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

[136] 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 [137] 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.