Herbs have been the main healing modality on the planet for all of history. Columbus main goal in finding a quicker way to India was to satisfy the European hunger for herbs and spices. Herbology can be a very exact and detailed science, with thousands of plants to choose from. But did you know that right in your spice rack you have your own medicine chest. Lets go over the uses and indications of a few herbs that you might have or are easily obtained in most food stores.
Turmeric is getting a lot of press these days, and with good reason. It is the bright orange herb that gives curry as well as mustard its distinctive color.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that offers the most health benefits. It has been shown to suppress the growth of fat tissue within the body. It has some promise in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. It is one of the most potent anti inflammatory agents, so it can reduce muscle and joint pain, so try it for arthritis or injuries. Why not choose this herb instead of over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs. But it is not just for pain, it can help inflammation at the cellular level as well and may stop DNA damage thus preventing cancer. It can help organs that are inflamed like an irritable bowel. Curcumin can actually communicate with cells in your liver and stop them from creating too much bad cholesterol, and instead directs them to create good cholesterol. Try combining turmeric with vegetables and meats when cooking to enjoy this amazing health benefit. You can try combining water and turmeric to make a tonic that solves your stomach pain and cramping. You can add turmeric powder to scrambled eggs or tofu, add it to vegetables before roasting, add it to rice or sauté it with greens, put it in soups or smoothies. You can simmer it in coconut milk with honey to make a tea called golden milk.
Basil is a wonderful and delicious healing herb, it is the main ingredient in pesto. Basil Leaves health benefits includes supporting a healthy brain, managing arthritis, managing stress, slowing down aging, supporting bone health, managing epilepsy and aiding metabolism. Other benefits includes relieving pre menstrual syndrome, providing energy, preventing cancer and supporting eye health. It is good for the brain and prevents cognitive degradation. It contains compounds called adaptogens, thus is good for physical and emotional stress. The antioxidants are anti aging and a cancer preventative.. It is an excellent source of vitamin K, thus helps strengthen bones. I like making pesto by pureeing fresh basil, pine nuts (or cashews) olive oil, garlic cloves, and lemon juice.
Ginger is perhaps my favorite and most commonly herb. Even Western medicine is realizing it is the best remedy for nausea and motion sickness, also for dizziness. It is very anti inflammatory thus good for arthritis, muscle pain and pms cramps. It has been shown to lower blood sugar in those with diabetes, as well as lower cholesterol levels. It has gingerol which is an anti bacterial substance. It prevents cancers, especially throughout the digestive system. Ginger helps speed up the digestive process, causing the stomach to empty contents much faster, so it is best consumed prior to a meal for the most effective cure to chronic indigestion and reflux. I like fresh ginger root and use a special ceramic ginger grated to grind it. I always use it for colds and flus or any vomiting or diarrhea. I often recommend it in baths and as a compress. But if you only have powdered ginger then use that for convenience in foods for an asian flavor.
Garlic is a very popular medicinal herb. We know it a powerful immune system booster and lessens the chances of getting sick, and shortens the duration of colds and flus. It has the power to reduce high blood pressure, often equal to prescription drugs. It can lower the so called bad cholesterol thus lowering the odds of heart disease. It contains potent antioxidants and may stave off dementia or Alzheimers disease. It may help with athletic performance, as it was traditionally used in ancient cultures to reduce fatigue and enhance work capacity and was given to Olympic athletes in ancient Greece. The sulfur compounds in garlic have been shown to reduce heavy metal toxicity. It can increase estrogen and thus help with women’s bone health. It complements most savory dishes, particularly soups and sauces. The strong taste of garlic can also add a punch to otherwise bland recipes. A common way to use garlic is to press a few cloves of fresh garlic with a garlic press, then mix it with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of salt and use as a dressing or to dip bread in.
Cardamon is one of my favorite tastes and smells. Due to its antioxidants it is very anti inflammatory and along with its diuretic effects it can lower blood pressure. It increases the activity of certain enzymes that help fight cancer and may also enhance the ability of natural killer cells to attack tumors. It has been used for thousands of years for digestive complaints, so it helps GI discomfort, nausea and vomiting and can heal ulcers and stop H Pylori infections that cause ulcers. In some cultures they chew a whole cardamon pod after a meal, it may be that it freshens breath and prevents cavities by killing oral bacteria, It may kill other bacteria such as E coli and Staph infections as well as Candida yeast. It lowers blood sugar levels as well. It also protects the liver, calms anxiety and helps with weight loss. You can enjoy it as an ingredient in chai tea. I love to cook pureed winter squash with coconut milk, maple syrup and cardamon. It is wonderful in rice pudding and other sweet desserts as well.
Many people and cultures love spicy food, and Cayenne pepper is one of the hottest. The spice stimulates saliva and enzyme production so is good for digestion. The brief pain it causes when taken, seem to divert the attention from other sources of pain, so it can help things like migraines, nerve damage, injuries, arthritis and fibromyalgia. It prevents blood clots and thus prevents heart attacks, helping to clear away artery narrowing fat deposits and it dilates blood vessels and is like roto rooter for blood clots. It increases body temperature and speeds up metabolism, helping weight loss. Even though you would think the spice would irritate the system, it actually is an anti irritant and can ease ulcers, stomach upset, diarrhea and coughs. In a cream it has been shown to help psoriasis. It balances blood sugar and helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides. It is an anti cancer, anti allergy and anti fungal herb. At first use only a pinch in food, and increase as you build a tolerance. Some people make a drink they fast on called the master cleanse with lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne.
The aroma and flavor of oregano leaves are far greater when the herb is dried than when the leaves are fresh, which is somewhat unusual for any herb. It clears free radicals and defends the body against a wide range of bacteria that can affect the skin, the gut, and other parts of the body. Oregano increases the production of white blood cells and speed up the metabolism, resulting in the faster recovery of common illnesses. I use it often in my practice to kill bacteria including the ones that cause acid reflux. oregano has a natural form of omega-3 fatty acids so it help cholesterol levels and prevents heart attacks and strokes. It can help liver function and speed up the process of toxin elimination. Its constituents help strengthen bones and oxygenates the cells and muscles of the body, thereby increasing energy and strength. It is often found in tomato sauces or on pizza, but can be used in any meat, vegetable or bean dish, as well as breads or crackers. You can even make pesto with it instead of basil.
Parsley should be thought of as more than just a garnish as it has many health benefits. It is a strong anti inflammatory and anti oxidant herb and can decrease the danger of cancers like skin, alimentary canal, breast and prostate cancer. It can also suppress an over active immune system and thus help with allergies and auto immune conditions. It can help many disorders from diabetes, hardening of the arteries, colon cancer, asthma and more! It is famous for being able to flush out the kidneys and helps with urinary tract infections. It boosts the productivity of our liver’s enzymes that detoxes our bodies. Chlorophyll found in parsley is a great remedy to reduce bad breath, maybe that is why the garlic I sell has parsley with it. It is on of the main ingredients in tabbouleh, in which the wheat bulgar can be replaced with quinoa. As a garnish, parsley can be chopped and sprinkled in soups, hummus, or mixed with ground meat, such as lamb or on salmon.
The word “rosemary” comes from the Latin words ros (meaning “dew”) and marinus (meaning “sea”). I see huge bushes of it growing near the beach where I am now, and I always eat a purple flower or some leaves when I pass them, as I have used remedies made from this plant as a liver cleanser for decades. It have been found useful for breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, and skin cancer. From 1529, an herbal book recommended taking rosemary for “weakness of the brain.” and today, research has found that rosemary contains a ingredients that are neuroprotective and helps with memory and Alzheimers as well as moods and migraines. Rosemary is antibacterial and kills H. pylori (the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers) and Staph infections as well as food borne illnesses. It treats digestive problems such as upset stomach, constipation, indigestion, and almost any other digestive related problem. It is great for respiratory problems and helps with congestion due to colds, allergies, respiratory infections, and the flu. It is often used as a rub on meats and is great with garlic on roasted potatoes. You can infuse it into olive oil for a healthier dressing.
So next time you want to use your kitchen herbs and spices in your food, know that your body might actually like those amazing flavors, not just for the taste, but because it makes you healthier . So now you know that your spice rack is really a medicine chest.