Spices and herbs have healed ailments through medicinal folklore for thousands of years. Nowadays, scientific research supports the healing powers of herbs. Although spices don’t fully cure health problems, many can relieve symptoms: from stomach pains to swelling to high cholesterol.
There are even some you can add if you want to see a noticeable difference in memory or digestive health. Believe it or not, you probably already have a certain superfood spice inside your cabinet at home!
Black Pepper Assists With Weight Loss
Pepper is ground from a dried plant-derived spice known as a peppercorn. While there are several different types of peppercorns, most households carry black peppercorns. Black pepper breaks down fat cells, which helps with shedding weight.
According to the Oregon Health & Science University, pepper’s piperine content also benefits the skin, decreasing our risk of skin cancer. Pepper also relieves nasal congestion, especially when boiled in a stew or soup. Along with spicing up almost any meal, black pepper can contribute to teas, specifically ayurvedic tea that assists with weight loss.
Cinnamon Significantly Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
A popular kitchen spice, cinnamon contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which uses powerful antioxidants to reduce inflammation and cholesterol. But cinnamon out-performs other spices in lowering blood sugar. Studies show that cinnamon can reduce up to 29% of blood sugar in diabetic patients.
Full benefits can appear in as little as half a teaspoon to two teaspoons of cinnamon per day. Since cinnamon adds natural sweetness, you can sprinkle it in smoothies, coffee, oatmeal, meats, and even grains.
Thyme Combats Unhealthy Bacteria, Fungi, And Even Insects
Time to discuss thyme, a Mediterranean herb with several uses. Its compound thymol can destroy harmful organisms, such as bacteria. A study from 2010 reports that thymol lowers bacterial resistance to common drugs, making infections easier to treat.
Researchers at Chungbuk National University in South Korea found that thymol contributes to killing tiger mosquito larvae, which carried yellow fever to many victims. Thyme also has antimicrobial properties, making it an antifungal. Thyme primarily appears in soups and pasta but also tastes delicious on eggplants, tomatoes, grilled meats, and potatoes.
Turmeric, The Super Spice
If you’ve eaten any curry powder, you’ve tried turmeric before. Turmeric contains a low amount of curcumin, which makes it a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Turmeric increases a growth hormone in the brain, which improves memory and decreases the chance of brain diseases. It also helps the endothelium, which is the lining in your blood vessels, making it beneficial for the heart.
Unfortunately, curcumin isn’t absorbed well in the bloodstream, but eating turmeric with black pepper can increase its effectiveness. Turmeric is also a flexible spice–from chicken to quinoa to soups to vegetables, you can sprinkle it on almost anything.
Peppermint Assuages Bowel Pains And Nausea
Long used in folk medicine and aromatherapy, peppermint contains healthy oils that help relieve stomach pain. Studies demonstrate that peppermint relaxes muscles in the colon, reducing pain, bloating, and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In one study, over 1,000 women in labor were given peppermint aromatherapy, and most felt less nauseous afterward.
Smelling peppermint essential oil can reduce nausea, though peppermint oil should never be consumed or rubbed on the body (cosmetics containing essential oils are heavily diluted, which makes them safe). You can also drink peppermint tea, or add dried peppermint flakes to coffee grounds and pastries.
Oregano Can Kill Superbugs
The ancient Greeks used to use oregano as an antiseptic. It turns out, they weren’t far off. Oregano contains carvacrol, which works as an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. One study, which won an award from the United Nations in 2008, discovered that oregano essential oil could ward off the superbug MRSA with its antibacterial strength.
Research published in the journal PLoS ONE suggested that compounds in oregano could help prevent breast cancer and diabetes, though this study has yet to be supported. For its antibacterial properties, though, you can toss oregano into bread, marinades, salads, and even omelets.
Cayenne Curbs Your Appetite
Cayenne is a type of chili powder included in spicy dishes. At least six studies have shown that capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne, lowers one’s appetite and increases fat burning. However, people who were used to spicy foods didn’t experience this effect, implying that tolerance of cayenne builds over time.
Some animal studies have linked cayenne to cancer prevention, but this has yet to be confirmed in humans. Cayenne adds a kick to any soup, meat rub, veggie dish, or tofu.
Saffron Can Brighten Your Day
Due to its labor-intensive harvesting, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, with one pound costing $500 at minimum. Saffron is also called the “sunshine spice,” as in a review of five studies, researchers found that eating saffron daily brightened the moods of those with mild-to-moderate depression. In the same vein, saffron also boosts libido.
Women taking 30 mg of saffron a day were found to have less intense PMS symptoms, including headaches, irritability, and cramps. You can draw out saffron’s flavor by soaking the threads in hot (not boiling) water. Hence, saffron commonly appears in rice, risottos, and milk.
Parsley Provides The Largest Dose Of Vitamin K
A standard restaurant garnish, parsley also contains one of the highest concentrations of myricetin in plants, which blocks cancer-causing chemical compounds. Parsley provides us with an enormous amount of vitamin K, which strengthens bones. Just one cup of parsley equals 1,230% of an individual’s recommended daily vitamin K dose.
Some researchers propose that parsley could have a hand in preventing diabetes as well. To add more parsley into your meals, you can consider adding it to ravioli, quiche, pasta, guacamole, stuffings, and salads.
Paprika Beefs Up The Immune System
Paprika packs a punch as an antioxidant. Its compound, beta-carotene, protects the skin and respiratory system. Other ones, called zeaxanthin and lutein, improve eye health and halt molecular degeneration. So it’s no surprise that a 2016 study suggested that paprika could ease symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
In addition, research from Japan demonstrates that paprika’s anti-inflammatory effects help fight gastric cancer and eye diseases. It lowers blood pressure, strengthening your heart. Depending on how it’s dried and prepared, paprika could taste smoky or savory. Use paprika in salsas, egg dishes, curries, pork, and even sweet chocolate desserts.
Ginger Soothes Tummy Aches And Pains
You may have been advised to drink ginger tea when nauseous. That’s because several studies have proven that just one gram of ginger can effectively reduce nausea. Ginger also works as a strong anti-inflammatory, soothing pain and stiffness.
You can buy dried or candied ginger if you want to pop some while nauseated. Asian rubs and sauces often include ginger, but it also tastes fantastic in stir-fry, marinades, soups, vegetables, and even certain beverages. You can also find ginger in many different teas.
Garlic Fights Off Illness
Along with tasting delicious, garlic has been used in cooking recipes for hundreds of years for its medicinal properties. One 12-week study discovered that garlic supplements reduced cold symptoms by 70%, and decreased one’s chance of catching a cold by 60%. Several other studies have stated that garlic lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Other findings show that garlic detoxifies lead in the body and enhances athletic performance, even being given to ancient Greek Olympic athletes. You can easily add garlic to almost any dish–it smells delicious with onion.
Rosemary Sharpens Memory
Commonly seen with chicken and lamb, rosemary is as healthy as it is tasty. One of its ingredients, carnosic acid, fights off damage in the brain, which sharpens memory and concentration. Rosemary is also rich in antioxidants, which boost immunity and suppress nasal congestion and allergy symptoms.
Rosemary is easy to grow and should be crushed with a mortar and pestle before adding to most dishes, as the needles become sharp and hard to remove after cooking. Pasta, gnocchi, rice, and fish all taste great with a little rosemary.
Basil Reduces Swelling
Most Italian, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese cuisine include basil. While you can find several different types of basil, all provide incredible health benefits. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society reported that Holy Basil could reduce swelling and inflammation up to 73%. This can also be used to treat arthritis and IBS.
According to research, basil can also prevent free radicals from damaging the brain, liver, and heart, granting basil anti-aging properties. Basil is most commonly found in pesto, on pizzas and salads, in soups, and with seafood dishes.
Cumin Supports Healthy Digestion
Nutty, earthy and warm, cumin is best known for promoting digestion. For instance, some studies suggest that cumin increases the activity of digestive enzymes, or releases bile from the liver which breaks down nutrients in your gut. In one study, 57 patients with IBS reported assuaged symptoms after consuming concentrated cumin for two weeks.
As well as being rich in iron, cumin also enhances weight loss, according to some studies. Cumin is a staple in most curry powders, and also adds great flavor to chili, stews, fish, meat, lentils, and vegetables.
Bay Laurel Sweeps Out Toxins From The Body
The herb used to crown ancient heroes can also settle upset stomachs and respiratory ailments. The enzymes in bay leaves can smooth digestion and remove toxins from the body, even prompt urinating or vomiting when needed.
The Phytotherapy Research journal published a study explaining that parthenolide, a phytonutrient in bay leaves, quickly reduces inflammation in swollen joints. Some of its chemicals even alleviate dry skin and dandruff. When you cook with bay leaves, put them in the pot at the beginning, as their flavor takes a while to seep into the dish.
Mustard Cleanses The Digestive Tract
Mustard is actually a vegetable that’s dried and used as a spice. Researchers note that mustard clears out the digestive tract by binding cholesterol. It also relieves aches and spasms muscles, including hiccups. Mustard cleanses the body of toxins, especially those built up by narcotics or alcohol.
As a decongestant, mustard seeds clear sinuses and mucus buildup. It’s also packed with magnesium, which can help with asthma. Along with our classic table mustard, mustard seeds also season dips, chicken, rice, sausages, and salad dressings.
Fenugreek Helps Insulin Function
While not commonly seen in the west, fenugreek often adds flavors to Indian curries and salads, as it has a nutty, maple taste. One of fenugreek’s proteins is 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which improves the hormone insulin, which in turn regulates blood sugar levels. It can even increase libido and benefit milk production in new mothers.
Fenugreek should not be taken while pregnant, however. Otherwise, you can take fenugreek in a capsule or tea. The flavor appears in longer cook times, primarily if you use the seeds, so you’ll want to roast or bake them near the beginning of the recipe.
Nutmeg Gives Us Healthy Smiles
You’ve probably tasted nutmeg in sweet dishes such as eggnog and pumpkin pie. For generations, people have mixed nutmeg into warm milk for its ability to relieve insomnia and deepen sleep. A couple of studies illustrate that nutmeg contains antibacterials that relieve tooth decay and toothaches.
Nutmeg also eases digestive problems, such as diarrhea. A 2012 study suggests that it could provide antidepressant effects as well. Outside the holiday season, you can combine ground nutmeg with vegetables (especially spinach), custards, punches, curries, fruit, and sauces.
Cardamom Heals The Heart
Cardamom is a seed that seasons foods with a mild, earthy flavor. Compounds in cardamom have been observed to protect against heart inflammation and viral infection. This likely has to do with its ability to stabilize cholesterol and body fat.
Studies demonstrate that cardamom lowers blood sugar, making it ideal for lessening adverse symptoms of pre-diabetics. Chinese medicine has employed cardamom to soothe digestive issues for centuries. Cardamom is popularly added to coffees, pastries, chocolate desserts, and teas around the world. The seeds are difficult to grind, so you may want to buy cardamom as a powder.
Cilantro Protects The Skin
Cilantro is an annual herb that belongs to the same family as celery, carrots, and parsley. In 2014, the Journal of Medicinal Food examined cilantro’s ability to protect against skin damage. Its compounds guard the skin against UV radiation. On top of that, its high antioxidant content serves as a natural preservation and anti-ager.
A study in 2014 revealed that cilantro has demonstrated “significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities.” Another study in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition said that cilantro contains high beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps the eyes.
Dill Reduces Inflammation
Dill has long been used in medicinal folklore, and scientists are just figuring out why. In 2012, a study in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research discovered that the oil in dill reduces inflammation significantly. Some chemicals in dill seeds also relax the muscles.
Dill is a great spice for digestive problems, including excessive gas, gallbladder complaints, and painful urination. Dill is a flexible herb that can be added to seafood, yogurt sauces, potato salads, breads, soups, and even soaps and perfumes.
Allspice Soothes The Stomach
Allspice comes from the dried fruit of a pimento trees in Central America and the Caribbean. The name stems from its smell, which is like a picture of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Allspice contains a compound named eugenol, which reduces digestive upsets. It can assuage symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and stomach cramps.
The same chemical in allspice kills germs on teeth. In fact, the spice is used in manufacturing to make toothpaste. Allspice is commonly found in chais and desserts, but you can also use it as a subtle spice in curries, soups, and stews.
Tarragon Regulates Insulin Levels
Tarragon is a perennial herb that’s related to sunflowers. Research on tarragon in Phytomedicine suggests that it increases insulin sensitivity. In the study, participants who took 1,000 mg of tarragon twice a day experienced less insulin secretion, which kept blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day.
Another study in the journal Diabetes found that eating tarragon increases appetite. However, this change only occurred with participants eating high-fat diets. Tarragon is usually used in French cooking, especially on vegetables, chicken, and fish. However, you can also add it as a finish to meals much like parsley.
Caraway Seeds Combat Obesity
If you’ve ever tasted rye bread, then you’ve eaten caraway. The seeds have a sharp aroma and a sweet, biting flavor. A 2013 study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine indicated that caraway seeds help obese people moderately lose weight, “without any severe adverse effects.” The researchers theorized that the weight loss resulted from caraway’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects.
Caraway is often used in mouthwashes, and it can be applied to the skin to improve blood flow. You might be able to smell it in soaps and toothpaste. Otherwise, you can cook caraway seeds into pork, duck, sauerkraut, sausages, goulash, and soups.
Fennel Aids Breastfeeding Mothers
Fennel is a powerful medicinal plant. Its seeds have a milk licorice flavor and is commonly used in Italian and French cooking. It also has galactogenic properties that increases breast feeding productivity, according to a study in the 2018 Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal.
Further research in the Clinical Nutrition Research journal suggests that fennel tea can curb appetite. However, those who supplemented 300 mg of fennel extract did not reduce appetite. Fennel is a common ingredient in herbal teas, as well as potato dishes, lentils, meat, and sauerkraut.
Shallots Stimulate Metabolism
Shallots are a variety of onion that taste like a mixture of onion and garlic. They can be chopped as a vegetable or dried and used as a spice. Either way, they improve metabolism and circulation.
Shallots have a higher mineral content than onions, including copper, iron, and potassium. These vitamins stimulate the production of red blood cells, which increases blood flow and carries more oxygen throughout the body. You can increase your metabolism by adding shallots into curries, lentils, sautés, stir-fries, and casseroles.
Marjoram Relieves Menstrual Cramps
Marjoram is a light, sweet herb in the mint family. Although it’s often mixed up with oregano, it has a more floral flavor than oregano. One study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics recorded that marjoram tea reduced pain for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. A similar study suggested that marjoram essential oil (mixed with lavender and clary sage) assuaged painful periods.
Although these studies require more support, upcoming research indicates that marjoram can soothe nerve and muscle pains. You can drink marjoram as a tea, or toss it into any dish that also includes basil, thyme, or oregano.
Anise Seeds Assuage Depression Symptoms
Anise comes in two varieties: full star anise and anise seeds. Both have a pungent licorice smell and taste. Recent research indicates that anise can play a role in lowering symptoms of depression. A 2015 study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that participants who took three grams of anise seed powder three times a day experienced fewer symptoms of postpartum depression.
A similar study in 2017 found that patients who took 200 mg of anise seed oil experienced significantly less depressive symptoms. Anise seed is often used in desserts like pies, coffee, hot chocolate, and mulling spices.
Sumac Has Higher Antioxidants Than Fruit
Sumac is a ground berry that’s used to flavor meat, fish, salad, and rice in the Mediterranean region. The main strength of this spice, besides the taste, is its high antioxidant content. In a 2013 issue of Food Chemistry, researchers asserted that sumac has higher antioxidant activities than most fruit or vegetables.
A later study in the Journal of Food Biochemistry concluded that sumac has higher antioxidants than other “superspices” such as turmeric, black pepper, fennel, nutmeg, and cardamom. These antioxidants remove free radicals from the body, which boosts your immune system. Include sumac to add a tangy, lemony flavor to your meals.
Sage Has Antioxidants That Can Help Alzheimer’s Patients
Sage does more than add an earthy aroma and taste to meals and beverages. Derived from the Latin word that means “to save,” people in the Middle Ages thought sage was powerful enough to save them from the plague. While the herb may have done little to stave off the plague, it has proven to improve brain function and memory with antioxidants that boost the brain’s defense system.
Those antioxidants help fortify the body’s natural defenses against other chronic diseases and free radicals. Sage also has antimicrobial effects that may support oral health, as well as estrogen-like properties that relieve menopause symptoms.
Arrowroot Is A Great Starch Alternative For Sensitive Tummies
Arrowroot is a starchy herb that serves as a great thickening agent or main baking ingredient for folks who go gluten-free. The starch in arrowroot is easier for the body to digest, which makes it a fantastic option for those with sensitive digestive systems. It will reduce abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
Another reason arrowroot is praised for its digestive benefits is its ability to combat foodborne pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. Arrowroot extract has also shown cytotoxic activities that help the body’s immune system.
Curry Powder Is A Mix Of Spices That Can Do Everything
You’ve already read that turmeric and cumin are staples in curry powder, but there’s a lot more to it than those two spices. Curry powder also has traces of coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and a whole array of other spices that give curry its distinct taste.
With all those spices blended into one, you have a power-packed spice that can reduce inflammation, aid digestion, lower blood pressure, increase bone regrowth, and even fight cancer. Curry powder also has antibacterial properties that can combat foodborne illnesses and infections.
Chili Peppers Reduce Pain Over Time
As you’ve already learned, spices like cayenne and paprika are derived from chili peppers which obviously means that the peppers themselves offer amazing health benefits too. What gives chili peppers their kick is a bioactive plant compound called capsaicin.
Capsaicin binds with pain receptors to help desensitize the body’s reaction to pain, which is why the more you eat spicy food the easier it is for you to take. Capsaicin is what causes that burning sensation which is why regular exposure causes it to work over time.
Eat Handfuls Of Sesame Seeds For A Heart-Healthy Snack
Sesame seeds grow in pods on the Sesamum indicum plant and come both hulled and unhulled, with an edible husk. Studies have shown that a small handful of sesame seeds a day has enormous health benefits. These fiber-rich seeds may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, which is excellent news for those at risk of heart disease. Sesame seeds are also high in magnesium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Hulled, roasted sesame seeds are a great source of plant protein, which makes it a great option for vegans and vegetarians.
Vanilla Extract Has Free Radical-Fighting Vanillin
Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol. Vanilla extract has the antioxidant vanillin, which fights the body’s exposure to free radicals and can also help stabilize cholesterol. It can also reduce overall inflammation in the body and has been used as an antibacterial agent often used in cold sore remedies. Studies have also shown that vanilla extract has the potential to reduce anxiety and depression in some patients.
Of course, it’s always better to go for pure vanilla extract over imitation, which comes with additives and unnatural flavor that will do nothing for your health or your cooking.
Use Onion Powder In Place Of Salt
Onion powder not only will boost the flavor of many dishes but it does offer some health benefits thanks to nutrients it contains, such as calcium. Calcium fortifies your bones and teeth but also affects nerve transmission and muscle function. A teaspoon of onion powder contains nine mg of calcium.
Onion powder is also a great alternative to salt because it is low in sodium. Because it serves to pack flavor into your dishes, there’s no need to add any extra ingredients that will also increase your fat and calorie intake.
Chia Seeds Pack A Nutritional Punch
Chia seeds are one of the trendiest superfoods around and have been known to sustain energy since the time of the Aztecs and the Mayans, who gave chia seeds their name. Chia is packed with nutrients including manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, fiber, protein, zinc, potassium, as well as vitamins B3, B1, and B2.
Because of the high fiber and protein content in the seeds, health experts tout them as a great weight loss aid. They’re also chock full of antioxidants that protect the sensitive fats in the seeds from going bad.
Mahlab’s Health Benefits Come From Its Coumarins
Mahlab is a popular spice used to make sweet bread in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It is ground from the pits of sour cherries, which gives it a slightly sour but mostly nutty taste. Mahlab is naturally packed with coumarins, which are thought to be the main source of the spice’s flavor but also give it numerous health benefits. Studies have shown that coumarins help reduce tumors, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and hypertension.
Mahlab also contains oleic and linoleic acids, which are members of the omega fatty acid family.
Achiote Helps The Body Absorb Nutrients Better
Achiote, also known as annatto, is a reddish-brown paste or powder ground from annatto seeds of the achiote fruit. The small tree grows in Central and South America and as a result, the spice features prominently in Caribbean and Central American cuisine.
Achiote has a rich source of antioxidants such as carotenoids and vitamin A, which in turn gives it antimicrobial properties that can kill bacteria in the body. It also has a high fiber content that promotes healthy digestion and improves the body’s uptake of essential nutrients.