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Black Sesame Seeds (hei zhi ma)

What is black sesame seeds? What is it used for?

Sesame seeds are believed to be one of the worlds' first spices.

The earliest recorded use of sesame seeds as a spice can be traced to an Assyrian legend, which claimed that the gods drank sesame-based wine before creating the earth. Sesame seeds are still a main spice and food source throughout Asia and parts of Europe and Africa. Although they are considered a culinary treat in many places, sesame seeds also have various medicinal uses. The seeds are usually harvested in early autumn, shortly after turning ripe, and allowed to dry in the sun before being prepared for herbal remedies.

In traditional Chinese medicine, black sesame seeds have sweet and neutral properties, and are associated with the Kidney and Liver meridians. They function to tonify yin jing and blood, moisten the intestines, and help build the spirit, or shen.

Black sesame seeds are an extremely good source of calcium; studies have shown that one gram of seeds contains approximately 85 milligrams of calcium. Black sesame seeds also have high amounts of protein, phosphorous, iron and magnesium. In some patients, black sesame seeds are used to help patients recover from serious illnesses and fevers, treat constipation and promote regular bowel movements. Some practitioners recommend using black sesame seeds with polygonum to keep a person's hair looking rich and dark.

How much black sesame seed should I take?

The typical dosage of black sesame seeds is 9-30 grams per day, ground into a powder and taken alone or in combination with other herbs.

What forms of black sesame seed are available?

Whole, dried black sesame seeds are available at herbal shops, Asian markets, and some exotic food stores. Black sesame seeds are also available in powder, pill, capsule and decoction form. Sesame seed oil is also available in many places.

What can happen if I take too much black sesame seed? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Because black sesame seeds are used to promote bowel movements, they should not be used in patients with diarrhea or loose stools. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with black sesame seeds. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking black sesame seeds or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  • Lu HC. Chinese Herbs With Common Foods. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1998.
  • Maciocia G. Foundations of Chinese Medicine. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1989.
  • Pitchford P. Healing With Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books, 2002.
  • Sionneau P. The Treatment of Disease in TCM. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, 1996.
  • Teeguarden R. Radiant Health: The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs. New York: Warner Books, 1998, p. 303.
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