Black cumin is a lovely annual plant that produces masses white - or sometimes light blue - flowers in clouds of fluffy green leaves making the flowers appear to float in a foamy green sea. Easy to grow from seed and prolific in flowers especially if re-seeded several times during the year to increase bloom time. The flowers are followed by puffy ball shaped seed heads that are attractive and often used in dried flower arrangements. The seeds have been used medicinally for over 3000 years. Needs full sun and water to perform at its best on well drained soil. Its easy to grow and easy to maintain will often self seed and return for several years. Butterflies love the flowers but wildlife may eat it.
Description of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa).
A bright little annual that grows to 8 to 18 inches (20 to 50cm) in height with stiff erect branching stems. The leaves are deeply cut, much divided fine with a lacy appearance. They are arranged alternately on the stem and are mid green in color. The flowers are born solitarily on the end of each stem. These are most commonly bright sky blue in color although white and pink are often found. This version has ivory white flowers and inflated seed pods for maximum black seed. Original wild flowers have five petals forming a star shape but many varieties have now been bred with double and even triple flowers. These tend to interbreed with native 5 petaled ones creating a mixture of all kinds if open pollinated. (as ours are). Flowers have very prominent numerous stamens that are black or dark brown. The flowers are followed by fairly large round puffy brown seed pods that contain numerous black seeds which are highly aromatic. Foliage is very attractive and flowers bloom for long periods especially if sown successively.
Growing Black Cumin (Nigella sativa) from Seed.
Black cumin is extremely easy to grow from seed and germinates fairly quickly, usually 10-14 days depending on temperatures. It can either be direct sown or started in pots if garden color is desired early in the season. Black cumin is at its best if grown in groups or clumps when the feathery foliage and flowers can be used to the best advantage.
For the longest flowering time sowing seeds directly and continuously throughout the season gives the most color and best results.
For really early start sow in pots.
Since black cumin is best grown in groups sow several seeds to one pot, try to keep seeds separated to allow more space for each plant.. Keep moist and grow on, if seedlings are really close together they can be thinned out or transplanted. Once the plants are hardened off they can be transplanted to the garden directly. Plant potted seedlings about 1 foot apart, more if you have a lot in one pot to allow for spread. If you want continual color sowing directly in few weeks into spring will keep your flowers coming.
If you don't mind waiting for your flowers the seeds can be sown directly. First sowing can take place about 2 weeks before the last frost so plants will germinate rapidly as temperatures . However if plants germinate and grow well they will need protected from any late frosts. (just put a plastic supermarket bag over them and weigh it down with stones for the night).
For continuous flowering seeds can be direct sown every 3-5 weeks.
Prepare the soil well and then mark the area that you are intending to seed. A few small sticks with string around them works very well. Put a small stick label stating what you planted so can remember later on. Rake the soil fine then sow the seeds thinly across the area estimating about 8-10" (20-30cm) between plants. For best looking ornamental results plant in groups or clumps not rows. Sow when the temperatures consistently reach 60°F (15°C). Seeds usually germinate in about 14 days and their fluffy foliage can easily be distinguished from regular weeds. Thin out any plants that are really close together. Keep lightly moist - not wet - at all times.
For continuous flowering more seeds can be sown about 30-40 days later and
so on throughout the year. As plants die back and produce seed pods they can
be removed. If intending to replant black cumin in the same spot as the previous
flowers add some good compost and fertilizer to the soil before re-sowing to
replenish the nutrients that the first plants used.
It is not recommended that you sow black cumin in the same areas year after year. Find different locations around the garden to place them so that the soil in one area does not become depleted. Sow in the same place only every 4 years.
In warmer areas seeds can also be planted in fall for early spring flowering. In this case the plant will form a rosette of feathery leaves during the winter. As temperatures warm up in spring, flower stalks shoot up. However very cold winters can cause these rosettes to die off so we don't recommend this above zone 6b.
Location and Care of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)
Black cumin needs a sunny location and a well drained soil. It will not tolerate wet or soggy soils. It will also need regular watering and cannot tolerate drought. Without water the plant tends to flop over and look unsightly. A good way to water is by using a soaker hose through your flower bed or row. This allows for small amounts of water at the root level with little daily effort on your part.
Ensure that the soil has good organic material or compost added before seeding or transplanting. After that the plants should not need any more feeding. However if the same area is used for a later crop of black cumin replenishment of the soil with new compost and/or fertilizer is recommended or second crop may be poor and stunted.
To keep blooming
If flowers are desired deadheading the plants will encourage more flowers, but frankly it's a time consuming task. Its better to seed a second set of black cumin beside the first lot then remove the first ones when the flowering is over. This takes a lot less time and effort. If this process is repeated throughout the year a continuous bloom of flowers can be produced with less effort. Just ensure that you replenish the soil before each re-seeding.
Harvesting of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)
Once the seed pods have turned brown they can be cut off and harvested. Make sure you do this before the pods open and spread their seeds everywhere. Cut stems off with scissors or garden snips and turn upside down in a bucket or collecting tub to ensure seed is not lost. When you have a bunch, tie together using a rubber band and leave in a large paper grocery bag to fully dry. Do not place in a plastic bag, or leave in bucket or bowl as seed heads can become moist and then go moldy.
Once the seed head are completely dry they can either be shaken (if the pod has opened) or cracked open and rubbed gently to remove the seeds. Sieve or pick out any no seed material, ensure that the seeds are completely dry and store in an airtight container for culinary use. Place in the refrigerator if intending to use for seeding next crop.
Pods can also be left intact and used for dried flower decorations they are very attractive.
Culinary Uses of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)
Descriptions of the aroma and taste of seeds seems to vary with the consumer. Some report a spicy pungent flavour while others say its more fruity and some report a more nutmeg like aroma. These difference may be caused by the person or where the plant was grown. Until you grow yours you wont know.
Almost all culinary references state that the seeds are best toasted or baked to release the best aroma. They are commonly used on breads, rolls, flatbreads, cakes cookies. If toasted in a pan they can then be ground up and used as instead of pepper, added to salads or any other food that requires spice. It is widely used in Indian cuisine especially with lamb and is one of the five spices in panch phoran. The seeds can also be ground and added to water to create a gel. This gel is incredibly useful, it can be used as an egg replacement in gluten-free and flour-free baking. Black seed is very versatile and imagination seems to be the only limitation.
Medical uses of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)
Black cumin or black seed has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient Egypt and was found in several Egyptian tombs dating back over 3000 years. It has long been used to treat digestive issues as it soothes stomach pains and spasms, eases bloating and colic. It is also used to treat menstrual disorders and bronchial complaints as well as helping to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Much research has been conducted using this spice and there are strong indications that it is useful in the treatment of several kinds of cancer including colon, breast, brain, oral and leukemia. It is also useful in treatment of type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, acute tonsillopharyngitis, high blood pressure and helicobacter pylori infection. It has also been found useful for damage brain damage from lead and opiate addiction/withdrawal.
Externally the ground seeds are mixed with sesame oil and used to treat abscesses, hemorrhoids and orchitis, the powdered seeds are useful in helping to remove lice from hair.
Other uses of Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)
The seeds produce an essential oil that is useful in repelling certain insects and can be used as a replacement for moth balls. Placed in muslin bags and hung near the fire they will release a pleasant aroma replacing the use for air fresheners.
Black seed, black cumin.