We hate to break it to you, fish oil, but there’s a new oil in town: Black seed oil is popping up everywhere, including herbal supplements, beauty products, and, of course, as a hashtag on Instagram. But really, what the heck is the stuff?
Black seeds—also called black cumin seeds—come from a flowering plant called Nigella Sativa, which has been used for centuries in Indian medicine and Middle Eastern countries as a natural remedy for headaches, allergies, and the common cold, says a review published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. (King Tut reportedly even had black seeds in his tomb.)
Related: Where to get black seed oil
But is there any science behind the hype? “These seeds are packed with antioxidants,” says Nichole Dandrea, M.S., R.D. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals (harmful, potentially damaging molecules that are released because of a poor diet or exposure to pollution, chemicals, and smoke).
One small study published in Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology found that black seed oil helped support healthy blood pressure. Meanwhile, a review published in Pharmacological Research suggests that black seed oil may help support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Plus, another small study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests black seeds may support brain function. Researchers found that elderly study subjects who took 500mg capsules of black seed oil twice daily for nine weeks scored higher on memory and cognition tests that included repeating a sequence of numbers backward and forwards, retelling a story 30 minutes after hearing it, and drawing a figure from memory.
“Though we still don’t know the exact mechanism by which black seeds function inside of you, researchers think a compound in the Nigella Sativa plant called Thymoquinone may be responsible for their protective benefits,” says Dandrea.
There isn’t enough research to prescribe exact dosages of black seeds, so Dandrea suggests speaking with your doctor before taking a concentrated supplement—especially if you’re already on any medications.
One easy way to score black seeds’ protective benefits is to cook with them. “You can add black seeds to soups, stir-fries, smoothies, and baked goods, or gently heat the seeds on the stove until they pop, and then cook with the released oils to add major flavor to meals,” Dandrea says.
Try Dandrea’s Spicy Lentil Spinach Soup for yourself. You’ll need:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp black cumin seed
1 tsp fennel
1/4 tsp cayenne or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 (BPA free) 28 oz can or carton of crushed tomato
4 cups veggie broth
4 cups water
2 cups dry lentils
1 cup spinach, chopped
sea salt and black pepper to taste
Heat oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add mustard, black cumin, and fennel seeds. After a minute or so, add carrots, celery, and onion, and cook until onion is soft. Then add garlic, oregano, cayenne, or red pepper. Stir in lentils, veggie broth, water, and tomatoes, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Add spinach, salt, and pepper just before serving.