Small annual growing to 1 ft (30 cm). Has long, narrow segmented leaves, clusters of pink or white flowers, and small oblong ridged fruits.
Habitat & Cultivation
Cumin is native to Egypt and widely cultivated in southern Europe and Asia. The seeds are gathered when ripe in late summer.
Cumin seeds contain 2–5% volatile oil, which consists of 25–35% aldehydes, pinene, and alphaterpineol. The seeds also contain flavonoids.
History & Folklore
A popular spice and medicinal herb in ancient Egypt, cumin was used for illnesses of the digestive system, for chest conditions and coughs, as a painkiller, and to treat rotten teeth. The herb is mentioned in the Old Testament and was widely used in the Middle Ages. It has declined in popularity since that time, although it is still frequently used in contemporary Egyptian herbal medicine. In cooking, cumin is an ingredient that is found in many Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern recipes, especially curries and pickles.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Cumin, like its close relatives caraway (Carum carvi) and anise (Pimpinella anisum), relieves flatulence and bloating, and stimulates the entire digestive process. It reduces abdominal gases and distension and relaxes the gut. In Indian herbal medicine, cumin is used for insomnia, colds and fevers, and, mixed into a paste with onion juice, has been applied to scorpion stings. The seeds can be taken to improve breast-milk production–a role it shares with fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare).