[Heb., kam·monʹ, Gr., kyʹmi·non], Black Cumin [Heb., qeʹtsach].
The cumin plant (Cuminum cyminum) is of the carrot or parsley family, growing about 0.3 m to 0.6 m (1 to 2 ft) high, with long, slender leaves and umbels (bouquetlike clusters) of small pink or white flowers growing at the ends of the upward-rising branches. The plant is best known for its pungently aromatic seeds, used in Middle Eastern and other countries as a spice for flavoring bread, cakes, stews, and even liquors. Caraway seeds, which the cumin seeds resemble in flavor and appearance, have since become more commonly used than cumin because of being milder and of greater nutritive value.
Mentioned along with the cumin at Isaiah 28:25, 27 is the plant described by the Hebrew word qeʹtsach. It has been variously identified by translators as “fitches” (KJ), “fennel” (Mo), and “dill” (AT; RS); but “black cumin” (JP; NW) seems to be favored by the context and also by the corresponding name in Arabic (qazha). Despite its English name, black cumin (Nigella sativa) is not classified botanically with the cumin plant, and though known as “the nutmeg flower,” it likewise differs from the cultivated nutmeg. It is of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family, grows to about the same height as the cumin, has similar feathery leaves, but blossoms with individual, attractive flowers with white to blue petals. The seed vessels have interior compartments, and the tiny black seeds, smaller than the cumin, are acrid as well as aromatic and are used on foods as a rather peppery seasoning. It was a favorite spice of the ancient Greeks and Romans.—PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 543.
Though neither the cumin nor the black cumin is widely cultivated in the region of Palestine today, in Bible times they both were more popular there. Jehovah through the prophet Isaiah describes the Israelite farmer’s scattering seeds broadcast over the plowed land, while giving greater care to the sowing of the more valuable grains, such as wheat, millet, and barley. He likewise shows that after harvesting, the threshing of the seeds of the cumin and black cumin plants was not done with heavy wheels or rollers of threshing instruments, but was accomplished by beating the seed capsules with a staff or, for the stouter pods of the black cumin, a rod so the small tender seeds would not be damaged. Coming, as it does, after Jehovah’s exhortation to the people of Israel to cease scoffing in view of the imminent extermination facing the northern kingdom, this illustration apparently was given to show that the people had the option either of responding to the disciplinary beating by Jehovah’s rod or of being subjected to severe and incessant threshing as under the crushing weight of a heavy rollered wagon.—Isa 28:22-29.
Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were to pay the tithe or tenth “of all the produce of your seed,” which would seem to include all cultivated crops. (De 14:22; Le 27:30) In Jesus’ day the Pharisees were scrupulously careful to pay the tenth of such small products as mint, dill, and cumin (all marketable commodities), but they were guilty of passing over the more serious obligations.—Mt 23:23; compare Lu 11:42.