Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant that is grown throughout the world and cultivated for its edible seeds. Sesame oil, a source of vitamin E, is derived from sesame seeds. There are many varieties of sesame oil that range in flavor and color. Sesame oil is used as cooking oil, in body massage, as a hair treatment, in food and drug manufacture, in various practices of worship, and as an industrial solvent. Sesame oil is also frequently used as a vehicle for oral and intravenous agents, and in folkloric medicine, sesame seeds have reportedly been used to treat various kinds of wounds.
African medicine: Use of sesame in Egyptian medicine and cuisine reportedly dates to around 1500 BC. Sesame oil was used to illuminate lamps found in Egyptian archeological sites. Sesame oil is reportedly a traditional Egyptian remedy for circulatory disorders, arthritis and nerve pain or neuralgia (such as sciatica), and for removing excessive earwax. Sesame plants were used as a source of oil in Syria and Mesopotamia during the Bronze Age. Slaves from Africa reportedly first brought sesame to the Americas in the 1600s. Today, sesame oil is considered one of the most important sources of dietary fat in African countries. It is also traditionally used for its aromatic properties to prepare perfume. In Nigeria, locally consumed sesame leaf extracts are used to treat skin disorders such as infections. In the East African country of Tanzania, sesame oil (boiled with resin) has reportedly been used for its antimicrobial effects in treating schistosomiasis (a parasitic infection). In Mozambique, the juice of the sesame plant is taken for its aphrodisiac effects, while the seed is primarily taken for its emmenagogue and abortifacient effects. In the West African country of Ivory Coast, sesame leaves are expressed as juice and taken orally to help aid in childbirth (expelling the placenta). In North Africa (Morocco), sesame seeds are taken for their hypnotic effects (for treating insomnia) and galactogogue effects (for increasing milk flow).
Ayurveda: In the Sushruta Samhita, a Sanskrit text of Ayurvedic medicine, sesame oil is deemed the "most commendable" of oils and recommended for wounds, burns and bites from animals or insects. Ayurveda recommends regular topical application of sesame oil with massage to promote general health. In Ayurveda, medicated oils are prepared by prolonged cooking of sesame oil with a pasty mass of herbs and a decoction of herbs in water. Modern Ayurvedic physicians around the world have used sesame oil to treat various chronic conditions, including liver disorders (such as hepatitis), diabetes and migraines. Application of sesame oil to the hair is said to darken hair color; it is also used to prevent graying hair as well as hair loss.
Caribbean medicine: In Cuba, sesame oil is traditionally used for its purported galactogogue properties. In Haiti, decoctions of dried sesame seeds are taken as a treatment for asthma or colic. In the Dominican Republic, sesame is a traditional cold remedy.
Chinese and East/Southeast Asian medicine: For as long as 3,000 years, sesame seed has reportedly been used in China as food and medicine, and in producing ink for calligraphy. Sesame was included in the ancient Chinese pharmacopeia Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica, which was written about 2,500 years ago. In traditional Chinese medicine, dried sesame flowers have been used to cure alopecia, frostbite, constipation (because of sesame oil's laxative effects), and warts. According to secondary sources, sesame oil has been a traditional Chinese remedy for dental and periodontal disorders (such as toothache and gum disease) since the 4th Century BC. Ground sesame seeds were used topically to treat insect bites and skin burns since the 8th Century BC. The Chinese also applied a sesame poultice to the skin to treat numerous disorders, including skin disorders (e.g., wounds and psoriasis) and joint disorders (such as joint inflammation). Sesame seeds (either consumed or applied to the scalp) are believed to prevent hair loss. Hot water extracts of sesame seed are used to treat a wide range of conditions, including sexual dysfunction (such as impotence) and tuberculosis. Sesame is also used for tonic effects to promote healthy liver function and to prevent menopausal symptoms (such as vaginal dryness) in women. In western China (Tibet), sesame is said to promote weight gain in the underweight and also said to help overweight individuals avoid obesity. Sesame is also used medicinally in other Asian countries, such as Korea and Japan, where sesame oil is consumed for general health. In Korea, the seed extract is used for its emmenagogue and abortifacient effects. In Southeast Asia, sesame is considered a general tonic. In Malaysia, hot water extracts of sesame seed are taken for their emmenagogue and abortifacient effects; the seed oil is taken for its aphrodisiac effects in men, and for emmenagogue effects in women.
European medicine: Sesame oil was reportedly brought to Europe from India in the 1st century BC. Other texts state that sesame oil was produced in Urartu (now Armenia) as early as 1950 BC. According to secondary sources, ancient Greeks consumed sesame seeds for its stimulant effects and to increase energy and enhance athletic performance. In Unani medicine (a form of medicine based on Greek philosophy and adopted by Arabic and Indian cultures), sesame is believed to have contraceptive effects; dried sesame seed or sesame oil is applied to the penis before coitus to prevent conception. In Europe, sesame oil is traditionally taken for its purported emmenagogue properties. In Western European countries, sesame is purportedly taken as a laxative and for treating dysentery.
Latin American medicine: Sesame is one of the most important oilseed crops in Latin American, including Venezuela, where it is used to treat cough. In Mexico, sesame seeds are taken for their galactagogue effects.
Middle Eastern medicine: The phrase "open sesame" is in reference to the tendency of sesame seeds to pop when ripe, and it was first used in the Arabian book One Thousand and One Nights. Ali Baba, the main character in the book, used the phrase as a password that opened a secret entrance to a cave. Sesame was used in Assyria around 700 BC. Sesame wine was said to be drunk by Assyrian gods before creating Earth. Sesame oil is cooked with red onions and eggs and used as a traditional Arabic remedy for colds and cough. In Iran, sesame oil is taken orally for its laxative effects. In Jordan, sesame seed oil is taken orally for its galactagogue effects to stimulate milk flow and for its antitussive effects to suppress cough.
Modern (Western) herbal medicine: Sesame was purportedly a traditional Cherokee remedy for diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and gynecological disorders, and was used as a laxative. Today, sesame oil is used in body massage, as a hair treatment, and in foods. A demulcent drink made from sesame leaves is used to treat cholera, catarrh, and gastrointestinal disorders in the southern United States.
South Asian medicine: Sesame is believed to have been first cultivated in India around 2000 BC and is currently used extensively for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Sesame oil has been used traditionally as a health supplement in India and Pakistan for various medical conditions. According to secondary sources, a sesame oil bath followed by self-massage at least once weekly is considered mandatory in parts of India to reduce body heat and fever. In India, "oil pulling" (sesame oil swished in the mouth) is a folk remedy to prevent dental and periodontal conditions (such as tooth decay, oral malodor, and bleeding gums). The demulcent properties of sesame oil are said to relieve dryness or soreness of the throat, and the emollient properties support its use as a moisturizer for cracked lips. According to the Pharmacopeia of India, sesame seeds have potent emmenagogue properties and may effectively treat amenorrhea and other menstrual disorders. Sesame seed has also been used traditionally for its abortifacient effects in India. Indian folk medicine also uses sesame oil in treating anxiety, insomnia, skin disorders (e.g., wounds, psoriasis), and joint disorders (such as joint inflammation or arthritis), and for diuretic and contraceptive effects. Large quantities of sesame oil are taken orally for its laxative effects. Seed extracts are taken orally to treat eye disorders, prematurely graying hair, ulcers, skin disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders (biliousness), and for their galactogogue effects. According to secondary sources, white sesame seeds produce the most oil, although in India it is believed that black sesame seeds produce the best oil for wound-healing purposes. For skin disorders, sesame oil is often mixed with black seed or black cumin (Nigella sativa). In Nepal, sesame oil is being introduced as an alternative oil to mustard oil for the traditional massage of newborns and to aid in childbirth. In Nepal, sesame oil is also smeared around the ostium for its abortifacient effects.
Veterinary medicine: Sesame seed meal and by-products from sesame production, such as sesame cake, are used a protein source in feed for chickens, turkeys, fish, rams and pigs. Sesame oil is used as a base for other pest-repelling essential oils in flea collars for pets.