Nigella damascena (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Nigella damascena L.

Family: Ranunculaceae


  • Nigella coerulea Lamk,
  • N. pygmaea Persoon.

Vernacular names

  • Love-in-a-mist, jack-in-the-green (En).
  • Barbiche, cheveux de vénus, nigelle de damas (Fr).


Possibly originating from Turkey or Crete, widely distributed in the Mediterranean, southern Europe and northern Africa. Cultivated worldwide, especially as ornamental.


On steam distillation the seed yields about 0.4% of a deep yellow essential oil with a blue fluorescence, the odour of wild strawberries and slightly reminiscent of ambrette seed oil. The oil can be used in perfumery for fruity and floral perfumes; it blends well with numerous other oils and is comparatively powerful, having a winy or brandy-like character. The seed can also be used as a condiment, like seed of Nigella sativa L. The oil contains about 9% damascenine, an alkaloid causing the blue colour, with mildly narcotic properties. N. damascena is very popular worldwide as an ornamental.


  • Annual herb, up to 60 cm tall, stem simple or branched.
  • Leaves alternate, bi- to tri-pinnate, with very narrow segments.
  • Flowers terminal, solitary, 3.5-4.5 cm in diameter, bisexual, surrounded by about 5 involucral leaves which are dissected into many linear segments; sepals 5, clawed, petaloid, blue or whitish; petals about 8, smaller than sepals, clawed, 2-lipped, lower lip bifid; stamens numerous; carpels usually 5-6, entirely united.
  • Fruit a subglobose inflated capsule (united follicles) with hornlike, horizontally spreading, persistent styles.
  • Seed numerous, 3-angled, transversely ribbed, black, rugose.

N. damascena is easily raised from seed, preferably being sown directly at the required site. Many garden cultivars exist, some with double flowers. It is worthwhile to investigate prospects for this species in South-East Asia.

Selected sources

  • Arctander, S., 1960. Perfume and flavor materials of natural origin. Published by the author, Elizabeth, New Jersey, United States. 736 pp.
  • Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink Jr, R.C., 1963-1968. Flora of Java. 3 volumes. Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. Vol.1 (1963) 647 pp., Vol.2 (1965) 641 pp., Vol. 3 (1968) 761 pp.
  • Groom, N., 1997. The new perfume handbook. 2nd edition. Blackie Academic & Professional, London, United Kingdom. 435 pp.
  • Guenther, 1949-1952. The essential oils. 6 Vols. D. van Nostrand Co., New York, United States.
  • Redgrove, H.S., 1933. Spices and condiments. Isaac Pitman & Sons, London, United Kingdom. 361 pp.
  • Zohary, M., 1983. The genus Nigella (Ranunculaceae): a taxonomic revision. Plant Systematics and Evolution 142: 71-107.


P.C.M. Jansen