Amidst the chaos of the outbreak of the latest global pandemic crisis, COVID-19, let us have a glimpse of an herb that has the potential to be a front-runner in this fight for boosting immunity and keeping diseases at bay.
The herb in limelight is Nigella sativa L., commonly called upakuñcikā (उपकुञ्चिका) in Sanskrit. It is widely described in all major textbooks of Ayurveda and also goes by the synonyms like kālājājī, kuñcī, kṛṣṇā, pṛthvī, bṛhajjīrakā and suṣavī. In Ayurveda, it is grouped as one of the three kinds of cumin, the other two being jīrakaḥ (Common Cumin- Cuminum cyminum L.) and kṛṣṇajīrakaḥ (Black caraway- Carum carvi L.). It is called kariñjīrakam (കരിഞ്ജീരകം) in Malayalam; kalauñjī (कलौंजी) in Hindi and Urdu.
Here is some additional information about Nigella:
- Nigella sativa L. is a long-time favorite among traditional healers.
- It has been in use since a long time as medicine and as food across various cultures like Arabs, Indonesians, Indians and Africans.
- It is an herb native to the Southwest Asia and Southern Europe but widely cultivated nowadays.
- The major parts used are seeds and oil. Nigella seeds are black in color which gives it the English name-Black seed.
- Its major ingredients, thymoquinone and nigellone are considered crucial players in the management of viral infections.
- Almost 100 chemical constituents have been identified in this single herb and needless to say this bestows combination effects unimaginable yet conducive to our immune system.
Nigella as food
Nigella seed oil has been used across the middle-east and Indian cultures in cooking. It is popular for its preservative value in food storage and processing. It is also used to spruce up snacks and confectioneries. The seeds can be ground into bread dough or they can be tempered with other spices and used as a spread for breads.
Boosting immunity or immune modifying actions are of prime importance in the background of epidemic outbreaks to break the chain of spread to different populations and sub-populations. In the wake of many new zoonotic diseases (diseases transferred from animals or birds to humans) a strong immune system should be seriously considered as a first line of prevention itself. Nigella is seen to stimulate our white blood cells and beef up the immune responses coming from them.
The anti-microbial action
You cannot help asking why nigella is found to be effective against an array of diseases like sinusitis, bronchitis, diarrhea, skin infections, rheumatism etc. There is this belief in certain religious traditions that ‘in Nigella, you can find the remedy to anything except death’! It might not be so extraordinary a claim because many studies have established the fact that the main ingredients like thymoquinone have the potential to decrease viral load in an infected host. Examples of anti-microbial action of Nigella have been studied in HIV, Avian influenza virus, Staphylococcus bacteria etc.
Nigella extract and the Corona virus
Different mutant varieties of the Corona virus have been in action since quite a long time. However they gained notoriety with the 2003 SARS pandemic and in the present scenario we are doubtlessly witnessing what they are capable of doing.
A study conducted using the extract of Nigella sativa L. and two other alternative herbal drugs separately on Coronavirus suggest that Nigella extract administered to cells prior to infection, has the potential to stall the replication process (viruses multiply by making copies inside their host) of Coronavirus.
It is too early to claim anything. Besides, the novel corona is a mutated variety so things may vary altogether. However, studies could be taken up in this direction with respect to COVID 19 in the near future.