Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is not half sufficiently known, or
esteemed as a domestic condiment of medicinal value, and
culinary uses; whilst withal of ready access as one of our
commonest importations from Malta and Sicily for flavouring
purposes, and veterinary preparations. It is an umbelliferous plant,
and large quantities of its seeds are brought every year to England.
The herb has been cultivated in the East from ear
y days, being
called Cuminum by the Greeks in classic times. The seeds
possess a strong aromatic odour with a penetrating and bitter taste;
when distilled they yield a pungent powerful essential oil. The
older herbalists esteemed them superior in comforting carminative
 qualities to those of the fennel or caraway. They are
eminently useful to correct the flatulence of languid digestion,
serving also to relieve dyspeptic headache, to allay colic of the
bowels, and to promote the monthly flow of women.
In Holland and Switzerland they are employed for flavouring
cheese; whilst in Germany they are added to bread as a condiment.
Here the seeds are introduced in the making of curry powder, and
are compounded to form a stimulating liniment; likewise a
warming plaster for quickening the sluggish congestions of
indolent parts. The odorous volatile oil of the fruit contains the
hydro-carbons Cymol, and Cuminol, which are redolent of
lemon and caraway odours. A dose of the seeds is from fifteen to
thirty grains. Cumin symbolised cupidity among the Greeks:
wherefore Marcus Antoninus was so nick-named because of his
avarice; and misers were jocularly said to have eaten Cumin.
The herb was thought to specially confer the gift of retention,
preventing the theft of any object which contained it, and holding
the thief in custody within the invaded house; also keeping fowls
and pigeons from straying, and lovers from proving fickle. If a
swain was going off as a soldier, or to work a long way from his
home, his sweetheart would give him a loaf seasoned with Cumin,
or a cup of wine in which some of the herb had been mixed.
The ancients were acquainted with the power of Cumin to cause
the human countenance to become pallid; and as a medicine the
herb is well calculated to cure such pallor of the face when
occurring as an illness. Partridges and pigeons  are extremely
fond of the seeds: respecting the scriptural use of which in the
payment of taxes we are reminded (Luke xi. v. 42)--ye pay tithe
of mint, and anise, and cummin. It has been discovered by Grisar
that Cumin oil exercises a special action which gives it importance
as a medicine. This is to signally depress nervous reflex
excitability when administered in full doses, as of from two to
eight drops of the oil on sugar. And when the aim is to stimulate
such reflex sensibility as impaired by disease, small diluted doses
of the oil serve admirably to promote this purpose.