Cuminum cyminum (Jansen, 1981)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Coriandrum sativum
Jansen, Spices and medicinal plants in Ethiopia
Cuminum cyminum (Jansen, 1981)
Nigella sativa


2.6 Cuminum cyminum L.

Cuminum’ = ’cyminum’: the old Roman plant name, derived from the Greek 'kuminon', probably originating from the old-Babylonian 'ka-mu-nu'.

Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. ed. 1: p. 254 (1753); Gen. Pl. ed. 5: p. 121 (1754).

Type: 'Habitat in Aegypto, Aethiopica', LINN specimen 358.1, lecto.!


  • Cuminum odorum Salisb., Prodr.: p. 165 (1796).
  • Cuminum officinale Garsault, Fig. Pl. et Anim. d'usage méd. 2: tab. 239 (1764).
  • Cuminia cyminum J. F. Gmelin, Syst.: p. 484 (1791).
  • Cuminon longeinvolucratum St. Lager, Ann. Soc. Bot. Lyon 7: p. 65 (1880).
  • Ligusticum cuminum Crantz, Cl. Umbell. emend.: p. 82 (1767).
  • Luerssenia cyminum (L.) O. Ktze, Gen. Pl. 1: p. 268 (1891).
  • Selinum cuminum (L.) E. H. L. Krause, in: Sturm, Fl. Deutschl. 2, ed. 12: p. 91 (1904).


  • 1830: De Candolle, Prodr. 4: p. 201. (tax.)
  • 1872: Boissier, Flora Orient. 2: p. 1079-1080. (tax.)
  • 1874: Flückiger & Hanbury, Pharmacographia: p. 295-297. (use)
  • 1895: Engler, Pflanzenw. Ost-Afrikas & Nachbargebiete, B, Nutzpflanzen: p. 280. (use)
  • 1897: Drude, Umbelliferae, in: Engler & Prantl, Die nat. Pflanzenfam., ed. 1, B. 3, 8: p. 184. (tax.)
  • 1925: Thellung, Umbelliferae, in: Hegi, Illustr. FI. Mittel-Eur., ed. 1, B. 5, 2: p. 1138-1139. (tax. + use)
  • 1927: Wolff, Cuminum, in: Das Pflanzenreich, 4, 228: p. 22-24. (tax.)
  • 1933: Redgrove, Spices and condiments: p. 207-211. (use + agric.)
  • 1934: Bois, Les plantes alimentaires chez tous les peuples et à travers les âges, 3, Plantes à épices, à aromates, à condiments: p. 168-169. (use + agric.)
  • 1957: Ferrara, Tecnologia delle spezie, Rivista Agric. subtrop. & trop.: p. 296-298. (use)
  • 1957: Mensier, Dictionnaire des huiles végétales, Encycl. Biol. 52: Cuminum. (chem.)
  • 1959: Cufudontis, Enumeratio, Bull. Jard. Bot. État Brux. 29(3) suppl.: p. 642. (tax.)
  • 1961: Garnier et al., Ressources médicinales de la flore française, 2: p. 891-893. (use + chem.)
  • 1961: Joshi, These new spices will pay you well, Indian Fmg. 10(10): p. 27. (agric.)


  • 1968: Agren & Gibson, Food composition table for use in Ethiopia, CNU-ENI report 16: p. 14. (chem.)
  • 1968: Tutin, Umbelliferae, in: Flora Europaea 2: p. 351. (tax.) 1969: Rosengarten, The book of spices: p. 224-229. (use + agric.)
  • 1969: Parry, Spices, 1: p. 186-187; 2:112-115. (use)
  • 1971: Farm Information Unit: Cumin, Min. of Agr., India. (agric.)
  • 1973: Shishkin, Umbelliferae, in: Flora of the USSR (Engl. ed.), 16: p. 265-266. (tax.)

Local names

  • ensilai, kamun (Amarinia)
  • kamun, kamuna, kamum, kamun-bahari, hawaja (Gallinia)
  • kemano (Tigrinia)

Trade names

  • cumin, cummin (English)
  • cumin, faux anis, faux aneth (French)
  • Kreuzkümmel, Romischer Kümmel (German)


Seed samples offered for sale on Ethiopian markets under the local names are almost always mixtures of seed of Anethum foeniculum, A. graveolens and C. cyminum.

Geographic distribution

Cuminum cyminum has been cultivated since ancient times. It is difficult to determine where it is truly indigenous. It is probably native to the southern Mediterranean area, to the deserts of Egypt and other Arabian coun tries, and to Central Asia (Turkestan) (Wolff, 1927).

The plant is cultivated in many countries of the world. It is grown widely in China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Morocco, southern Russia and Turkey (Rosengarten, 1969).

In Ethiopia, the fruits are offered for sale on almost every market and small-scale cultivation is widespread.


An erect or suberect, small, annual herb, ca 5-40 cm high, with all parts (the fruits excepted) glabrous. The green parts usually covered with a bloom. Taproot thin, light-brown, up to 3 mm in diam.

  • Stem: ca terete, finely sulcate, up to 3 mm in diam., branching at all heights, grey-green to dark-green, often brownish at base, some furrows becoming whitish when older.
  • Leaves alternate, petiolate, compound, blue-green; petiole ca terete, finely sulcate, ca 2-25 mm long, sheathing at base with white scarious margins; upper leaves usually with a sheathing part only; blade consisting of three slender filiform leaflets; each leaflet often (especially in the lower leaves) two or three-forked; the lobes filiform, acute, up to 7 cm long.
  • Inflorescence a compound umbel, up to 3.5 cm in diam.; peduncle ca terete, finely sulcate, up to 7 cm long, grey-green to dark-green; bracts often as many as primary rays, but one or two more or less possible, linear, sheathing at base with white scarious margins, often up to three-forked, ending in aristate lobes, ca 2-35 mm long, blue-green, but often with one or more completely white ones; primary rays 2-10 per umbel, ca terete, finely sulcate, blue-green, unequal in length, 0-18 mm long; bractlets 3-5 per umbellet, linear, up to 25 mm long, sheathing at base with white scarious


Fig. 7. Cuminum cyminum L. - 1. habit (⅔x); 2. leaf (⅔x); 3. leaf base (2x); 4. inflorescence with umbellets, bracts and bracteoles (2x); 5. flower (8 x); 6. flower, petals removed (8 x); 7. petal, adaxial side (20x); 8. fruit (6x); 9. seediing (⅔x). - 1. PJ 657; 2-3. PJ 2807; 4. PJ 209; 5-7. PJ 2807 (spirit mat.); 8. PJ 546; 9. PJ 145 (spirit mat.).


margins, sometimes two or three-forked, ending in aristate lobes, blue-green or white; secondary rays 3-8 per umbellet, ca terete, finely sulcate, blue-green, unequal in length, 0-6 mm long; often an umbellet may also have one or more rudimentary developed flowers; all flowers hermaphrodite, actinomorphic, protandrous.
  • Calyx: sepals 5, narrow, triangular, up to 2.5 mm long, with fleshy light-green base and aristate, white apex.
  • Corolla: petals 5, oblong, up to 1.5 x 1 mm, with strongly inflexed, narrow, blunt apex, usually whitish at base and pinkish ro reddish at top.
  • Androecium: stamens 5; filaments filiform, up to 1.5 mm long, white; anthers oblong, up to 0.5 x 0.3 mm, yellow, dorsifixed, dehiscing with two longitudinal lateral slits.
  • Gynoecium: ovary inferior, oblong and laterally flattened, up to 4 x 1.5 x 0.75 mm, scarcely to densely setulose, with 8 pale-green, narrow, longitudinal primary ribs, alternating with 8 wider, light-brown secondary ribs; styles 2, up to 1 mm long, each with a fleshy, conical, persistent whitish stylopodium of ca 0.5 x 0.5 mm and a semiglobose stigma on top of the filiform upper part of the styles.
  • Fruit: an ovoid oblong, erect or slightly curved schizocarp, tapering towards both ends, laterally flattened, ca 3.5-6.5 x 1-2 x 0.75-1.5 mm, crowned by the persistent, sharp, conical stylopodia and the persistent sepal-bases; primary ribs 8, prominent, scarcely setose, whitish-brown; the two commissural primary ribs often hidden by the prominent neighbouring secondary ribs and only visible near the apex of the fruit; secondary ribs prominent, alternating with and wider than the primary ribs, light- or dark-brown, whitish setose all over, but more densely so centrally, forming a kind of a tertiary rib; the hairs (bristles) break off easily, resulting in subglabrous fruits; usually the fruits do not split at maturity into its two mericarps, although they do so when slightly pressed; carpophore whitish-terete, thin, split almost to the base; the mericarps are strongly concave ventrally, convex dorsally, usually bearing one oil-duct (vitta) below each secondary rib and two vittae at the commissural ventral side.
  • Seeds: testa adnate to the fruit-wall; embryo white, up to 2 x 0.2 mm, with conical radicle and two small, thin cotyledons, which are embedded in copious grey, fatty endosperm.
  • Seedling: germination epigeal; taproot thin, whitish; hypocotyl 3-25 mm long, whitish or purplish; cotyledons opposite, up to 15-45 x 0.5 mm, acute, slightly sheathing at base, light-green; epicotyl light-green, up to 2 mm long; petiole of the first non seed-leaf terete, slightly sheathing at base with white scarious margins, thin, finely sulcate, ca 20-30 mm long, light-green; blade consisting of three filiform, light-green, acute lobes; lobes up to 23 mm long.

Taxonomic notes

(1) Linnaeus (1753) did not give a description or diagnosis of C. cyminum in Sp. Pl. ed. 1, but he referred to Mat. med. 139, to ’Cuminum semine longiore’ Bauh. pin. 146, and to ’Cuminum sativum’ Cam. epit. 518. In his Gen. Pl. ed. 5: p. 121 (1754) a description of the genus Cuminum can be found. The LINN herbarium contains only one specimen of C. cyminum: No 358.1. It is a


specimen with leaves, flowers and young fruits, which certainly is in accordance with the generic description. At the top of the sheet ’Cuminum’ is written (not by Linnaeus) and at the base ’1 cyminum’ (by Linnaeus, which corresponds with the number in Sp. Pl.). I designate as lectotype of Cuminum cyminum L. specimen LINN 358.1. (2) In the latest monographic revision of the genus Cuminum, Wolff (1927) distinguished three forms of C. cyminum. Together with characteristics given by De Candolle (1830), Boissier (1872) and Thellung (1925), these three forms can be described as follows:

  • f. setosum Boiss.
  • C. hispanicum Mérat ex DC (Wolff, 1927).
  • C. cyminum var. hispanicum (Mérat) Lange (Wolff, 1927).
    • Two primary rays per umbel and 3-4 secondary rays per umbellet (OC, 1830; Thellung, 1925).
    • Bractlets up to the length of the fruits (Wolff, 1927; Thellung, 1925).
    • Secondary ribs of the fruits setose (Boissier, 1872).
    • Flowers reddish (OC, 1830; Boissier, 1872; Wolff, 1927).
    • Geographic distribution: Turkestan and Spain (Wolff, 1927).

  • f. scabridum DC.
  • C. aegyptiacum Mérat (Wolff, 1927).
  • C. cyminum var. hirtum Boiss. (Wolff, 1927).
    • Three to five primary rays per umbel (Thellung, 1925).
    • Bractlets may be longer than the fruits (Thellung, 1925).
    • Secondary ribs with ca 2 rows of short scabrid or setulose hairs (Wolff, 1927).
    • Geographic distribution: Egypt, Libyan desert, Algeria (Wolff, 1927).

  • f. glabratum DC.
  • C. cyminum Mérat ex DC (Wolff, 1927).
  • C. cyminum var. glabrum Lange (Wolff, 1927).
    • Fruits glabrous or subglabrous (Wolff, 1927).
    • Geographic distribution: Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Spain, Turkestan (Wolff, 1927).

Within the Ethiopian material, these three forms cannot be clearly distinguished. Tutin (1968) in Flora Europaea and Shishkin (1973) in Flora of the USSR do not subdivide the species efther. (3) Wolff (1927) described a second species of the genus Cuminum: C. sudanense, based on a specimen collected by Schweinfurth in Sudan. This species was not observed in Ethiopia. Some differences from C. cyminum are:

  • The lower leaves are bipinnate with 5-7 pairs of leaflets.
  • The umbels have 20-26 primary rays.


(4) Plants of C. cyminum, originating from the same seed-source, raised in Ethiopia were more robust than plants raised at Wageningen.

(5) The description is based on the following specimens: Begemdir Eritrea Hararge Kefa Shoa Sidamo Tigre Wollega Wollo Grown at Gondar market: WP 4985. Addi Caje, alt. 2200 m, 23-7-1902: A. Pappi 3097 (FT). Alemaya, cultivated at the College of Agriculture: PJ 1822-1826, PJ 2804-2808, PJ 3175-3182; Alemaya market: WP 29, PJ 1169; Dire Dawa market: PJ 1041, PJ 1043, PJ 1047, PJ 5944; Mieso market: WP 1439A, WP 3516. Jimma market: WP 3278, WP 3280, SL 113. Nazareth, cultivated at IAR (Melkassa): PJ 2416-2419, PJ 3586-3587. Yirgalem market: WP 4055. Axum market: WP 4976. Ghimbi market: PJ 1181, PJ 1185. Haik market: SL 40. Wageningen WP 7365-7366, WP 7381, PJ 145, PJ 209, PJ 308-309, PJ 546, PJ 657, PJ 720-721.


The natural habitat of the species is near oases in sandy deserts (Shishkin, 1973). However, the plant can withstand neither severe dry heat (Rosengarten, 1969) nor heavy rains (Farm Inf. Unit, 1971).

In Ethiopia the crop can be grown successfully at altitudes ranging from 1500 to 2200m (Herb. WAG).

In India, ca 33% cross-pollination was observed in cumin (Aiyaduraj, 1966). This percentage is rather low, as the flowers of cumin are protandrous.


Cumin is grown from seed. If it is grown as a rainfed crop, the weather conditions are important. Severe drought or heavy rains can damage the crop considerably. Production figures therefore may show a wide variation. In Iran, for instance, production fluctuates between 8000 and 50 000 tons per year (Rosengarten, 1969). Perhaps the ancients observed cultivation problems too, as Theophrastus said: 'they say that one must curse and abuse it while sowing, if the crop is to be fair and abundant' (Redgrove, 1933).

In India, the crop is mainly grown under irrigation. A rich sandy loamy soil is required, to which 20-30 tons farmyard manure is supplied per hectare. The seed is broadcast on beds of ca 2 x 2.5 rn or in rows, ca 25 cm apart, at a rate of ca 20 kg/ha. The best cultivation time is during the dry season. Germination takes about two weeks. Plants flower after ca 1.5 month and the fruits can be harvested at ca 3-3.5 months after sowing. When the plants begin to wither and the fruits turn yellow, it is time to harvest. The plants are uprooted when they are wet with dew and stacked carefully to dry in the sun. Threshing is often done with sticks or by trampling with cattle on a threshing floor. The yield varies from 500 to 1200 kg fruits per ha. (Farm Inf. Unit, 1971; Paulose, undated).


In Ethiopia cultivation of cumin was observed only in small gardens near bouses. If irrigation is possible, cultivation in the dry season is recommended. If grown as a rainfed crop, sowing at the beginning of the lesser rains or at the end of the greater rains is advisable. Plants grown at Alemaya (alt. ca 2000 rn) took ca 1-1.5 month for full germination, 2-2.5 months to start flowering and harvest was possible ca 3-3.5 months after sowing. The seed (bought on local markets) was contaminated with seed of Plantago psyllium L., a troublesome weed in the cultivation of cumin. It closely resembles the cumin plant at first glance. It can be distinguished from it by its opposite leaves and its non-umbelliferous inflorescence.

In Ethiopia, no serious diseases or pests of cumin were observed in 1975-1977.

In India, young plants are attacked by a Fusarium wilt, especially on light soils.

Photograph 10. Cuminum cyminum, flowering plant, PJ 308.


Photograph 11. Cuminum cyminum, detail of photograph 10.

This disease can be controlled by a dressing of trace elements to the soil. Powdery mildew can be controlled by dusting with sulphur (ca 15 kg/ha). Leaf-eating caterpillars (Prodina sp.) and a seed-embryo eating larva of Systole albipennis Walk. (a chalcid fly, causing up to 20% loss of the fruits in India), are the most important pests of cumin in India (Paulose, undated; Aiyaduraj, 1966; Gupta, 1962).


Culinary uses

Cumin seed was highly prized by the ancients as a kitchen spice. Today the seeds


Photograph 12. Cuminum cyminum, mericarps (3 x), PJ 1169.

are used to flavour soups, rice, meat-dishes, cheese and bread, pickles, sausages, chutney and sauerkraut.

In India the ground seeds are an essential ingredient of curry and chili powder.

The essential oil is used in liqueurs and perfumes (Thellung, 1925; Redgrove, 1933; Ferrara, 1957; Parry, 1969; Rosengarten, 1969).

In Ethiopia the ground seeds are mainly used to flavour different kinds of 'wot' sauce and only small amounts are needed daily.

Medicinal uses

The essential oil of cumin has a light anaesthetizing action. The fruits are considered as a good medicine against digestive and intestinal upsets (Garnier et al., 1961; Rosengarten, 1969). Flückiger & Hanbury (1874) reported a considerable use of the fruits as a veterinary medicine. In Ethiopia, the pounded leaves are applied to the skin against skin disorders (Gelahun, pers. comm., 1976).

Chemical composition

Agren & Gibson (1968) recorded that 100 g edible cumin fruits, originating from Ethiopia, contained:


moisture 6.8 g calcium 605 mg
nitrogen 2.9 g phosphorus 570 mg
protein 18.1 g iron 174.9 mg
fat 40.3 g thiamin 0.60 mg
carbohydrate total 28.7 g riboflavin 0.16 mg
fibre 17.0 g niacin 8.6 mg
ash 6.2 g ascorbic acid 3 mg
rubbish (in sample) 17 g

By steam-distillation of the fruits, 2-4% essential oil can be obtained. This oil is colourless at first, but later turns bright yellow. It smells and tastes like the fruits. Its chief components are cuminol (ca 56%, with smell and taste of cumin) and p-cymol (ca 40%, with a lemon resembling odour) (Flückiger & Hanbury, 1874; Thellung, 1925; Rosengarten, 1969).