Although Nigella sativa is unfamiliar to most Western consumers, this ancient herb has been highly revered for its medicinal qualities by Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Unani (Arabian/Islamic) medical practitioners for some 4000 years, and considered one of nature's most powerful curative by Muslims. The black seeds and oil this plant provide have been traditionally used to treat a number of conditions-- from diarrhea and digestive complaints to infections; skin and liver disorders to what is today recognized as various forms of cancer.
Modern research has shown that the seeds of this annual have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and immunomodulatory properties among its numerous pharmacological mechanisms, with thymoquinone (a volatile oil) the primary source of the seed's remarkable curative powers. However, while ancient physicians clearly knew of its extraordinary healing properties regarding bacterial infections and body regulation, they couldn't have appreciated its rarer qualities: qualities that distinguish it from most other medicinal herbs in a highly significant way. While many plant-based curative have antibacterial properties, Nigella sativa is on a very short list of those capable of defending the body against viruses.
As early as 1959, the healing qualities of Nigella sativa were being investigated by research facilities around the world, the results of over 5000 studies now supporting its purported applications. But it has been studies of the past two decades, that focused on the chemical composition of this plant, that has provided the most scientific insight into how this healing herb actually works—particularly its immunomodulatory mechanism.
Following a 2000 clinical study that alerted the medical community to the protective effect of black cumin seed oil (derived from Nigella sativa) against the murine cytomegalovirus (markedly inhibiting the viral load in the liver and spleen of infected test mice), study began to test its ability to influence the susceptibility and outcome of a variety of other viral infections (including HIV). And while several studies have made significant headway into determining how the chemical make-up of black seed oil can best be applied to fighting viruses, that conducted by the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), Qatar Foundation, in 2010 is perhaps most conclusive.
The study confirms that Nigella sativa contains a vast array of chemical elements in its seeds, a number of which are essential to human biological functioning. Nigella seeds (particularly those harvested from Middle Eastern countries) typically contain significant amounts of several essential minerals—calcium, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, P, S, and Zn the most abundant, with lesser concentrations of Ba, Br, Cl, and Cu. Of these minerals, it is the presence of several trace elements including Fe (iron), Cu (copper), Mn (manganese), and Zn (zinc) that holds the most promise for fully-utilizing black seed oil.
But while science has long known that trace elements have immunomodulatory functions and directly influence human susceptibility and outcome of viral infections, researchers are considering that in the case of black seed oil, it may be the specific amounts of both the major and trace elements present, with certain phytochemicals acting alone, others working in conjunction with other elements, the combination constituting the unique therapeutic mechanism of the seeds. At present, it appears that black seed oil acts to alter the immune response by augmenting or reducing the immune system's ability to produce specifically modified serum antibodies that inhibit viral invasion and/or growth. If this theory is correct, the possibilities are boundless.