Herbs and spices have been treasured for thousands of years for their nutritional, medicinal, and culinary properties, but in today's world many of us seem to ignore the incredible options we have sitting on our spice rack.
Spices are an easy way to take your cooking to the next level, in terms of flavor and health. This month I challenge you to pick two spices you already own but do not use often (and if you only own salt and pepper, your task is to go buy some!) and incorporate them into your cooking. Get playful! Smell the spice to see if it seems like it would taste good with your meal and try it out.
Here are some of the extra values of the spices likely already sitting in your kitchen.
- Black pepper, aka piper nigrum, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It stimulates digestion and can help with indigestion and flatulence. It also raises the bioavailability (so your body can better make use) of curcumin/turmeric (another spice - see below!).
- Cardamom, aka elettaria cardamomum, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It is great to add to oatmeal and other things when you would like them to be a bit sweeter; it will help you use less sweetener! It is used for gas and stomach pain, as well as halitosis (bad breath) - especially from garlic.
- Cinnamon, aka cinnamomum cassia, primarily affects the immune system. It has high antioxidant levels and has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetic patients as well as reduce triglycerides. It also works like cardamom, making foods taste sweeter without adding sugar. It is astringent and has traditionally been used medicinally to stop bleeding, such as heavy menstrual bleeding or uterine hemorrhage.
- Cayenne, aka cayeuue capsicum, primarily affects the cardiovascular system by increasing circulation. It stimulates digestion and increases salivation, and has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as improve the HDL/LDL ratio. Medicinally it has been used to treat depression and congestion. Externally, the primarily constituent of cayenne called capsicidin can be used as a painkiller, particularly for neuropathic pain.
- Coriander, aka coriandrum sativum, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. The spice coriander comes from the ground seeds of the cilantro plant, which is rich in nutrients and a good source of iron, magnesium, phytonutrients and flavonoids. It has been used to help halitosis (bad breath), flatulence, and bloating.
- Cumin, aka cuminum cyminum, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It has antispasmodic properties that can help alleviate diarrhea and indigestion. Cumin is also high in antioxidants and minerals including iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium, as well as B-vitamins.
- Fennel, aka foeniculum vulgare, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for flatulence, infant colic, and mild stomach cramps. Here is a recipe for a cumin, coriander, and fennel tea that combines their similar healing properties.
- Fenugreek, aka trigonella foenum-gracecum, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It has been shown to lower blood glucose in diabetics as well as total cholesterol, LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides. It is a mucilage, which means it helps irritated mucus membranes, and is why it can be used to help respiratory infections or irritation. It is also anti-inflammatory and can improve indigestion.
- Garlic, aka allium sativum, primarily affects the cardiovascular system. It is a strong antimicrobial that works on bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It has also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL, and can help bring down blood pressure. As far as spices-as-medicine go, this is a strong one, in both flavor and medicinal properties.
- Ginger, aka zinziber officinale, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It is anti-inflammatory, supports weak digestion and encourages circulation. Ginger is especially helpful for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, vertigo, and even postoperative and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
- Parsley, aka petroselinum sativum, primarily affects the genitourinary system. It is a diuretic (and so helps with edema) and an emmenagogue (stimulates the menstrual cycle), has antimicrobial activity, can decrease blood pressure, and is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.
- Peppermint, aka mentha piperita, primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. It is great for digestive upset, intestinal colic, and gas, not to mention it tastes delicious.
- Sage, aka salvia offficinalis, primarily affects the integumentary system. It has antibacterial properties and can be helpful for sore throats. It has also been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease histamine production in animal studies.
- Thyme, aka thymus vulgaris, primarily affects the respiratory system. It is antibacterial and antifungal, as well as an antioxidant and vasodilator. Its uses include helping poor appetite, cough, and rheumatic pain (topically).
- Turmeric, aka curcuma longa, primarily affects the hepatic (liver) system. Its primarily constituent is called curcumin, which you may recognize as a common and potent anti-inflammatory supplement shown to help especially with autoimmune related pain. It is an antioxidant, has anti-cancer properties, lowers cholesterol, and is indicated as helpful for liver disorders, jaundice, arthritis, asthma, eczema, psoriasis, and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Turmeric is used in cooking in India and is often combined with black pepper, which helps to activate its healing properties. This turmeric ginger lemonade is a great way to get in an extra dose!
This is just a taste of the endless possibilities of spices, all of which have their own benefits for your body and taste buds. For a longer list of medicinal spices, check out this exhibit from UCLA.