In October 2022, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) published a Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin (BAPB) on nigella (Nigella sativa, Ranunculaceae) seed and seed oil. Also referred to in commerce as “black seed” or “black cumin,”* nigella has a long history of use as a food and traditional medicine, especially in the Middle East. Whole or powdered nigella seeds are used to treat inflammation and respiratory conditions, as a carminative to ease bowel and digestive problems, for neurological disorders, and as a diuretic and diaphoretic (perspiration-inducing) agent. The seed oil is used externally as a remedy for skin diseases and internally to treat stomach problems, respiratory ailments, and allergies, as well as to improve circulation.
The whole seed is subject to adulteration by the seeds of other species of Nigella, particularly N. damascena, and other lower-cost plant seeds of similar size and color. Nigella seed oil may be adulterated with undisclosed lower-cost oils, such as palm (Elaeis guineensis, Arecaceae), corn (Zea mays, Poaceae), sunflower (Helianthus annuus, Asteraceae), soybean (Glycine max, Fabaceae), or canola (Brassica napus, Brassicaceae) oil. Depending on the source, nigella seed oil is 10 to 30 times more expensive than some of the common vegetable oils, providing a financial motivation for such fraud.
The new BAPB was written by Nilüfer Orhan, PhD, an expert in natural products chemistry and analysis. It summarizes scientific data on nigella seed and seed oil adulteration and analytical methods to detect adulteration. It also provides information about nigella’s botany, uses, supply chain/value network, and market. Fifteen quality control experts from academia, nonprofit organizations, contract analytical laboratories, and the herb industry reviewed the bulletin.
Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of the American Botanical Council (ABC) and technical director of BAPP, commented: “Nigella is a relatively little-known but increasingly popular botanical in the Western medicinal herb and dietary supplement industries. As more human clinical studies are published to support its health benefits, particularly in the areas of glycemic control, improvement of lipid profiles, and reduction of inflammation biomarkers, nigella seed oil appears destined to become a more important ingredient in the coming years. Due to nigella seed oil’s relatively high cost compared to other vegetable oils, there is a risk that some nigella seed oil in the global market is diluted or outright substituted with some of these lower-cost oils, similar to what has been reported with the popular botanical ingredient saw palmetto [Serenoa repens, Arecaceae].”
The nigella seed and seed oil BAPB is BAPP’s 26th bulletin and 75th peer-reviewed publication. As with all BAPP publications, BAPBs are freely accessible on the program’s website (registration required).
“Reaching the 75th document milestone is an accomplishment for BAPP,” said Ikhlas Khan, PhD, director of the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi. “It highlights how much has been accomplished, but there is much more to be done. We are thankful to Nilüfer Orhan and all our other BAPP writers for their excellent work and encourage more individuals and companies to become involved in the program.”
About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program
The ABC-AHP (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia)-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the program. BAPP has published 75 extensively peer-reviewed articles, including BAPBs, Laboratory Guidance Documents, and Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters.