Healing Spices: Protect Health Year-Round

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Powerful plant compounds in these seasonings help fight cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, while working to relieve pain and the discomforts associated with seasonal bouts of colds and flu. That’s why you’ll find many of your favorite seasonings on the supplement shelf—and even in your favorite personal care products.

Fresh Means Potent

For best results, store culinary herbs and spices in airtight containers away from heat and humidity. Just be sure what’s in your spice rack is fresh. To test, rub a little seasoning between your fingers. If the aroma is pleasantly noticeable, it’s probably still fresh.

Toss any musty spices or those that smell like old grass clippings. In general, replace any seasoning after one year.

An added benefit? Natural products stores usually sell carefully grown herbs and spices at a fraction of supermarket prices.

Ways to Use Herbs and Spices

  • Add New Ingredients to Old Recipes

    For example, add a little cinnamon along with basil and oregano to your tomato dishes. Mixing spices in curries, rubs, and other traditional combinations may increase their potency. Their antioxidant activity survives even boiling for 30 minutes. Many herbs and spices—like ginger, oregano, and thyme—help fight foodborne pathogens to prevent those annoying digestive “bugs” that no one wants to deal with. Others, like turmeric (containing curcumin, which gives curry its yellow color), have been shown to be protective against alcohol-related liver damage—at least in animal research.

  • Drink Herbal Tea

    In addition to culinary uses for these healing botanicals, herbal teas are a great way to enhance your health. Try drinking two cups of antioxidant-rich herb teas daily to help slow the aging process. Enjoy ginger, lemon balm, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, and thyme in teas.

  • Make Your Own Herbal Infusions

    Consider making your own herbal infusions using fresh spices like cardamom: Lightly smash 1½ tablespoons of cardamom pods, put in a teapot, cover with 3 cups boiling water, and steep for 10 minutes. This spicy tea will kill bad breath, ease nasal congestion, and soothe an upset tummy as it relieves gas.

  • Try Out Botanical Infusions

    While you’ll find herbs and spices in natural drinks, botanical infusions (also called tisanes) are also making their way onto store shelves. Lighter in taste and gentler in their actions, these beverages make a fresh—and refreshing—way to support your health.

Popular Healing Herbs and Spices

These are some of our favorite natural remedies.

Healing Herbs and Spices
Plant Scientific Name Uses Notes
Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum Germany’s Commission E approves its internal use for indigestion. Contains cineole, an antiseptic that’s effective against bad breath, congestion, and flatulence.
Cayenne Capsicum spp. Antibacterial that fights food poisoning and helps prevent cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections. Topical creams block pain in arthritis, psoriasis, and shingles, or mix ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper in a cup of warm water; drink after meals.
Cinnamon Cinnamomum spp. Antimicrobial and antioxidant that also improves insulin sensitivity while lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Even 1/2 tsp twice daily before meals can lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Clove Syzygium aromaticum High in antioxidants; also antiseptic and antispasmodic. Oil is safe and effective for toothache.
Coriander Coriandrum sativum Germany’s Commission E approves its internal use for indigestion and flatulence. Topical use in cosmetics as a fragrance component.
Eucalyptus E. globulus Antiseptic and decongestant useful in aromatherapy and steam inhalation; also available in capsules and teas. Do NOT take oil internally; topical applications ease sore muscles.
Garlic Allium sativum Antimicrobial beneficial for colds and nasal congestion; fights clogged arteries and lowers blood pressure. May also help fight cancer, treat diabetes, Raynaud’s disease, and yeast infections. Can counteract probiotics, so take separately. For athlete’s foot, crush several cloves in warm water and a little rubbing alcohol and soak feet; topical use of garlic oil helps relieve earache.
Ginger Zingiber officinale Antimicrobial useful in food preparation and oral health; antioxidant that significantly lowers lipids, aids circulation, and may help relieve arthritic knee pain. Effective for morning and motion sickness. This popular spice has been safely used medicinally for millennia.
Licorice Glycyrrhiza spp. Take standard licorice for respiratory infections or use topically; use deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) products for digestive problems. Most widely used herbal remedy in the world after ginger.
Myrrh Commiphora myrrha Aromatic resin; antiseptic tincture for canker sores, cuts, and gum disease. Also found in toothpastes; inhaled, its volatile oils relieve congestion.
Oregano Origanum vulgare Antimicrobial effective against foodborne pathogens, even antibiotic-resistant bacteria; may be useful against several cancers. Has 20 times the antioxidant activity of other herbs; a potent anti-inflammatory.
Peppermint Mentha x piperita Antibacterial and antispasmodic; helps dissolve gallstones. Applied topically, relaxes muscles and relieves pain; do NOT ingest or apply pure oil.
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis Contains phenols with anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits. In some research, helps fight cataracts and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
Sage Salvia officinalis Germany’s Commission E approves its internal use for upset stomach and externally for upper respiratory inflammation; may enhance memory. In addition to sage’s culinary benefits, its oil is used in natural perfumes and soaps.
Star Anise Illicium verum Germany’s Commission E approves its use as a bronchial expectorant and to soothe gastrointestinal complaints. Safe for food use.
Thyme Thymus vulgaris Antimicrobial effective against a variety of bacteria and fungi; useful for coughs Used topically for minor arthritis and in sweet-smelling personal care products.
Turmeric Curcuma longa Contains curcumin that reduces inflammation and risk for Type 2 diabetes; may help fight Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, depression, heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, and tumor growth. Black pepper greatly improves turmeric’s absorption in the body. Also used topically in Ayurvedic lotions for dry or inflamed skin, sores, and wounds.

Oreganol P73, the only wild oregano oil specially formulated for daily use, supports a healthy immune response.

See more at North American Herb & Spice

Sources: 

Antibacterial Activity of . . . Ginger Rhizome Against Periodontal Bacteria by M. Park et al., Phytother Res, 9/23/08

Antidepressant Activity of Curcumin . . .by S. K. Kulkarni et al., Psychopharmacology, 9/3/08

Antioxidant Activity of Selected Indian Spices by S. Shobana and K. A. Naidu, Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, 2/00

Curcumin Inhibits Lung Cancer Cell Invasion and Metastasis . . by H. W. Chen et al., Cancer Res, 9/15/08

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About The Taste for Life Staff

The Taste for Life staff come from a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties. We believe learning is a life-long process, and love to share the knowledge we gain.