The common culinary herb called the cumin, is an annual herbaceous plant with a small and slender, branched stem. Even when fully mature, the cumin plant very rarely grows above a foot in height and is characterized by a somewhat angular facade. This herb bears deep green leaves which are divided into long and narrow segments, resembling another culinary herb the fennel in form, each individual leaf is usually turned back at the tips. Leaf stalks tend to be absent from the upper leaves, but long leaf stalks are characteristic of the lower leaves. Cumin bears small and white or rose-colored flowers, which have four to six rays on a stalked umbel, each individual flower being about half an inch long. The seeds of the cumin develop from these small flowers that tend to bloom during the summer. The shape of the seeds is oblong with a thicker middle part and laterally compressed tips; each individual seed is about one fifth of an inch in length. The cumin seeds are not curved and seem to almost straight and they resemble the seeds of the caraway plant in some aspects, however, they are lighter in color and are not smooth, but tend to be bristly in texture. The cumin seeds are characterized by a peculiar odor and taste, almost akin to that of caraway seeds; however, they tend to be not as pleasing to the tastes as the caraway seeds.
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The ancient Greeks and Romans knew of the medicinal qualities possessed by the cumin. The ancient writer Pliny writes that the ground down cumin seeds used to be taken medicinally along with bread, and water or wine. In this way, the cumin was also held to be among the best of condiments by the ancients. Cumin seeds were also smoked, and if done so, the smoke was said to bring on pallor of the face. The writer Horace called this change in countenance, exsangue cuminum. The writer Pliny goes on to informs us that the various followers of the celebrated Roman rhetorician Porcius Latro used the smoke of the cumin seed to give a facial complexion that is apt for application to studying oration.
Among the ancient Greeks, the cumin also symbolized cupidity and it is said that the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius was nicknamed cumin, due to his great avarice, the Greeks also jokingly called their misers as having become so, due to having eaten cumin. Thus this herb was connected to greed and stinginess.
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The ayurvedic system of traditional medicine in India still makes use of the cumin seeds in many remedies, while in the traditional medical system in Europe, cumin has been replaced by the seeds of the caraway plant, and these have a much more agreeable flavor and taste compared to the seeds of the cumin plant. The cumin is nowadays mainly used in the manufacture of certain kinds of veterinary medicine, it is also still very much in culinary use as a vital ingredient in the famous Indian curry powder. Cumin seeds are imported mainly from Bombay and Calcutta in India, as well as from Morocco, the island of Sicily and the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. Cumin is very commonly seen being sold in the markets of Malta, in this island republic, it is called cumino aigro - or the hot cumin, which in name distinguishes it from the sweet cumin or anise, called cumino dulce in Malta.
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The cumin has effective and very strong stimulant properties; it is also a potent anti-spasmodic herb, as well as having carminative effects. The carminative powers of the cumin was highly regarded by the older herbalists, they preferred it over the fennel or caraway herbs. Herbalist of the present time however, prefer other herbs for human use as the cumin has a very disagreeable flavor, it is used as a carminative herb only in veterinary practice these days.
The cumin was used formerly as an herbal remedy for treating colic and dyspeptic headaches, in older times, the cumin also had a very considerable reputation as an herbal remedy for curing flatulence due to languid digestion. In older times, the cumin was also used in topical treatments, the seeds were initially bruised and then applied to the skin in the form of an herbal plaster, this topical remedy was often recommended for treating stitches and pains in the side of the body caused by the presence of a sluggish congestion of indolent parts. The cumin also formed a stimulating liniment, after being mixed and compounded with other herbal remedies.
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The herbal remedy made by mixing the cumin seeds with bay-salt serves as a universal remedy for the diseases affecting pigeons, this remedy is particularly effective in the treatment of birds with scabby skin in the breasts and back. This herbal veterinary remedy based on the cumin seeds is prepared in the following doses one fourth of a lb. of Bay salt, along with one fourth of a lb. of the common salt, one lb. of the fennel-seeds, one lb. of dill-seeds, one lb. of cumin-seeds, one OZ. of the asafetida, all of which are combined in a mixture along with some fine worked clay and a little wheaten flour. This mixture is than beaten well together, and oven baked in two earthen pots. Once the earthen pots cool following the baking process, the pots can be placed in the dove cote, where the mixture will be eaten by the pigeons. The mixture will effectively cure all the birds affected by the disease.
It is possible to grow cumin in northern latitudes such as North America and England and cumin fruits can ripen naturally even as far north as Norway and the Scandinavian Peninsula, but the ideal place to grow cumin is in an area with sunny climates, and most of the commercial supplies are from the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. The seeds are difficult to obtain in the free market in Europe and North America, as the plant is very rarely cultivated at commercial scales in these places.
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If you intend to grow cumin, use small pots filled with a light and porous soil, sow the seeds in these pots. When the seeds have germinated, the pots can be placed into a very moderate hot bed so as to bring up the plants in a suitable place. Once the plants come out of the soil, they must be allowed to harden gradually in an open frame and later transplanted into a warm border of good soil, when transplanting make sure that the balls of earth which are stuck to the roots in the pots are kept in place and moved with the plants. The place of transplantation and growth must be weed free, without competition from weeds, the cumin plants will flower well in time, to manufacture and perfect the seeds as long as warm and favorable weather is maintained in the growing season.
Cumin seeds are dried in a similar manner to the harvested caraway seeds, during collection of seeds, harvested cumin plants are threshed as soon as the fruit ripens to release the seeds.
To ensure optimal time for maturing and ripening of plants, cumin plants must always be planted in a sunny spot, for this reason, it is essential to grow cumin massed in a soil bed, placed in an area well lit by the sun, where the plant can set to seed in season.
Cumin seeds must be sown in the area where they are to grow during the spring; germinating plants can later be thinned out to leave a space a few inches apart if too many of the plants germinate too close together in an area. Three or four months after germination, if all goes well, the initial crop of seeds will be ready for harvesting. Ideal cumin crops will be obtained the drier and the hotter the summer, in fact the plants grow best under such conditions.
A volatile oil present in the cumin is responsible for the strong aromatic odor and the warm, bitter taste of the cumin fruits, this oil is separated out from the cumin fruits by the process of distillation with water, the volatile oil makes up about two to four per cent of the cumin fruits. The volatile oil is formed by a chemical mixture of the compounds known as cymol or cymene as well as cuminic aldehyde, or cyminol (the chief constituent); the oil is limpid and pale yellow in coloration.
The cumin bears a fatty type of oil with resin, and substances such as mucilage and gum, as well as malates and albuminous matter in the tissues of the fruit, while a lot of the organic compound called tannin is contained in the outer seed coating of the cumin. Cumin gives an ash yield of about eight percent of dry weight.
Soak 2-1/2 tbsp. of cumin seeds in some hot water for about 2 hours. Strain and dry thoroughly before crushing them with a heavy object (clean stone or hammer or rolling pin). Then mix them in with a little white flour and hot water - just enough to form a thin paste. Add several drops of peppermint oil to the hot water before mixing in the other ingredients.
Spread this mixture on a piece of muslin cloth and apply over the abdomen to relieve liver, stomach and gall bladder pains. A tea made by steeping 1 tsp. of cumin seeds in 1 pint of water for an hour helps relieve muscle spasms.