The Herbs That Will Spice Up Your Food & Boost Your Health
We’ve all heard of super foods, usually exotic fruits, which are marketed as panaceas for all of our ailments. At first there was the blueberry and then the acai berry and then the dragon fruit. While these fruits are no doubt healthy, there is a lot of healthy food than can be found closer to home – in your kitchen pantry to be exact.
Common herbs and spices may do more for you aside from flavoring that pot of chili, they may help protect against diabetes, cancer and heart disease. A number of herbs and spices have also been found to have high levels of antioxidants.
Most of the benefits we gain from herbs and spices are from polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidants and have a huge role in preventing degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. To add more health and flavor to our dishes, here are some of the best herbs that not only provide depth and interest to your recipes but improve our health without adding any calories to the plate.
Turmeric has always been used as both a spice and medicinal root in India and in the Orient. In fact, in India, turmeric paste is often applied to wounds to hasten healing. Tea is also made from it to cure colds, sour throats and ease respiratory problems. A lot of the benefits of turmeric can be traced back to curcumin, a compound that can help reduce inflammation and pain. Preliminary research has also found curcumin to be effective against cancer cell growth and in suppressing enzymes that activate carcinogens.
Often found in Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine, this “savory” spice is just as great at curing flatulence as it is at flavoring tacos and chilies. Cumin is actually pretty great in aiding digestion, which is good news because it is often used alongside ingredients that can make you gassy (i.e. beans). Cuminaldehyde, an essential oil found in cumin activates salivary glands located in the mouth and facilitates the first stages of food digestion. Thymol, which is also found in cumin, stimulates glands that secrete acids, bile and other enzymes that allow for more effective digestion.
Sage tea is an herbalist’s favorite for curing an upset stomach or sore throat. Components in this fragrant herb have been found to reduce inflammation. Sage has also been found to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s, according to preliminary studies. It seems to do so by disrupting a process that destroys acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in learning and memory.
CAUTION: Sage can be an allergen and should be used sparingly when feeding young children.
Ginger is amazing for dealing with a sore throat and the early stages of colds. That is because ginger contains gingerols, a compound that reduces inflammation and has been found to be able to fight certain cancers as well as prevent arthritis pain. Studies have even shown that drinking ginger tea helps soothe the nausea caused by chemotherapy.
Oregano is used in abundance in both Italian and Greek cooking. No wonder these cuisines are known all over the world as healthy. Oregano is a cure-all of sorts and is has anti-microbial, anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-cancer properties. Its oil and leaves are used to treat fevers, congestion and body ache. The minty flavor of this herb is also great for treating coughs.
FUN TRIVIA: In Ancient Greece, scholars used to whiff rosemary in order to be able to focus and remember whatever it was they were studying.
In more recent times, a study has found that people did tend to be more alert and have better memory when rosemary oil was spritzed into their cubicles while they were studying. Rosemary might also prevent the development of heterocyclic amines and carcinogens that appear as byproducts during the process of cooking and charring of meat.
One of the world’s most expensive herbs, saffron pound per pound can be more expensive than gold! The rarity of this herb is one reason for its price, but its health benefits give it even more value.
It seems that saffron is effective at lifting moods. In a study conducted by Iran’s Roozbeh Psychiatric hospital it was found that 75% of the women suffering from PMS reported improvements in their mood when they were given saffron capsules daily.
We are still waiting for a study ‘closer to home’.
Cinnamon has the highest antioxidant value of any spice and has been shown to help keep blood sugar levels in control in diabetics. It turns out cinnamon increases our cell’s sensitivity to insulin. The spice also has anti-microbial properties.