Potential of cumin
THE Northern Areas of Pakistan have ideal climatic
conditions for cultivation of diverse plant species. Major
parts of the area has temperate climate where herbs of
medicinal value and field crops requiring low temperatures can
grow. More than 180 herbs, including black cumin grow in the
wild in Astore valley, which is the hub of Zeera.
Black Zeera (Bunium persicum B. Fedtsch) belonging to Apiaceae
(Umbelliferae) family is also known as Carum bulbocastanum and
in English it is black cumin. The herb is sun loving and is
found only in natural habitat.
The plant is perennial which grows up to 30-90cm. It is
glabrous, erect and varyingly branched. Leaves are bi-pinnate
and finely dissected. Ultimate segments of lower leaves are
lanceolate and of the upper, linear. It can be propagated from
seed as well as bulbs.
Seed generally have long dormant/rest period and require 8-10
weeks stratification (exposure to 4-7 Co temp) for best
germination. During the first two years of growth, plant
remains vegetative and develops a small underground storage of
food called bulb. Next year in March-April when snow melts and
temperatures become favourable for germination, fresh growth
arises from the underground buds, while utilizing the stored
food. During the same year flowering occurs and seeds are born
in separate carpels on compound umbels.
The tiny flowers are white, yellowish or yellowish brown in
colour, hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and
are pollinated by insects. The plant is self-fertile and
prefers well-drained, moist and light (sandy) soil but can be
grown from medium to heavy soils at elevation of 4000-9000 ft.
Moreover, it can grow in all acidic, neutral and basic soils.
The plant prefers full sunshine but can also grow in light
shade. After blooming the specie usually takes 50-70 days till
seeds are mature and ready to harvest. Seeds are elliptic
oblong and dark brown to black in colour with pleasant aroma.
In the Northern Areas harvesting is generally done in July.
More care is needed during harvesting as seeds are small and
after maturity wither readily with winds. Cumin seed are used
chiefly for flavouring the dishes, bakery products and as
carminative. It is used to correct the nauseating and gripping
effects of some medicines. The fruit is carminative,
lactagouge and stomachic. Its volatile oil contains a mixture
of ketone, carvone, terpene and traces of carvacrol.
The Karakuram Agricultural Research Institute for Northern
Areas (Karina) has established one of its research stations at
Astore to study the plant. Experiments regarding black cumin
cultivation at field conditions were conducted by the
Analysis of data revealed that cumin can successfully be
grown, both through seeds as well as bulbs at field
conditions. Seed and bulbs collected from the wild were
planted in the garden. During the four-year study, significant
results were achieved regarding various parameters studied.
Plants raised through seed produced 1,000kg seed per hectare
while harvest of plants raised from bulbs was 750kg per
These are the first scientifically designed and successful
experiments on black Zeera. So far, in Pakistan very little is
known about this specie and no documented experimental data
The scientists also conducted a comprehensive survey in Astore
Valley and Gilgit to collect information about Zeera
production, marketing and economics.
Black cumin is an important medicinal and spicy herb and is
found naturally in Astore valley, upper Dir and Chitral
districts of the NWFP. The best quality Zeera based on its
aroma comes from Astore which fetches higher prices. No exact
figure is available about its annual harvest; however, based
on market availability it is estimated that more than 5,000kg
seeds are produced annually. Different wholesalers and
retailers confirmed that there was high demand for black Zeera
throughout the year. Its market is not only local but national
One kilogram of Zeera in local market is sold for Rs275-300,
whereas in down country it costs Rs450-500. It is also
exported to the UAE and some other Arab states. In
international market it is sold for Rs850-1000 per kilogram.
The IUCN has also recorded its export to Dubai by its traders
from Dir upto 6,000kg. Mingora, Dir, Peshawar, Pindi, Lahore,
Gilgit and Astore are its national and local markets.
According to the IUCN report the demands of various
pharmaceutical laboratories for black zeera in our country is
thousands of kilos annually; that is why it is also imported
from Iran and Afghanistan to meet the demand.
This specie has a great potential for commercial cultivation.
Based on the cropping pattern in Astore valley farmers mostly
grow cash vegetables like potatoes and peas which have net
more profit and early return as compared to other crops.
The Zeera plant cannot only be grown in fields but can easily
be cultivated on hill slopes, foothills and marginal lands.
Therefore, more work is needed to make aware and train the
farmers to grow black Zeera, not only to best utilize such
lands but also to generate revenue.