The Health Benefits Of Spices and Herbs:
Written by Pastryitems.com (copyright 2014)
Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, and the originator of the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take, was fond of saying:
"Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food."
Living from 460 BCE to 377 BCE, Hippocrates often used culinary plants to cure disease, cure lethargy, and prevent disease. Many of the "medicinal" plants he used were also used well into the middle ages by doctors and healers. After the Middle Ages, these same plants continued to be used in folk medicine, indigenous medicine, alternative medicine, and for home remedies.
Today, we use spices and herbs to flavor our food. In fact, they are often the key ingredient to some of the world's finest dishes. However, what most people don't realize is that many of these same spices and herbs we use today are the same "medicinal" plants used by Hippocrates and medieval healers. Moreover, these spices and herbs we use in cooking are also often found in the natural supplements at the heath store, only they cost a whole lot more when they are packaged and marketed this way.
It can be a fun adventure in the kitchen to intentionally cook with spices and herbs that also address certain health issues that you and/or members of your family may be having. In fact, it can also be a sneaky way to get your reluctant spouse, child, or other family members to "take their medicine" without them even knowing it -- all they'll know is that the food tastes greater than ever!
Below are some of the health benefits of various spices and herbs commonly used in cooking.
The Mint Family :
You may not realize it but a significant portion of the spices and dried herbs in your spice rack are likely members of the mint family. These include basil, lavender, marjoram, oregano (wild marjoram), peppermint, rosemary, sage, savory, spearmint, and thyme.
All members of the mint family have strong anti-microbial properties. They kill both pathogenic bacteria and pathogenic fungus without killing the beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria that reside in the gut. This makes concentrated forms of the mint family a great alternative to antibiotics. When women take antibiotics, they often get a Candida infection because the antibiotics kill off all the bacteria, including the good bacteria, but do not kill the pathogenic fungus (Candida) which now have no good bacteria to to keep them in check. This does not happen with mint family herbs such as oregano and sage because they kill the Candida too and don't harm the friendly gut bacteria. Men benefit too because the mint family herbs will not disrupt their friendly gut bacteria in the gut, which make up more than half our immune system, as you may have heard in the news recently.
Including a lot of mint family herbs in your cooking will help you and your family ward off colds and other infections. Mint family herbs can also be very beneficial to people who have asthma and other respiratory issues. Since mint family herbs have antispasmodic properties, they can alleviate menstrual cramps and cure tummy aches. This is why peppermint tea is so often consumed for an upset stomach or cramps. In patients with Alzheimer's disease, eating more mint family herbs can significantly improve memory. Recent research has shown that mint family herbs can prevent the formation and multiplication of prostate cancer cells.
Mint family herbs are highly versatile, and once you start using them more in your cooking, you'll wonder why you never thought to do this before. Sage is delicious in anything with poultry, on roasted potatoes, and in stuffings for mushrooms, peppers, and squash. Basil is the best known mint family herb for making pesto but you can blend in other mint family herbs as well to make your own special recipe. Adding thyme, marjoram, or rosemary to your scrambled eggs and omelettes is an easy way to incorporate more mint family herbs into your diet. Another super simple way is adding these delicious herbs to soups. Lavender and spearmint taste great added to syrups, jellies, or any sweet sauces you prepare with your savory dishes. Of course, fresh oregano on home-made pizza is always a winner! Pile it on for both your health and for taste! You can add peppermint and spearmint (or other varieties like apple mint) to your fruit salads and smoothies to add a little zing. Any of these mint family herbs can be added to garden salads or to homemade salad dressings. Mint family herbs will also pick up the flavor of chicken salad or tuna salad. Crab cakes with lots of extra thyme are delicious as is throwing in some extra mint family herbs such as rosemary in the dipping sauce!
"Warm spices" are so named because they increase your circulation and make you feel warmer in the winter. Warm spices include allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, galangal, ginger, mace, nutmeg, star anise, turmeric, and white pepper. Some people also include any form of dried hot pepper from the Capsicum genus in this list of warm spices because they have the same effect of increasing circulation. These include ancho powder, cayenne pepper, chili peppers, habanero peppers, jalapeno peppers, paprika, and red pepper flakes. The various blends of curry powder, including the popular garam masala variant, all contain various proportions of various warm spices. As an interesting side note, Capsicum peppers are not botanically related to black pepper, although they both increase circulation. Also, mace is made from the outer layer of the nutmeg nut and is more spicy than using the entire nutmeg nut.
Increasing your circulation has many amazing health benefits. It oxygenates your brain and your muscles more so you think more clearly and have more vitality. Improving your circulation will also help your body remove toxins more efficiently and digest your food better so you actually absorb more of the nutrients you are eating. Improving your circulation will boost the effectiveness of your immune system too. Diabetics and those with pre-diabetes, including about 7 million people in the United States who are not diagnosed yet, struggle with circulatory issues, especially in their extremities, which often leads to amputation. Incorporating warm spices into the diet on a daily basis is a good way to prevent this.
It is easy to incorporate warm spices into your diet. Eating curry and/or other spicy stir-fry dishes in one easy way. They can also be added to just about any sauces you already make so feel free to experiment. If you like Thai food. Malaysian food, or Indian food, you can get a cookbook on these cuisines that are full of warm spices or look up recipes online. You can also try various combinations of warm spices in mashed sweet potatoes and winter squash dishes. Don't forget to add these warm spices to hot beverages like coffee, hot chocolate, tea, hot apple cider, or just plain warm milk. Some people add cinnamon or cardamom to their coffee grounds before they brew it. Of course, many of these warm spices are used in baking too. Pumpkin pie, gingerbread men, pumpkin bread, carrot cake, hot cinnamon rolls, and cakes or muffins made with cardamom are always favorites. Regarding cardamom, you can always let this be the "mystery spice" you tease your neighbors with when you take them a piece.
You've probably heard that berries are good for you, right? Well, peppercorns are just dried unripened berries! Although most of us take this spice for granted today, a store of dried black peppercorns in the Middle Ages was like having money in the bank since you could trade them for almost anything.
Black pepper is one of the healthiest foods in the world. It contains a good supply of manganese, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, copper, iron, chromium, calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and several powerful antioxidants including carotenes, cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and zea-xanthin. It is also a significant source of dietary fiber.
Piperine, the substance that gives black pepper its spiciness, has been show to prevent the development of breast tumors. Black pepper is also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. It is therefore good at fighting infections that have already set in and in preventing infections. In fact, you can shake a little black pepper on a knife cut in the kitchen to prevent infection! Black pepper is also good at curing colds and clearing up the mucus membranes. Last but not certainly not least, it is one of the best natural remedies for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
Black pepper is so versatile it can sprinkled on just about anything from eggs to casseroles. You can use more black pepper in your food if you use coarse ground rather than fine ground. Also, black pepper becomes much stronger in flavor if it is cooked in the food rather than sprinkled on just before serving, so if your taste buds are sensitive, try adding it at the last minute. You'll achieve the maximum benefit from black pepper if you store it in an airtight container and grind it in a pepper mill or with a mortar and pestle just before use.
Is your significant other or child fighting a cold? Add a good healthy dose of fresh ground black pepper to their chicken soup right before you serve it. Make them some spicy chai tea by adding black pepper to regular chai tea. You might also want to make them some blackened fish so they get a good dose of black pepper along with a good supply of omega-3. That should really perk them up!
This primer to the health advantages to herbs and spices should get you started. Never be afraid to experiment with spices and herbs in your cooking. Not only will they impart amazing flavor to your dishes, they are among the most healthy foods you and your family can eat.