Herbs and spices aren’t just something you sprinkle in the pan when preparing dinner. They offer a vast spectrum of healthful benefits of which science is beginning to discover. The cuisine of every culture uses these aromatic plants for the taste they afford but more than that, many have been used since ancient times for their specific therapeutic values.
By exploring phytochemicals at the molecular level, researchers have come to understand how they work the way they do. We don’t have to know those kinds of details to benefit from their workings. The list of spices below is a great place to start to get to know how they work.
Why Use Spices?
It’s interesting to note that many pharmaceuticals are devised to mimic the mechanisms of plants. The difference, of course, is that the human body recognizes plants as food and uses them accordingly. Drugs are foreign to our cells and although they may mask symptoms, they don’t actually help our bodies to heal.
Herbs and spices, on the other hand, can help us with weight loss, sleep, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, digestion, pain, and virtually every other malady.
We’ve put together some spices and herbs that can help with common health concerns. You’ve probably heard of all of them and may very well already have them in your cupboard or garden. If not, it’s worth adding this list of spices to your pantry.
List of Spices for Health
The spices below taste great and they work in a tangible, observable way!
1. Metabolism Booster
Mustard seed – One tiny seed can produce this beautiful leafy plant and it’s full of nutrition. In addition, spicy foods like mustard, chili peppers, and horseradish have a thermogenic effect when you eat them: they increase your metabolism and raise your body temperature. A 1986 study showed that mustard significantly increased the resting metabolism rate, with implications for weight loss. So for a zip in your mouth and in your step, add some mustard seeds or powder to whatever you’re eating.
2. Digestive Troubles
So much of our health is dependent upon our digestive system. How we break down food and use its nutrients affects everything.
Coriander – expedites the digestive process and soothes indigestion (dyspepsia), abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and flatulence. It’s also a diuretic and regulates blood pressure. The entire plant is edible; you can use the seeds and/or leaves in cooking or steep the leaves for a digestive tea.
To make a tea:
- Boil coriander leaves for a minimum of five minutes.
- Add honey to taste, if desired, and strain before drinking.
Fennel – stimulates digestion to properly metabolize food. Indians eats fennel seeds after a meal for this reason. The entire fennel plant is edible and adds a licorice flavor to foods. Fennel is an antispasmodic (among other things) that eases infant colic, heartburn, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome. It also eases symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome.
Ginger – it’s hard to say enough about ginger. This rhizome herb is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, stimulating digestive enzymes and bile to effectively process food through the stomach and liver. You can cook it in food, drink as tea, or mix up in your next smoothie.
3. Joint Pain
Garlic – a potent anti-inflammatory, garlic is effective inside and out. Add garlic to cooking (or eat it raw, if you can, to get the most benefit).
Green Tea – all true teas (i.e., not herbal) contain anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Green tea has more flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) than other types of tea and it’s this substance that is a major contributor to green tea’s anti-inflammatory effect.
Steep green tea for at least 7 minutes before drinking to allow nutrients to release. Add some raw, unpasteurized honey if you like, for an additional anti-inflammatory.
Licorice Root – contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids that inhibit Lyso-PAF-Acetyltransferase, an enzyme that causes inflammation. Licorice root can be taken in a capsule or drunk as tea. To make your own tea (rather than store-bought in a bag), add 1 teaspoon of licorice root powder to hot water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink. Licorice root is naturally sweet.
Cautions: in large amounts over time, licorice root can contribute to hypertension and low potassium. Pregnant and lactating women should not take licorice root
With the environmental and food toxins to which we are daily exposed, we need to give ourselves a flush now and then to keep them from building up and causing harm.
Rosemary has antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Antioxidants in rosemary protect the liver from damage and can even promote healing of cirrhosis. The liver is the body’s primary filter and everything you take into your body goes through it. Rosemary prevents damage from free radicals by activating the body’s own defense mechanisms.
In addition to its particular hepatic effects, rosemary protects the brain, improving memory, cognition, and stalling the accumulation of amyloid-beta, a protein that leads to the plaque accumulation in the brain that causes Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
A hardy, aromatic herb, rosemary can be added to soups, stews, grilled proteins and vegetables, or taken as a tea.
5. Immune System Booster
Black pepper – piperine is a substance in black pepper with antioxidant properties. It’s been found to bind to immune cell receptors and increase cell viability. In addition—and maybe more importantly—black pepper increases the bioavailability of other nutrients. The body can readily use many of the nutrients in food just as they are but some are more difficult to absorb. For example, turmeric is a super spice with many health benefits but is poorly metabolized as it is. Black pepper increases the body’s ability to absorb it by 2000%–a perfect pair.
Piperine also inhibits the growth of colon, breast, and other cancers. It’s effective in treating vitiligo as well, by stimulating skin pigment.
Black pepper can be added as a spice in cooking or added as a finish to foods.
Turmeric – curcumin is the antioxidant pigment in turmeric that gives it the gold color. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory that has been found to:
- support the immune system
- kill cancer cells
- fight infection
- kill fungi
- promote oral health
Combine turmeric with black pepper and coconut oil to reap its full benefits. Heat applied while cooking will also release the curcumin and other phytonutrients.
6. Reduce Belly Fat
Cayenne – this spicy spice is thermogenic (so is black pepper), meaning that it produces heat when you eat it. Thermogenic foods increase metabolism (even while at rest) so you burn more calories. Cayenne contains vitamins C, B6, E and minerals manganese and potassium, plus flavonoid antioxidants.
Research at Purdue University found that:
“consuming red pepper [cayenne] can help manage appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially for individuals who do not consume the spice regularly…Other studies have found that capsaicin, the component that gives chili peppers their heat, can reduce hunger and increase energy expenditure – burning calories.”
Capsaicin is an antioxidant pigment in cayenne that aids in digestion as well. It has been found to stimulate bile and pancreatic enzyme production, heal and prevent gastric ulcers and gallstones, and break down proteins in the small intestine.
Mix ¼ teaspoon of cayenne and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a cup of warm water and drink half an hour before breakfast to kick-start your digestive system and supercharge your metabolism.
Cinnamon – this is another anti-inflammatory super spice that can help with weight loss. It does so by stimulating insulin production to stabilize blood sugar levels, thereby improving cells’ insulin sensitivity so that glucose is absorbed by muscles for energy rather than being stored as fat. Cinnamon also regulates low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Nature abounds with colorful, flavorful herbs and spices to make whatever you eat delicious and nutritious, supporting health in the process. The complexity and variety of plant chemistry can be targeted to help with whatever concerns you. You can find all of these ingredients at the local supermarket and all are easy to store in your pantry for whenever you need them. Spices add to the variety of life.