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Subheshaja (सुभेषज) – Kalonji

“Hello, Aunty, I was at the spice shop the other day, and I saw a lady buying something that looked like cumin except that it was dark black in colour. Do you have any idea of what it may have been?” asked Preethi.

“Ah! I think you’re talking about Kalonji which some people also call Kalijeera because it is black in colour and resembles jeera or cumin,” replied Dr. Radha.

“What is it used for, Aunty?”

“It has been used in traditional medicine in Ayurveda as well as the Unani system of medicine as a digestive, liver tonic, appetite stimulant, anti-hypertensive and also anti-bacterial. Researchers who studied it in the laboratory have found their results match these traditional uses. Kalonji contains a compound called thymoquinone which is responsible for most of its medicinal properties. This compound is a very strong antioxidant and so…” (1)

“..so it has protective action against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, right, Aunty?”

“Yes! You have a good memory, Preethi. Indeed, studies carried out on diabetic patients have shown that consuming kalonji seeds on a regular basis helps to reduce the total as well as ‘bad’ cholesterol while increasing levels of ‘good’ cholesterol.” (2), (3)

“That’s amazing, Aunty! Tell me more about this wonder herb.”

“Kalonji oil was given to some patients with rheumatoid arthritis and guess what? Their inflammation went down and researchers also found that oxidative stress was lower in these patients. (4) This effect is also responsible for the fact that several laboratory studies have found the thymoquinone in the kalonji seeds to have an action against cancer of the kidney, lungs, prostate, liver, breast, cervix and skin. (5) Human studies have also shown that taking kalonji on a regular basis can help keep blood sugar levels low in diabetics and it also seems to help reduce insulin resistance.” (6) (7)

“What is insulin resistance, Aunty?”

“It is a condition when the cells stop responding to insulin that is secreted by the pancreas. As a result, the cells cannot use the glucose in the blood, and so, the blood sugar levels begin to rise. Now this high blood sugar triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin, but because the cells have become resistant to the action of insulin, it has no impact on their ability to absorb the glucose. When blood sugar remains high for long, then the person develops type 2 diabetes. Over time, the pancreas may also get damaged and this can cause the insulin production to drop, while blood sugar levels stay high.”

“Ok, so if kalonji can help reduce such insulin resistance, it can help to prevent diabetes, right, Aunty? How can someone consume this kalonji, Aunty?”

“Yes! The kalonji seeds are generally roasted before use and can be added whole or powdered and added into curries or curds. It can be used as a flavour in daily cooking because it gives a taste that’s somewhat like a combo of onion and oregano. Some people mix the seeds into water or honey and drink.”

“Is there any precaution regarding kalonji, Aunty?”

“Well, Preethi, it is mostly safe for use but must not be used by pregnant women as it can lead to uterine contractions. Kalonji can also affect the clotting of blood so people who are on blood clotting medicines must avoid taking it. As we already discussed, because kalonji can reduce blood sugar levels, if diabetics start consuming this seed, they must monitor their blood sugar levels regularly, and if they find the level is dropping, it is best to discuss with their doctor so that the dose of their regular anti-diabetic medication can be reduced.”


  1. Leong, X. F., Rais Mustafa, M., & Jaarin, K. (2013). Nigella sativa and Its Protective Role in Oxidative Stress and Hypertension. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM2013, 120732. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3606739/ 
  2. Kaatabi, H., Bamosa, A. O., Lebda, F. M., Al Elq, A. H., & Al-Sultan, A. I. (2012). Favorable impact of Nigella sativa seeds on lipid profile in type 2 diabetic patients. Journal of family & community medicine19(3), 155–161. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3515953/ 
  3. Badar A, Kaatabi H, Bamosa A, Al-Elq A, Abou-Hozaifa B, Lebda F, Alkhadra A, Al-Almaie S. Effect of Nigella sativa supplementation over a one-year period on lipid levels, blood pressure and heart rate in type-2 diabetic patients receiving oral hypoglycemic agents: nonrandomized clinical trial. Ann Saudi Med. 2017 Jan-Feb;37(1):56-63. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28151458/ 
  4. Hadi, V., Kheirouri, S., Alizadeh, M., Khabbazi, A., & Hosseini, H. (2016). Effects of Nigella sativa oil extract on inflammatory cytokine response and oxidative stress status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine6(1), 34–43. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884216/ 
  5. Khan, M. A., Chen, H. C., Tania, M., & Zhang, D. Z. (2011). Anticancer activities of Nigella sativa (black cumin). African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM8(5 Suppl), 226–232. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252704/ 
  6. Daryabeygi-Khotbehsara R, Golzarand M, Ghaffari MP, Djafarian K. Nigella sativa improves glucose homeostasis and serum lipids in type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2017 Dec;35:6-13. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29154069/ 

Bamosa AO, Kaatabi H, Lebdaa FM, Elq AM, Al-Sultanb A. Effect of Nigella sativa seeds on the glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2010 Oct-Dec;54(4):344-54. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21675032/

Disclaimer: The article is not a medical prescription. It is only for information. The opinion expressed are of the author.

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