The cumin herbal plant (Cuminum cyminum) was one of the most commonly used spices in Europe, particularly during the Middle Ages. Native to upper Egypt, the cumin herbal plant is characterized by its slender stem and unique branches. Cumin has long been cultivated in Mediterranean countries as well as in Iran, China, India and Arabia.
The Cumin Herbal Plant
The name „cumin“ is a derivative of the Persian city of Kerman. The Persian pronunciation was „Kermun“. This name evolved to „Kumun“ and then to its present name, „cumin“, in European pronunciations.
The cumin herbal plant is a herbaceous perennial that is a part of the carrot family, Apiaceae. The plant rarely exceeds one foot in height. The cumin herbal plant has deep green leaves that are divided into long, narrow segments. In the Northern Hemisphere, the cumin herbal plant produces its small, rose-colored or white flower in stalked umbels with four to six rays during the months of June and July. Its flowers contain the seeds that are the commonly used herb referred to simply as „cumin.“
Today, the cumin herbal plant is grown commercially for use as a spice in Morocco, Egypt, India, Syria, Canada, the United States and Chile.
Cumin in History
The cumin herbal plant is mentioned in the Bible in the books of Isaiah and Matthew. The plant’s herbal healing properties have also been mentioned by figures such as Hippocrates and Dioscorides. In addition, Pliny wrote that the ancient Greeks grounded up the cumin herbal plant’s seeds to use as a medicine with bread and water or wine. These ancient Greeks noted that when cumin herbal seeds were smoked, they changed the pallor of the face, which is why Horace once exclaimed, „Ex sangue cuminum!“ Some people think this is the reason the Greek believed that the plant was associated with Eros, the god of love.
Health Uses of Cumin
The cumin herbal plant is thought to be a stimulant with antispasmodic and carminative from properties. Herbalists used to tout that the cumin herbal plant has superior carminative properties (the ability to expel gas from the alimentary canal for colic relief) compared to fennel and caraway. However, many patients did not like cumin’s flavor so its use as a carminative is now mostly confined to veterinary practice.
The cumin herbal plant seeds contain fatty oil with resin, mucilage and gum, malates and albuminous matter. The film that covers the seeds contains tannin, which explains the plant’s historical use to prevent excessive flatulency caused by languid digestion. The cumin herbal plant has also been used as a treatment for colic and dyspeptic headache.
Sometimes the cumin herbal plant is mixed with other drugs to form a stimulating liniment for the treatment of wounds. It is applied like a plaster over wounds, stitches and a person’s side when there is pain present believed to be rooted in the sluggish congestion of the body’s indolent parts.