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Kalonji: The miracle seed spice
7/31/2021 12:23:00 AM

Nigella sativa is an annual and seasonal (winter) cross pollinated crop belonging to the family Ranunculaceae. In old Latin it was called ‘Panacea’ meaning “cure all”; in Arabic it is termed as ‘Habbah Sawda’ or ‘Habbat el Baraka’ translated as ‘Seeds of blessing’. It is also known as‘ Kalo jeera’ (in Bangladesh), ‘Kalonji’ (in India) and ‘Hak Jung Chou’ (in China). It is native to Southern Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia and is also cultivated in different pockets of India such as Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Assam and Maharashtra.
Kalonji or black cumin is a spice of supreme qualities. Aside from its use as a food flavoring additive, kalonji seed oil and extracts have been used since ancient times to treat several diseases and medical conditions. In the holy book of Islam, “Quran”, the seeds and oil of Nigella sativa are claimed as the precious medicine for all kind of health problems .It is used an important drug in the folk medicine in the Middle East and some Asian countries (Unani, Ayurveda, Chinese and Arabic Medicines) for its biological activities and therapeutic potential. The active ingredients of N. sativa have beneficial effects against many diseases, including cancers. For thousands of year, the seeds, oil and extracts of N. sativa have been used as an anticancer agent.
A variety of compounds are available in the seeds, that contribute to the various potential impacts of black cumin as food as well as medicine. Apart from seeds of black cumin, other plant parts such as roots and shoots also bear various potencies which gave them an inevitable role in the Mediterranean kitchen. The major active chemical component of the essential oil of nigella seeds is thymoquinone which is responsible for most of its therapeutic properties and also because of their low level of toxicity the seeds are used in breads and pickles. Nigella seeds are widely used in the treatment of various diseases like bronchitis, asthma, diarrhea, rheumatism and skin disorders and are also used as liver tonic, digestive, antidiarrheal, appetite stimulant, emmenagogue, to increase milk production in nursing mothers, to fight parasitic infections and to support immune system.
Phytochemistry: The black cumin seeds are highly nutritious and the nutrient content varies based on growing area, cultivars etc. The nigella seeds usually contain a yellowish volatile oil, a fixed oil, proteins, amino acids such as valine, lysine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, glycine, etc. The seeds are also found to possess crude fibre, minerals like Fe, Cu, Zn, Ca, P and Na and vitamins like ascorbic acid, thiamine, niacin, pyridoxine and folic acid. It has been identified that these seeds also hold -carotene which is the precursor of vitamin A. Some of the main fatty acids present in black cumin seeds are myristic acid, stearic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid.
Antioxidant: Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are mainly responsible for the initiation of oxidation reaction in foods which will change the functionalities of proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. Due to their action, food products become less acceptable or unacceptable to consumers and also the reactions reduce the overall nutritional, chemical and physical qualities of food during storage and marketing.
Antioxidative compounds are those which are used to prevent the oxidation and thereby the rancidity. The major antioxidant components present in black cumin essential oil are thymoquinone followed by p-cymene, -thujene, thymohydroquinone, and longifolene. The volatile oil or essential oil extracted out of black cumin possesses a well pronounced antioxidant activity.
Antimicrobial: Antimicrobial agents are used to prevent the attack of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, mold etc. and thereby extend the shelf life of the food products. Bacteria like gram-positive and gram-negative can be suppressed by nigella essential oil. It exhibited strong antimicrobial activity against Salmonella typhi, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and others. In Nigella sativa (black cumin), thymoquinone (TQ), thymohydroquinone (THQ), dithymoquinone and thymol are found as the major compounds imparting the antibacterial and antifungal effects.
Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is a reaction of human body whenever it suffers from any kind of injury. The injuries will stimulate the arterioles of the encompassing tissues and results in their dilation as a result the affected area will experience a pain, redness, swelling and a burning sensation. The essential (volatile) oil of black cumin is proved to be fruitful as an anti-inflammatory agent. Thymoquinone in black cumin oil as the potent constituent is responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity.
Anticancer: Cancer is a drastic condition which is lethal in most cases. To combat with this deadly sick, several naturally occurring stuffs are in search. To prevent these tumorogenesis, various herbal extracts and bioactive phytochemicals are used nowadays. Anticancer activity is one of the most important properties of black seed and its volatile oil which has been studied extensively. It has been reported that the active compounds in Nigella sativa which possess the ability to destroy cancer cells include thymoquinone and alpha hederin.
Both these compounds interpret the cell cycle of tumor cells and cause damage to them, thereby wipe out their activity. Due to these bioactive compounds, black cumin came out a potent source of anticarcinogenic substances and can be used in treatments along with other established chemotherapeutic agents.
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