Distribution of primary and specialized metabolites in Nigella sativa seeds, a spice with vast traditional and historical uses

Ilan Botnick, Wentao Xue, Einat Bar, Mwafaq Ibdah, Amnon Schwartz, Daniel M. Joel, Efraim Lev, Aaron Fait, Efraim Lewinsohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Black cumin (Nigella sativa L., Ranunculaceae) is an annual herb commonly used in the Middle East, India and nowadays gaining worldwide acceptance. Historical and traditional uses are extensively documented in ancient texts and historical documents. Black cumin seeds and oil are commonly used as a traditional tonic and remedy for many ailments as well as in confectionery and bakery. Little is known however about the mechanisms that allow the accumulation and localization of its active components in the seed. Chemical and anatomical evidence indicates the presence of active compounds in seed coats. Seed volatiles consist largely of olefinic and oxygenated monoterpenes, mainly p-cymene, thymohydroquinone, thymoquinone, γ-terpinene and α-thujene, with lower levels of sesquiterpenes, mainly longifolene. Monoterpene composition changes during seed maturation. γ-Terpinene and α-thujene are the major monoterpenes accumulated in immature seeds, and the former is gradually replaced by p-cymene, carvacrol, thymo-hydroquinone and thymoquinone upon seed development. These compounds, as well as the indazole alkaloids nigellidine and nigellicine, are almost exclusively accumulated in the seed coat. In contrast, organic and amino acids are primarily accumulated in the inner seed tissues. Sugars and sugar alcohols, as well as the amino alkaloid dopamine and the saponin α-hederin accumulate both in the seed coats and the inner seed tissues at different ratios. Chemical analyses shed light to the ample traditional and historical uses of this plant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10159-10177
Number of pages19
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2012


  • Black cumin
  • Cairo's Genizah
  • Monoterpenes
  • Nigella sativa
  • Nigellicine
  • Nigellidine
  • P-cymene
  • Ranunculaceae
  • Thymoquinone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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