Notes from the Apothecary: Cumin
Cumin is a fragrant spice in the apiaceae family, meaning it’s related to carrots, parsley, and the similar looking caraway. We use the seed of the plant in both cooking and magic.
Cumin has been used for thousands of years, and most likely originated near Syria, based on evidence from nearby excavation sites. Cumin was a table spice in Ancient Greece, a tradition which continues today in Morocco. The Romans adopted the use of cumin, and Spanish and Portuguese colonists eventually brought the spice to the Americas, where it is enjoyed in a range of cuisines.
The Kitchen Garden
Cumin is one of those mesmerising flavours that simply doesn’t taste like anything else. When I was first learning about cooking Indian food, I had not realised that cumin was such a commonly used ingredient. Adding it to my store cupboard changed my life. Most curries I cook now have whole cumin seeds fried until they pop and release their smoky, earthy goodness into the hot oil. Every chilli con carne is blessed with my kitchen’s holy triumvirate of cumin, coriander and turmeric, making the house smell simply divine.
Whole seeds and ground cumin are both readily available in grocery stores and supermarkets. I’ve found that the best value way to buy cumin is to visit an Indian or Mexican store or wholesaler, as shops that don’t specialise tend to bump the price up.
Cumin seeds are used as a natural medicine all over the world. Alleged cumin medical properties include being an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antispasmodic, carminative, aromatic, digestive, and an emmenagogue. In their book about healthy seeds, Danny Sarmiento writes that cumin helps prevent the harmful effects of stress on the body. That must be why I love a cumin heavy curry on a weekend after a hard week!
Sarmiento also states that cumin can offer relief for asthma sufferers as it may dilate the airways. There’s also some indication that the seeds may be effective for treating diabetes.
The seeds are filled with nutritious vitamins and minerals including iron and manganese, so they’re a great addition to just about anyone’s diet.
The Witch’s Kitchen
Cunningham lists cumin in his encyclopaedia of magical herbs. He states the spice is masculine, associated with Mars and fire, which makes sense when you think of how this spice is often used in hot curries and Mexican food! Heat is definitely linked to cumin. But I also find it earthy, and grounding.
According to Cunningham, the spice is used for protection magic, to ensure fidelity, for exorcism and to prevent theft. Bread baked with cumin seeds won’t be stolen by spirits, so if you follow this superstition, don’t leave cumin-spiced bread out for the fair folk! Cumin can be burnt with frankincense to create a powerful protective incense. Scatter cumin and salt to create a protective boundary. Carry in a pouch at handfastings to drive negative thoughts or energies away from the happy couple. Or add some to the wine later on, for an exciting wedding night!
Home and Hearth
Mix cumin seeds with fine salt. Walk the boundary of your home at Imbolc or the Spring Equinox. Sprinkle the protective mix while you visualise your home as a safe and special place. Imagine the sun’s returning light suffusing your home with a warm, comforting glow. The salt and spice mix will keep negativity at bay, whilst allowing love entry, and encouraging loyalty.
I Never Knew…
There’s an old superstition that you should curse and shout as you sow cumin seeds, to ensure a good crop.
All images via Wikipedia or Wikimedia commons.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.