Author of The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, Linda Ziedrich likes to cook with every sort of food she can grow in Scio, Oregon.

Harvesting ‘love-in-a-mist’

Mystery seeds

By
August 5, 2009

The Friends of the Library are coming tomorrow for a potluck. Tidy gardeners all, they are sure to frown on that patch of dried-out nigella stalks by the blueberries. This gives me extra incentive to harvest the seeds today.

Nigella damascena, or love-in-a-mist, is an annual beloved by less-tidy flower gardeners for its lovely little blue flowers surrounded by delicate, lacy foliage. The flowers develop into pods rather like those of opium poppies. When the pale green pods have turned golden and their little black seeds rattle inside, many gardeners cut the stalks and save them for winter arrangements.

This is what I had in mind, too, the first year I grew love-in-a-mist. But my small daughter, an incorrigible browser then and now, told me they had a more practical use.

“Taste the seeds, Mama! They’re good!”

I chided her, as I always did, for eating whichever plants lay in her path. But my curiosity got the better of me, and so I asked what the seeds tasted like. Raised on natural foods, she couldn’t place the flavor. But I could, as soon as I gingerly bit into one of the black, teardrop-shaped seeds: grape Kool-Aid!

Love-in-a-mist.

N. damascena is closely related to N. sativa, which in India, Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East is beloved at least as much for its culinary and medicinal purposes as for its ornamental value. The seeds are used in and on breads, like sesame seeds and poppy seeds.

In India, where nigella seeds are called kalonji or onion seeds (for their appearance, not their flavor), they are briefly fried or roasted and added to pickles, chutneys, and sauces. The seeds are believed to ameliorate digestive, respiratory, rheumatic, and skin problems, and some of these medicinal benefits have been scientifically confirmed.

I harvest nigella by pulling the stalks from the ground and turning them upside-down into a paper grocery bag. Because I’ve waited a bit too long to harvest, as many as half the seeds scatter to the ground in the process. That’s fine with me; they will grow into next year’s crop.

The pods of love-in-a-mist.

However hard I shake them, the pods will hang on to some of their seeds, so on a windy day I’ll scatter the stalks where I want more love-in-a-mist to grow. Then I’ll winnow the seeds left in the bottom of the paper bags. I’ll store the clean seeds in a jar, and I’ll take some out now and then to sprinkle on top of bread just before baking it.

If I serve the bread to company, I’ll wait for my guests to ask what the strange black seeds are. Before I tell them, I’ll ask what the seeds taste like.

Grape Kool-Aid, anyone?

Culinate editor’s note: This post also appeared on Linda Ziedrich’s blog, A Gardener's Table.

Subscribe
Comments
There is 1 comment on this item
Add a comment
1. by sophie munns on Aug 5, 2009 at 4:22 PM PDT

great post...i had never realised where Nigella came from. Have never used it either...however have long loved “love-in-a-mist”....the evocative name matches its beauty well!

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [http://www.example.com "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer


Advertisement
Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Subscribe
Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer

Reviews

Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice