Nigella

Nigella damascena

One of my favourite flowers, but one that I have yet to grow, is Nigella damascena, commonly known as “Love-in-a-mist”. It has delicately beautiful flowers, held high on ferny foliage, followed by stately seed heads. I believe it self-seeds quite readily. The picture above shows a predominantly blue mixture, but you can also get a mix called ‘Persian Jewels’ that has a few more colours. I think it would make a nice addition to my Middle Eastern garden. It can be sown outdoors from April to June, and then again in September.

Nigella damascena is generally considered to be an ornamental plant, but according to PFAF, the seed can be used raw or cooked, and is normally used as a condiment with a nutmeg-like flavour. It can also be used to produce an oil.

Fennel Flower

Nigella hispanica

This one is Nigella hispanica, (known, with a certain lack of originality, as Spanish Love-in-a-mist). I found this one growing in the Cook’s Garden at Garden Organic Ryton a few years ago, which would lead you to suspect that it’s edible. And Cherry Gal suggests it can be used as a substitute for black pepper, but I haven’t found any corroborating evidence of that yet. This species isn’t covered by PFAF.

kalonji in the sun

Kalonji, by Karen Christine Hibbard

Nigella sativa is definitely edible, and used widely as a spice. I have yet to see it growing, but am aiming to try it myself. It’s also known as black cumin, kalonji, and (inaccurately) as onion seed. You may have come across it in a naan bread. (There’s another spice known as black cumin, Bunium persicum, which goes to show how confusing common names can be.)

black cumin

Nigella seeds, by seelensturm

PFAF also lists two other Nigella species – N. arvensis and N. orientalis, about which I know nothing. Have you got any Nigella growing in your garden?