Including herbs and spices is vital for making your home–cooked food taste good. But there’s more to it than that; herbs and spices contain some of the most powerful health benefits of all plant foods and are often used as medicine just as much as they are used for flavor. Below is a list of 10 of the most nutritious herbs and spices!
1. Cayenne Pepper contains a compound called capsaicin, which is responsible for its hot and spicy flavor. Capsaicin is a very powerful anti–inflammatory and can reduce pain from arthritis, psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions. The stimulating heat of capsaicin also induces sweating, breaks up congestion in the body, and helps you burn calories, so it’s good for losing weight and eliminating toxins. Bright red cayenne also contains a high concentration of beta carotene, which supports the immune system. Include it in your cooking if you are often congested or have inflammatory pain. Use it to spice up beans, hot chocolate, sautéed vegetables and bitter greens. Also mix with lemon juice to make the master cleanser.
2. Cinnamon, one of the most popular spices, is also one of the greatest medicines. Like cayenne, cinnamon is anti–inflammatory and helps break up blood clots. The “power compound” in cinnamon is its essential oil, cinnemaldehyde, which is anti–microbial; it kills bad bacteria and fungi such as Candida. Cinnamon is excellent for people with diabetes, as it reduces sugar cravings and triples insulin’s ability to metabolize blood sugar. Finally, cinnamon makes you smarter! Studies have shown that the scent of cinnamon stimulates brain function, including memory and visual–motor speed. Cinnamon is excellent in baking, as it balances out the sugar of most desserts, and on hot breakfast cereals. It also goes well with ground meats and beans.
3. Cumin contains high amounts of iron, which is especially beneficial for menstruating women, and it improves digestion by stimulating the secretion of pancreatic enzymes. Like cayenne, it breaks up blood clots and reduces cholesterol in the blood. Cumin is also known to have anti–cancer properties, in that it neutralizes free radicals in the body and enhances the liver’s detoxification capabilities. Cumin combined with black pepper and honey is reputed to be an aphrodisiac. It also goes well with black beans, guacamole, falafel, hummus and fish.
4. Garlic may be the strongest of all healing herbs. Its potent, pungent healing effects come from sulfur–based compounds known as thiosulfinates, of which the most notable is allicin. The superstition that garlic wards off vampires is symbolic of its ability to kill off bad bacteria and viruses. Garlic reduces blood pressure, eliminates free radicals, reduces plaques, and is perhaps the most powerful antioxidant, anti–inflammatory, anti–microbial, anti–viral natural substance you can eat. A clove of raw garlic can usually knock out any approaching sickness. Garlic also reduces your risk for cancer and promotes optimal overall health. When it comes to cooking, garlic is standard for improving the flavor of almost any dish, especially when combined with onions and olive oil. Good roasted with root vegetables and meat, cooked in soups, sautéed with vegetables, toasted on bread, etc., etc.
5. Ginger, actually a root, is highly effective at reducing all forms of gastrointestinal distress, including cramps, stomachaches, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and even motion sickness and nausea. Ginger is yet another powerful anti–inflammatory that reduces arthritis pain, especially in the knees. It’s also been shown to kill off ovarian cancer cells. Ginger boosts the immune system by producing heat that encourages the expunging of toxins through sweating. Grated ginger is excellent added to lemonade, rice and bean dishes, sautéed or baked fish, baked goods (such as ginger cookies), and as a salad dressing with tamari, sesame oil and garlic.
6. Parsley,, like cinnamon, contains volatile oils that inhibit tumors and neutralize carcinogens; it also contains many antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A and C. It helps reduce urinary infections and can be useful for breaking down and expelling gallstones and kidney stones. Parsley adds some spice to pesto and hummus; combined with garlic and lemon juice, it goes well with meat dishes. Its bright green color makes it an excellent garnish for soups and other dishes; just don’t forget to eat it!
7. Rosemary just plain smells good, and its distinctive smell has the same memory–strengthening properties as cinnamon. One of rosemary’s most distinctive health benefits is its ability to improve blood flow and circulation, especially to the brain, and is good for those with low blood pressure and any other circulatory weaknesses. It is also an anti–inflammatory agent and an antioxidant. Rosemary is great as a seasoning for roasted chicken, in omelets, added to tomato sauce, and to roasted vegetables.
8. Saffron, which has a cameo in the movie Ratatouille, inhibits the growth of tumors and it also stimulates T cells (immune system cells) to reproduce, thus supporting the immune system. It turns everything a golden yellow and is used in rice dishes such as paella.
9. Thyme’s specialty is reducing disorders associated with the chest and lung area, and can reduce coughs, bronchitis, and congestion located in the chest. It also helps expel intestinal worms and destroys bacteria and fungi. It contains an essential oil, thymol, that is a strong antioxidant, and it is also high in iron, manganese and calcium. Thyme can be used in cooking pretty much just like rosemary, and is also especially good with poached fish.
10. Turmeric may be second only to garlic as one of the most powerful anti–inflammatory and anti–cancer seasonings. Add it to your food to reduce inflammatory pain, especially from inflammatory bowel disease, and to reduce the risk of cancer, strokes and heart disease. Its healing strength comes not just from its volatile oil, but the compound that gives it its orange–yellow pigment, which is known as curcumin. Curcumin is as powerful an anti–inflammatory as some over the counter drugs, but has no side effects (unless you count reducing or preventing chest pain, bruises, colic, menstrual difficulties, prostate cancer, leukemia, alzheimer’s, and even inhibiting the spread of HIV. Wow!). Curcumin is pretty strong; you’ll notice that everything cooked with turmeric becomes the color of turmeric. It goes well with eggs, brown rice, Indian foods such as lentils and cauliflower, and roast chicken.