Amongst the spices introduced to Mexico with the Spanish was the seed of an umbelliferous plant in the Apiaceae family (1) known as Cumin (Cuminum cyminum). Cumin was very popular in ancient Rome and containers of it were kept on the dinner table much like pepper is today.

A page from the Ebers Papyrus.    

Cumin is native to an area of the Eastern Mediterranean known as the Levant. The term Levant originally meant “the Mediterranean lands east of Italy” but this geographical understanding shrunk until it only encompassed the Muslim countries of Syria-Palestine and Egypt.  Its meaning in Arabic is roughly equivalent to “the east, where the sun rises”.

Cumin is mentioned in the Ebers papyrus which is believed to have been written sometime around 1600BC.

The Ebers papyrus is a document written in hieratic Egyptian and is a scroll containing Egyptian medicine as it was practised at the time. It contains around 700 (magical) formulas as well as chapters on contraception, diagnosis of pregnancy and other gynaecological concerns, intestinal disease and parasites, eye and skin problems, dentistry and the surgical treatment of abscesses and tumours, bone-setting and burns.

Cumin (along with Cinnamon) is probably the most utilised spice that the Spanish imported. It is used primarily as a culinary spice and it has a very distinctive odour and taste that many people associate with Tex-Mex food. I myself find that it can easily become overpowering and can dominate the dish if it is used in excess, much like cloves. Cumin does have medicinal utility in treating intestinal disorders (2), as do most of the herbs/spices in the umbellifera family, it can also be used as a diuretic to increase urine flow and as an emmenagogue to start or increase menstrual flow.

  1. This family includes many related plants; coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, caraway, chervil, anise, angelica, asafoetida, ajowan (ajawain) and vegetables such as carrot and parsnip. It also includes poisonous plants such as hemlock (the plant that killed Socrates circa 399BC)
  2. Griping, colic, diarrhoea, bloating, gas and bowel spasm.
Umbelliferous flower head of cumin plant 
Whole and ground cumin seed (actual size)    

Medicinal Qualities of Cumin Seed

Cumin seed is very nutritious. It is a good source of B-complex vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc (5). It has been widely studied for its multifunctional therapeutic qualities (1-3). It has anti-inflammatory (1, 6), antibacterial, antioxidant (4), hypolipidaemic (10), antidiabetic, anti-alflatoxigenic properties and has shown anti-fibrillation activity (7).

Aflatoxins are a family of mycotoxins produced by moulds in the Aspergillus genus. These toxins are largely responsible for the anaphylactic nature of peanut allergies and can also be carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic (causes embryonic or foetal malformations/defects). Using cumin seed in recipes that contain peanuts (especially raw ones) may reduce the aflatoxic nature of these nuts. This DOES NOT mean that if you have a peanut allergy that cumin seed will save you.

Fibrillation as it is described here does not refer to an abnormal heart rhythm. It is the process of forming fibres or fibrils. This may occur in the heart or in other skeletal muscles but it is primarily concerned with a protein called alpha-synuclein which is a major constituent of the Lewy bodies which form in the brain and are a pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. When alpha-synuclein aggregates and forms insoluble fibrils it creates disorders known as synucleopathies which, along with Parkinson’s, are also found in Alzheimer’s disease (9).  Although the function of alpha-synuclein in a healthy brain is not well understood it is found primarily in the presynaptic terminals of neurons (8) which are responsible for the release of neurotransmitters and healthy brain function. It may also help with dopamine release which is the neurotransmission chemical critical for controlling the stopping and starting of both voluntary and involuntary movement. This goes some way to explaining the physical symptoms of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Cuminaldehyde, a major component of cumin essential oil has been found to inhibit fibrillation (7) and is being studied as a potential therapy for neurodegenerative diseases induced by fibrillation.


Cumin seed may lower blood sugar concentrations. There is the possibility for it to interact with antidiabetic medications and cause hypoglycaemia. This should not be a problem if it is being used for culinary purposes. Cumin may also have an additive effect when used concurrently with antiplatelet/anticlotting medications.


Use as an infusion to treat stomach griping.

Hyperlipidaemia may be treated with 1.5g (2 x day) of powdered seed. Take with lunch and dinner.

Doses over 6g (1 tablespoon) would be considered a strong therapeutic dose.

  1. Johri RK. Cuminum cyminum and Carum carvi: An update. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5: 63 doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.79101
  2. Sowbhagya HB. Chemistry, technology, and nutraceutical functions of cumin (Cuminum cyminum L): An overview. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 2013; 53: 1–10. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.500223
  3. Pandey S, Patel MK, Mishra A, Jha B. Physio-Biochemical composition and untargeted metabolomics of cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.) make it promising functional food and help in mitigating slinity stress. PloS One. 2015; 10: e0144469 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144469
  4. Rebey IB, Zakhama N, Karoui IJ, Marzouk B. Polyphenol composition and antioxidant activity of cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.) seed extract under drought. J. Food Sci. 2012; 77: 734–739. [PubMed]
  5. Singh N, Mishra A, Joshi M, Jha B. Microprojectile bombardment mediated genetic transformation of embryo axes and plant regeneration in cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.). Plant Cell Tiss. Org. 2010; 103: 1–6.
  6. Wei J, Zhang X, Bi Y, Miao R, Zhang Z, Su H. Anti-inflammatory effects of cumin essential oil by blocking JNK, ERK, and NF-κB signaling pathways in LPS-stimulated RAW 264.7 Cells. Evidence-Based Complement. Alternat. Med. 2015; 2015: Article ID 474509.
  7. Morshedi D, Aliakbari F, Tayaranian‐Marvian A, Fassihi A, Pan‐Montojo F, Pérez‐Sánchez H. Cuminaldehyde as the major component of Cuminum cyminum, a natural aldehyde with inhibitory effect on alpha‐synuclein fibrillation and cytotoxicity. J. Food Sci. 2015; 80: 2336–2345.
  8. Genetics Home Reference: SNCA”. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 12 Nov 2013.
  9. Yokota O, Terada S, Ishizu H, Ujike H, Ishihara T, Nakashima H, Yasuda M, Kitamura Y, Uéda K, Checler F, Kuroda S (December 2002). “NACP/alpha-synuclein, NAC, and beta-amyloid pathology of familial Alzheimer’s disease with the E184D presenilin-1 mutation: a clinicopathological study of two autopsy cases”. Acta Neuropathologica. 104 (6): 637–48. doi:10.1007/s00401-002-0596-7.
  10. Dhandapani, S., Subramanian, V.R., Rajagopal, S., & Namasivayam, N. (2002). Hypolipidemic effect of Cuminum cyminum L. on alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Pharmacological research, 46 3, 251-5.

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