Cumin has three primary medicinal uses: to treat paleness of the face, to relieve indigestion and digestive gas, and to relieve minor aches and pains. Its essential oils can also be used as a sedative, and when ground into a paste, it can be used to help heal wounds, cuts, and scrapes. Other health benefits of cumin include high concentrations of iron, manganese, and other essential minerals.
The cumin plant, which is known scientifically as Cuminum cyminum, is native to much of Western Asia. Its growing pattern includes India, the Middle East, and parts of North Africa, particularly Egypt. The herb known throughout the world as “cumin” is derived only from the plant’s seed pods, which appear seasonally in the flowers. These seeds are the only parts of the plant that carry any medicinal properties.
Cuminum cyminum seeds have long been a favorite spice and flavoring agent of Indian and Middle Eastern foods, but there is much to be said about their digestive health benefits, as well. The seeds have been used for centuries as a digestive aid. When consumed in any quantity, the herb can quiet the stomach and is often believed to relieve gas and gas-related discomfort.
Cooking with this herb normally conveys these medicinal benefits without any added effort. Most of the time, adding even small amounts of the herb to food, either in whole seed or ground form, is enough. Dishes popular in the plant’s growing region tend to be quite spicy, which makes the herb more than just a means of enhancing flavor: it is also a way to protect the stomach against the strong spices that so often accompany it.
It usually takes a great many more seeds to have any noticeable effect on pallor or pain, usually at least a small handful. Chewing the seeds whole is the most common way to absorb their benefits. They can also be ground into a powder, then mixed with water and swallowed.
Powder is also sometimes blended with small amounts of water or oil to make a compress to treat wounds or help the body heal from stitches or major scrapes. Compresses were used predominantly in ancient times, and are not usually recommended for treating injuries today. The seed is known to have some antiseptic properties, which likely helped shield the body from infection. Whether or not compresses were actually effective as a treatment for open wounds is not known with any certainty.
Some herbalists also prescribe cumin oil for medicinal use. The oil is derived through cold compress or condensation. It is often given by the spoonful to help calm nerves or to reduce excitability in children. The sedative effects are not pronounced, but are noticeable in most people.
It is important not to confuse these medicinal uses with those of Nigella sativa, a plant often referred to as “black cumin.” This plant is not genetically related to Cuminum cyminum at all, and is not even in the Apiaceae family, which holds most cumin-like plants. Its name derives primarily from its seed appearance. Aside from their dark color, Nigella sativa seeds look almost identical to those of Cuminum cyminum. Black cumin is very popular in many pharmaceuticals, and has a range of very potent health benefits that cannot be attributed to the standard herb.