The best herbs and spices you should be cooking with

spices-and-herbsMany herbs and spices we enjoy to enhance the flavor of favorite foods have been also been valued for medicinal use throughout history.

Healers and physicians knew which substances could help heal medical conditions, passing the information on to apprentices and sharing knowledge through generations.

Scientific evidence is now available to verify the role traditional remedies can play in treating and preventing common physical issues.

Read on to learn how you can reap the health benefits of the powerful natural compounds found in these ten herbs and spices.

  1. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice commonly used in India that imparts the distinct flavor and yellow color to curried dishes.

The most important active compound in turmeric is curcumin, which has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (1, 2, 3, 4)

The anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric are comparable to pharmaceutical drugs developed for treating inflammation. (5)

Since many chronic Western diseases begin to manifest once inflammation has become well-established, turmeric may prove useful in preventing the development of various health conditions, including heart disease.

New studies indicate turmeric may also improve brain function and perhaps even fight Alzheimer’s disease. (6, 7)

  1. Cayenne Pepper

The active ingredient in spicy cayenne peppers is capsaicin, and studies show it can decrease appetite as well as bump up the body’s capacity to burn fat. (8, 9) This is why capsaicin is often included in supplements designed to help with weight loss.

People who regularly eat spicy foods build up a tolerance for the substance, but for those who are not accustomed to having capsaicin in their systems, eating a gram a day reduced appetite and increased metabolism. (10)

Animal studies indicate the capsaicin in cayenne pepper may also help fight various types of cancer, but the effects have yet to be determined for humans. (11)

  1. Garlic

This flavorful vegetable may be the most well-known of herbs traditionally used for medicinal purposes. (12)

Allicin is the active compound in garlic, and also accounts for the strong smell associated with it. Especially effective at fighting sickness, garlic is often used to combat the common cold. (13)

Garlic can also be useful in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. (14, 15) Because of these effects, adding garlic to the diet could act as a preventive strategy for developing heart disease, the number one cause of premature death worldwide.

  1. Cinnamon

The cinnemaldehyde found in cinnamon imparts the powerful medicinal qualities of this popular spice. (16)

High levels of antioxidants in cinnamon have also been proven to lower cholesterol and blood triglycerides, as well as having positive effects on blood sugar levels. (17, 18)

Diabetic patients participating in trials using daily doses of cinnamon ranging from half a teaspoon to two teaspoons were able to lower fasting blood sugar by 10% to 29%. (19)

  1. Rosemary

The rosemarinic acid found in rosemary is effective for damping down allergic responses and reducing the amount of nasal congestion.

The number of immune cells in nasal mucus also decreases in the presence of rosemary.

A small study with 29 participants indicated allergy symptoms can be relieved by doses of rosemarinic acid from 50 mg to 200 mg. (20)

  1. Holy Basil

This herb is a different strain than the Thai basil or regular basil you may be familiar with; in India, holy basil is regarded as a sacred herb.

Holy basil can fight fungal activity from mold or yeast, as well as inhibiting the growth of various types of bacteria. (21)

A small study showed holy basil can boost immune system function by increasing the number of immune cells in blood. (22)

The use of holy basil in reducing blood sugar levels is also being explored. (23)

  1. Sage

This powerful herb has been used since the middle ages, when it was enlisted to help protect people from the plague.

Its name comes from the Latin word for “save,” which is salvere.

Modern uses for sage may include helping victims of Alzheimer’s disease improve memory function through inhibiting the breakdown acetylcholine, a substance vital in the chemical messaging processes used in the brain. (24)

Over a 4-month period, subjects suffering from mild to moderate symptoms of the disorder showed measurable improvements in brain function. (25)

Sage may also help healthy people protect and improve brain function.

  1. Ginger

Alternative healing approaches have successfully utilized the ginger in treating nausea and through administering a gram of ginger to help patients suffering from seasickness, morning sickness and the aftereffects of chemotherapy treatments. (26)

Ginger’s effectiveness against inflammation has also been noted, as well as in pain management. (27)

A study analyzing the performance of ginger on inflammation of the colon found participants taking 2 grams of ginger daily experienced comparable results to those taking aspirin. (28)

When combined with other natural substances (sesame oil, mastic and cinnamon), ginger helped patients relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. (29)

  1. Peppermint

This powerful herb can also be effective in reducing nausea, and has been used in aromatherapy and folk medicine for centuries.

Like many other herbs, the oily part of peppermint is the component that carries the most powerful healing substances.

Aromatherapy applications use peppermint for reducing nausea, while the active compounds appear to relax the smooth muscles in the bowel, which can reduce pain during bowel movements for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (30, 31)

Abdominal bloating is another common digestive problem that can be eased with the use of peppermint oil. (32)

Midwives have traditionally used peppermint oil to relieve nausea during labor, and the practice has also been used successfully by women after surgery such as C-sections. (33)

  1. Fenugreek

Traditionally utilized as an enhancer of male libido in Ayurvedic medicine, fenugreek hasn’t been proven to affect testosterone levels, but it does have positive effects on blood sugar levels.

A plant protein found in fenugreek has been shown to boost insulin function; subjects taking a gram of fenugreek extract daily experienced significant improvements in insulin response during trials, and patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes had particularly dramatic results. (34, 35)

The Bottom Line

Natural remedies have been used medicinally for centuries with excellent results.

The herbs and spices listed above are commonly available, reasonably priced, and don’t require a prescription from your doctor.

Summary: Enlisting the powerful medicinal properties of plant-based compounds as part of your health plan can be a simple, smart way to enhance your body’s ability to withstand the challenges of everyday life, as well as treating common complaints like pain and nausea.

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569207
  2. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ol000173t?journalCode=orlef7
  3. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02772248.2013.829061#.UyAZAfl_t8E
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15650394
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19594223
  6. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899306027144
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22378725
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15611784
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022968/
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2519832
  12. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/3/951S.abstract
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11697022
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8169881
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16335787
  16. http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJBR/article-abstract/8D4DEA111465
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16190627
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21538147
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19930003
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14988517
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12732427
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21619917
  23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8880292
  24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12895683
  25. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2710.2003.00463.x/abstract
  26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10793599
  27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20418184
  28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21990307
  29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22308653
  30. http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2313
  31. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23416804
  32. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24100754/
  33. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10784271
  34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11868855
  35. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2194788
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