Flowers of Sesame plant, Hei Zhi Ma - Sesamum Indicum (Pedaliaceae)

Medicinal Use of Sesame, Hei Zhi Ma – Sesamum Indicum (Pedaliaceae)


Erect annual growing to 6½ ft (2 m). Has lance-shaped to oval leaves, white, pink, or mauve flowers, and oblong seed capsules bearing many small gray seeds.

Habitat & Cultivation

Native to Africa, sesame is cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. The root is unearthed in summer; the seeds are collected after the seed capsules have turned brown-black.

Parts Used

Seeds, seed oil, root.


The seeds are highly nutritious and contain about 55% oil (mainly polyunsaturated fats), about 20% protein, lignans (notably sesamin and sesamolin), vitamins B3 and E, and minerals. The lignans are thought to lower blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

History & Folklore

Sesame was one of the plants found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (1370–1352 BCE). In ancient Egypt, the nutritionally valuable seeds were eaten and also pressed to yield oil, which was burned in lamps and used to make ointments. Sesame has long been considered to have magical powers, and the phrase “Open sesame!”, from the Arabian Nights, remains a well-known magical command. The Middle Eastern confection halvah is made from crushed and sweetened sesame seeds.

Medicinal Actions & Uses

Sesame is principally used as a food and flavoring agent in China, but it is also taken to redress “states of deficiency,” especially those affecting the liver and kidneys. The seeds are prescribed for problems such as dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and blurred vision (when due to anemia). Owing to their lubricating effect within the digestive tract, the seeds are also considered a remedy for “dry” constipation. The seeds have a marked ability to stimulate the production of breast milk. Sesame seed oil benefits the skin and is used as a base for cosmetics. It can be used to treat fungal skin problems such as athlete’s foot.


Research suggests that sesame seeds have antibacterial and anti-fungal activity. They also lower cholesterol and support levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL).