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Cumin - Botany And History

Cumin is a relatively ancient flowering plant with a long-standing reputation for being used as a medicinal and culinary spice. Commonly assumed to be a native to India and majority of the eastern part of the Mediterranean, cumin has also been known to thrive in areas such as Egypt, Sumer, Syria, Morocco, China, the Levant, and Mexico. The earliest known record of the use of cumin dates back to the second millennium B. C., where it was most probably employed for either medicinal or ritualistic purposes. The Ancient Egyptians, early Chinese, Sumerians, and the Ancient Greeks prized cumin both for its unique aromatic profile and for its potent medicinal benefits. Typically associated with Middle Eastern or 'desert nomad' cuisine, cumin is also found and employed in tropical and semi-tropical settings and is an integral part of many regional and international cuisines. Several countries in Asia (chiefly China and Korea) have employed cumin as a culinary and medicinal spice since relatively ancient times, its usage perhaps even predating the general use typically accredited to the Ancient Greeks.

Cumin's importance and usage in ancient times was paramount, being a highly prized spice and trade commodity. The early inhabitants of what is now modern day Iran was said to have been the very first true cultivators of cumin, who employed the spice for culinary, ritualistic, and trade purposes. The use of the spice, though simultaneous in nearly all parts of the world (with some exceptions) nevertheless took on various forms and was incorporated into a number of differing herbalistic or culinary practices. The sheer popularity and wide range of such an ancient spice's usage actually makes its true origins and its earliest applications quite difficult to point out in a national or regional sense. What can be gleaned from often conflicting historical record and archeological evidence is that cumin has been used in a nearsimultaneous basis in China, Greece, and Egypt since before the advent of the Christian Faith. The usage of cumin may have spread to areas where the spice is relatively unknown thanks to the inevitable intervention of commerce and trade which helped to further expand the range and eventual interest in the use of the spice. During the Middle Ages, the spice became so prized that it was even used as a form of currency, with enough buying power to be levied as collateral against rendered debts, or as prime trading materials for greater goods and sundry commodities.

As a spice, cumin is unique in that it is grown from seeds, typically sown in the hot months of summer or the fertile months of springtime, with a very strong preference for nutritionally dense soil. It requires direct heat in order to flourish, and typically take three to four months under constant daytime temperatures 30ºC (86ºF) in order to reach its peak maturity. It is characterised by its think, delicate appearance, with many pronounced stems that branch out into tiny purple or often pink-hued flower clusters. These clusters later become dark-hued fruits that contain the precious aromatic seeds which are famed the world over as a highly versatile spice. No other constituent part is harvested or employed for medicinal or culinary purposes save the golden-hued seeds, which are almost always employed in its dried state, in whole or ground form. [1]

Cumin - Herbal Uses

Cumin has been employed since time immemorial as a culinary and medicinal spice. Prolifically used in Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisine, it is integrated into soups and stews in its whole or ground form, or otherwise employed to flavour different kinds of meat. Its usage also extends to the cuisines that encompass selected areas of Africa, Latin America, South Asia, Southeast Asia and a significant part of Eastern Europe. It is notable for its earthy, pungent and slightly warm notes, making it a perfect culinary accompaniment to spicy meals such as curries, chili, and barbeques. Cumin is very versatile, able to be integrated into a variety of different foodstuffs, which is why it may even be found in unlikely foods, among them certain varieties of cheeses, sweetmeats, preserves, and even breads and a number of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

The use of cumin for medicinal purposes has an equally ancient origin, having been employed nearly as such near inextricably from its culinary role since the early days of its cultivation. In the old days, one need only consume a meal prepared with cumin to reap its medicinal benefits, but outside of the realm of the culinary, cumin seeds may also be decocted or infused to create medicinal tisanes that can be drunk to treat a variety of different ailments. In the Middle East, a decoction of whole or ground cumin seeds mixed with ginger, honey, and basil is made and drunk as a remedy for the common cold, or as the first line of recuperative measures against the possible aggravation of fever or flu. [2] Mixed with fresh or dried mint leaves, it is also believed to help relieve the symptoms of coughing and allow for the decongestion of the bronchial and nasal passageways as well as facilitate in the expectoration of sputum or phlegm. Due to its antibacterial and immuno-boosting properties, it is casually drunk as a disease preventive or adaptogenic tonic. [3] In some parts of India, a very potent decoction of cumin seeds (called "jeera water") prepared solely by itself or with a number of different spices is drunk as an appetite stimulant, a digestif, and a general nutritive tonic. In Ayurvedic medicine, jeera water is also believed to help improve heart health, help improve and increase cognitive function, nourish the eyes, and tonify the body. It has traditionally been ascribed astringent, antibacterial, antimicrobial, emmenagogue, and galactagogue properties. Jeera water has also been prescribed to the elderly and the infirm, as it is also said to help relieve the discomforts of general muscular aches and pains due to its moderately strong anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and analgesic properties. [4]

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cumin is often integrated into medicated teas for the treatment of coughing and fevers, or otherwise liberally used on foodstuffs to aid in digestion and nutrient assimilation. Whole, dried cumin seeds may even be chewed as a ready remedy for nausea or dizziness, and as an all-natural breath-freshener. Tisanes made from cumin have also been employed to soothe muscular spasms (being a powerful nervine), being used in the past to treat epilepsy and tremors. [5]

When employed in its whole state either in the form of a poultice or a plaster, it can be applied to bruises, swelling, mending stitches, and sore muscles to help facilitate healing and prevent infection. [6] Strongly decocted and applied topically, it may help to fight a number of different fungal diseases. When used as a hair-rinse, or if allowed to steep in vinegar and subsequently used as a hair-rinse, it is said to help fight dandruff, darken and thicken hair, as well as encourage faster hair growth.

Whole crushed cumin seeds may be allowed to macerate in one's choice of base oil and the subsequent ointment applied as a general analgesic, rubifacient and disinfectant. The essential oil of cumin itself, which is derived from steam distillation, may be mixed with one's choice of natural waxes, esters, or base oils to create salves, balms, ointments, or liniments that may be employed for the same purposes. Employed for aromatherapeutic purposes, cumin essential oil may help to relieve spasms, general muscular discomfort, anxiety, nausea, nervousness, and stress. It was once employed by the Indians and Ancient Egyptians as a remedy for headaches and as a treatment for mental and physical exhaustion, or, if combined with spices such as cinnamon and resinous gums like myrrh or frankincense, as a potent and enervating aphrodisiac. [7] In the Middle Ages, cumin was often decocted in wine along with other herbs and spices to create hippocras - a popular, honey-sweetened convivial drink often made to use up otherwise soured or low-quality wine.

A little known fact about cumin seeds is that they can be effectively smoked, although the resulting smoke is generally unpleasant with the exception of the aroma which one whiffs. It is known to have been employed intentionally by Romans to achieve a degree of facial pallor that suggested studiousness or gravitas (as recorded by Pliny the Elder). [8] Smoking cumin does not have any significant hallucinogenic effects, and any attempts to do so recreationally would be essentially pointless.

Cumin - Esoteric Uses

Employed esoterically, cumin is highly valued for its protective properties. It is said that sprinkling cumin seeds on a valued item will prevent its loss or theft. Cumin has also been employed since ancient times as a powerful purifying spice, often burnt as incense alongside frankincense to drive away evil spirits and all other types of malignant forces. In Hoodoo and Voodoo, cumin seeds are usually used for 'fixing' spells, love charms, and love potions as it is believed that the spice would help to strengthen the bonds of marriage or relationships by evoking fidelity. One of the most common recipes for fixing charms involve mixing cumin seeds with coriander seeds, magnolia leaves, and periwinkle leaves to be sprinkled on the marital bed to help ensure fidelity. [9] This practice is not a far cry from the old practice of depositing fragrant spices and resins in between bed sheets to evoke desire - a practice detailed in the Bible itself. Modern witches employ cumin steeped in alcohol as a base for lust potions or for aphrodisiacs, while neo-shamanic and grassroots magical practices mix ground cumin seeds with salt and employ it for the purification of a designated space. Cumin may also be employed for consecration and empowering, or otherwise employed for banishing and general protection when carried around in a medicine bag or a juju bag. Some branches of conjure even specifically make hex bags that contain cumin seeds and a combination of other protective herbs and spices as a ward against theft, and is usually placed where money is kept or stored.

Cumin - Contraindications And Safety

While the moderate consumption of cumin and its regular integration into one's daily diet is regarded as safe, pregnant and nursing women are advised to steer clear of products which may contain extremely large amounts of cumin as it may pose a risk of miscarriage due to its emmenagogue properties. Highly excessive consumption of cumin may result in nausea, vomiting, and mild stomach upsets, but such incidents are rare and only occur when very large amounts of the spice is consumed in a short amount of time.

Cumin - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: xiao huixiang
Japanese: kumin (transliterated from "cumin")
Korean: keomin (transliterated from "cumin")
Malay: jintan putih
Sanskrit: jiraka / jeeraka / svetajiraka
Hindi: jeera / jira / zira
Arabic: kammun
Hebrew: kammon
Greek: kuminon
Greek (ancient): ku-mi-no
French (old): cumin
French (modern): anis Acre / cummin / cumin de malte
Italian: comino
Polish: kmin rzymski
Hungarian: romai komeny
Romanian: chimion
German: kreuzkummel
Swedish / Danish: spiskumminl spidskommen
English (old): cymen
English (modern): cumin / cummin
Latin (esoteric):
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Cuminum cyminum











Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

Infographic Image Sources:

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