Probably the first thing you think when someone says herbs and spices, is food being made tastier, as a result of them being added in during cooking. In addition to their delicious tastes and interesting aromas, herbs and spices are an integral part of a balanced diet, promoting overall health and keeping the body functioning efficiently.
Although all herbs and spices have health benefits, not all are created equal. With that in mind, here’s a list of the top ten herbs and spices for overall health.
Anise, sometimes known as aniseed, is a mild-sweet tasting spice with a flavour comparable to liquorice. It is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean, but is now widely grown in Europe and central America.
Aniseed is commonly used to treat upset stomachs, coughs, runny noses, throat pain and colds. It can also help new mothers produce milk, as well as treating asthma attacks. Anise is a good source of fibre and calcium, in addition to containing lots of antioxidants.
Simply boil some water and place the seeds in it to infuse, making tea. If the tea is being taken to soothe a sore throat, gargle first before swallowing the tea.
Basil is a pungent, slightly sweet, pepper-tasting herb, comparable to oregano and thyme. It is indigenous to the Middle East and south Asia but is now commonly grown throughout the world.
Basil can help to decrease swelling with its strong anti-inflammatory properties, as well as being shown to lower blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, making it an invaluable tool for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Basil also contains high amounts of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, with 100g containing 175 per cent, 345 per cent and 40 per cent of your vitamin A, vitamin K and copper Recommended Daily Amounts respectively. It also contains significant amounts of beta carotene, which protects the body from harmful free radicals.
Cardamom is an intensely aromatic spice with a unique taste. Indigenous to India, Nepal and Bhutan, the seeds are now grown in most tropical places.
In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is used to treat digestive problems such as stomach aches, indigestion, acid reflux, flatulence and cramps. This is due to the methanol present in cardamom, which has also been shown to have antibacterial properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is chewed to sweeten the breath.
Cinnamon is a sweet, hot spice, with a rich warm aroma. Cinnamon has been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in the blood, helping to prevent stroke and coronary artery disease. It has also been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
Ginger is an aromatic, pungent and spicy root that is used extensively in Asian and Caribbean cooking. Ginger has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat pain, enhance digestion, treat colds and curb nausea. It is also used to help muscle soreness, sore throats and bronchitis.
Slices of ginger can be added to water and boiled with a small amount of lemon or orange juice and honey to make a herbal Ayurvedic drink that treats colds, coughs, sore throats and bronchitis. Ginger can also be dried and ground up into food, to help nausea, morning sickness, diarrhoea and gas.
Oregano is a slightly bitter, pungent herb, that has a hint of sweetness and is comparable to thyme or basil. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean, and is widely popular in the Greek and Italian cuisine.
Oregano contains various essential oils that can be taken by mouth for the treatment of colds, mild fevers, influenza, stomach pain and indigestion. Problems digesting food can be treated by drinking a few drops of oregano oil diluted in water before a meal, as it stimulates the secretion of stomach and gallbladder juices which are needed for efficient digestion.
Oregano is a powerful antifungal and anti-bacterial meaning it can be used to treat candida and other fungal infections. Oregano also contains one of the highest antioxidant activity ratings per gram, allowing it to combat free radicals in the body and prevent cell damage.
Peppermint is a minty, sweet herb, which causes a cool ‘breeze’ effect in the mouth, nose and throat when inhaled. This occurs as a result of the menthol – an essential oil – in the leaves and stem of the peppermint. Peppermint contains large quantities of antioxidants, which have disease-preventing effects, and promote healthy functioning.
Peppermint essential oil can be rubbed on the chest or inhaled through a vaporizer to clear the respiratory tract for asthma sufferers, or people with colds, and can also be rubbed on the forehead to help treat the pain of headaches.
Sage is an aromatic herb with woody, slightly bitter notes. It was used extensively by the Romans, but was first thought to be used for its medicinal purposes by ancient Chinese practitioners as a topical ointment to soothe pain from muscles and joints. In addition to this, it has a history of use as a stimulant, and even as a natural Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) enzyme inhibitor, helping to increase concentration.
Sage has various health benefits, and contains a substantial amount of disease-fighting nutrients. 100 grams of sage contains 106 per cent of your daily fibre intake, 63 per cent of your folate intake, 196 per cent of your vitamin A intake, 54 per cent of your vitamin C intake, and 68 per cent of your daily thiamine intake, making it a health powerhouse.
Thyme is a slightly minty, aromatic herb, indigenous to Europe, North Africa and Asia. Thyme is extremely effective at treating coughs, throat inflammation and bronchitis.
This is due to the essential oil thymol that is present in thyme. Thymol is a powerful antiseptic and is the active ingredient in mouthwash. To treat throat issues, boil some thyme in water, then gargle and swallow. Thyme also contains lots of minerals and vitamins, and a plenty of antioxidants.
Turmeric is an aromatic, mild, citrusy root, indigenous to southeast Asia. It is comparable to ginger, and contains a substance known as curcumin, thought to have anti-tumour effects and also anti-inflammatory effects. This is helpful for people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis lupus and various other inflammation-related problems.
It also has anti-amyloid properties, meaning it may help to prevent (or at least prolong) the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric is rich in antioxidants and fibre, allowing it to regulate cholesterol levels, helping to prevent coronary artery disease and stroke.