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 me.
"It's also known as Nigella and black cumin seed," says Robinett. "Nigella is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family, along with goldenseal, black cohosh, and yellowroot, which are also excellent herbs, though with different benefits from black seed oil. 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."
Black seed oil, then, is a long-honored, expert-backed way to fortify your diet. 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 in your diet.
Health benefits of black seed oil
1. High in antioxidants
"Those antioxidants help protect your cells from damage from free radicals," says registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition. In particular, black seed oil is rich in thymoquinone, a powerful component that is good for the lungs, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective (read: helps prevent damage to the liver).
2. Helps fight inflammation
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 disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease," Zeitlin says. She also mentions it can reduce the risk of some cancers; among them are blood cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer.
One small study published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine investigated how black seed oil impacted oxidative stress in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. 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. Good for respiratory health
This also bleeds into the next point, which is that black seed oil is believed to be a helpful aid with lung health, 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 airway, helping to improve asthma control," says Zeitlin. Of course, be sure to consult a doctor before you start any treatment protocol.
4. Lowers cholesterol
If you struggle with high cholesterol, black seed oil might be a worthy supplement in your pantry. "Some studies have also linked black seed oil to lowering [the risk of] heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure," Zeitlin says. "These findings, again, are linked back to the antioxidant content in the oil."
5. Helps maintain blood sugar levels
"While there is lots of talk about black seed oil and weight loss, more research is needed for any real link to be shown," Zeitlin says. "What we have 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."
In general, remember that keeping your blood sugar regulated is an essential part of living a healthy life. 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. The more you know, ya know?
6. Offers a healthy dose of fatty acids
Robinett notes that black seed oil is rich in fatty acids. But 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 with hair growth and skin regeneration, while Omega-9 can help increase energy and improve mood.
7. It might even help with brain health
There's a sliver of research on this, but hear us out. Black seed can potentially be beneficial when it comes to memory and focus, according to one teensy tiny study of 20 elderly participants published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. The study investigated the effect of Nigella sativa on memory cognition and cognitive health 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. And it can be good for so many skin afflictions
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 acne, according to one giant meta-analysis published in the Journey of Tropical Medicine.
Possible side effects and risks of using 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. "Black seed oil has been shown to have serious negative effects on kidney health, so if you have any kidney issues or a family history of kidney issues, you should avoid black seed oil," Zeitlin says.
And because 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.
"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.
How much and how often to take black seed oil
Robinett says you can take it straight by the spoonful, and capsules are also common. She notes that a typical dose may be something around 800mg per day (in capsule form) or about a teaspoon per day of the oil. Consider investing in a medium-size bottle of black seed oil ($34) or give black seed cold-pressed oil capsules ($18) a try. Zeitlin personally recommends taking the oil versus the supplement form, and stick to half a teaspoon if a full teaspoon is too much for you.
What if you can't get enough of black seed oil? Can you use it in your meals? Kind of! "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 up level a meal," Robinett says.
Zeitlin adds that it's probably best not to use this oil for cooking itself, but "more as a flavor addition afterwards," 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.
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 A-okay for all skin types) or seek out skin-care products that feature it as a star ingredient, like this Balance Facial Serum ($50) from Osmia Organics.
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