burn, and diabetic wounds.

Who should not take black seed oil?

For the most part, black seed oil is considered a safe and healthy supplement, but it might not be the best for people with certain conditions. What are the negative effects of black seed oil or other potential side effects? Although not true for everyone, it can potentially impact kidney health for others. "So if you have any kidney issues or a family history of kidney issues, you should avoid black seed oil," Zeitlin says.

On that note, it's important to note that due to the fact that there isn't a whole ton of research on this, both Robinett and Zeitlin point out that black seed oil should probably not be consumed if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. And, of course, always consult with a professional if you think there's a condition that might not mesh well with something like this and to determine other potential black seed oil side effects.

Additionally, black seed oil may interact with medications. "If you take any medications, you will want to talk to your doctor first before adding black seed oil into your routine, and especially if you take blood-thinner medications or beta-blockers," Zeitlin says.

(And for the record: Although there are internet rumors that all seed oils are bad for you, those are simply untrue.)

How to take black seed oil

Robinett says you can take it straight by the spoonful, or opt for black seed oil capsules instead. She notes that a typical dose may be something around 800 milligrams per day (in capsule form) or about a teaspoon per day of the oil. Consider investing in a medium-sized bottle of black seed oil ($28) or give black seed cold-pressed oil capsules ($25) a try. Zeitlin personally recommends taking the oil versus the supplement form, and sticking to half a teaspoon if a full teaspoon is too much for you.

What if you can't get enough of the ingredient? Can you use it in your meals? Contrary to some health claims, not all seed oils are bad for you. As such, cooking with 'em can result in some tasty meals. "If you like the flavor, mixing it into broths or soups, teas or even salad dressings—one of my favorite places to put savory medicinal herbs—is a great way to seriously uplevel a meal," Robinett says.

On the other hand, Zeitlin adds that it's probably best not to use this oil for cooking itself, but "more as a flavor addition afterward," she says. "So you can mix it into your stir-fry once you have plated your meal." In addition to seconding the salad dressing idea, Zeitlin also recommends mixing it into your smoothie, tea, or latte.

How do you use black seed oil on your skin?

Should you be more interested in using black seed oil for its skin-boosting benefits, you can apply it topically (up to twice daily, and it's typically A-okay for most skin types) via a true botanicals radiance oil or seek out skin-care products that feature it as a star ingredient, like this Balance Facial Serum ($50) from Osmia Organics.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Khader, Mohannad, and Peter M Eckl. “Thymoquinone: an emerging natural drug with a wide range of medical applications.” Iranian journal of basic medical sciences vol. 17,12 (2014): 950-7.
  2. Shabana, Adel et al. “Cardiovascular benefits of black cumin (Nigella sativa).” Cardiovascular toxicology vol. 13,1 (2013): 9-21. doi:10.1007/s12012-012-9181-z
  3. Khazdair, Mohammad Reza. “The Protective Effects of Nigella sativa and Its Constituents on Induced Neurotoxicity.” Journal of toxicology vol. 2015 (2015): 841823. doi:10.1155/2015/841823
  4. Khan, Md Asaduzzaman et al. “Anticancer activities of Nigella sativa (black cumin).” African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM vol. 8,5 Suppl (2011): 226-32. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.10
  5. Hadi, Vahid et al. “Effects of Nigella sativa oil extract on inflammatory cytokine response and oxidative stress status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Avicenna journal of phytomedicine vol. 6,1 (2016): 34-43.
  6. Al-Azzawi, Mahmood A et al. “Therapeutic effects of black seed oil supplementation on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients: A randomized controlled double blind clinical trial.” Heliyon vol. 6,8 e04711. 13 Aug. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04711
  7. Sahebkar, Amirhossein et al. “Nigella sativa (black seed) effects on plasma lipid concentrations in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.” Pharmacological research vol. 106 (2016): 37-50. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2016.02.008
  8. Kien, C Lawrence et al. “Substituting dietary monounsaturated fat for saturated fat is associated with increased daily physical activity and resting energy expenditure and with changes in mood.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 97,4 (2013): 689-97. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.051730
  9. Bin Sayeed, Muhammad Shahdaat et al. “The effect of Nigella sativa Linn. seed on memory, attention and cognition in healthy human volunteers.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 148,3 (2013): 780-6. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.05.004
  10. Eid, Ahmad M et al. “A Review on the Cosmeceutical and External Applications of Nigella sativa.” Journal of tropical medicine vol. 2017 (2017): 7092514. doi:10.1155/2017/7092514
  11. Sallehuddin, Nusaibah et al. “Nigella sativa and Its Active Compound, Thymoquinone, Accelerate Wound Healing in an In Vivo Animal Model: A Comprehensive Review.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,11 4160. 11 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17114160
  12. Hannan, Md Abdul et al. “Protective Effects of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa) and Its Bioactive Constituent, Thymoquinone against Kidney Injury: An Aspect on Pharmacological Insights.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 22,16 9078. 23 Aug. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijms22169078

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