The medicinal benefits of spices have been prized throughout history. In centuries past, spices traded for gold. Voyagers searched the world over for the culinary and medicinal values provided by certain plants. In the days before the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels, a person’s sense of smell was said to be much greater than today. The scent of herbs would often travel for miles, and those traveling to the New World would smell the fruits and flowers on the breeze long before they could see land. Most herbal seasonings were not even available to the average family until the past century. While taken for granted today, the traditional favorites of the home spice rack were chosen for a reason. Read on to learn the medicinal benefits of spices commonly found at home.
The Top 10 Spices for Your Health (in alphabetical order)
* Bay Leaf – Laurus Nobililis (Lauraceae)
Bay Leaf contains vitamins A, C, iron and manganese. Bay leaf is normally added to soup broth which it fortifies. Bay leaf treats indigestion, muscle sprains, arthritis, menstrual cramps, asthma and bronchitis. Bay leaf helps detoxify the liver and relieve back pain. Bay leaf has anti-inflammatory properties.
* Cinnamon – Cinnamomum verum, (Lauraceae)
Containing the powerful antioxidants cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, cinnamon also provides manganese, fiber, iron and calcium. Along with fighting cancer of the blood and reducing blood clots, cinnamon boosts memory, will fight arthritis, treat diabetes and regulate blood sugar levels. Cinnamon has antibacterial properties.
* Dill – Anethum graveolens (Umbelliferae)
Dill contains carvone, a volatile oil and monoterpene. Dill also contains antioxidants and flavonoids, coumarins, iron and calcium. Dill helps detoxify the body and neutralizes carcinogens. While aiding digestion and preventing bone loss, dill stimulates milk production in nursing mothers. Dill has antibacterial properties.
* Fenugreek – Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fabaceae)
Fenugreek contains the antioxidant and alkaloid choline, and vitamins A, B1, C, iron and fiber, along with protein. While helping the body to regulate blood sugar, fenugreek is also used to treat irritations of the skin, lungs and colon. Fenugreek has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
* Ginger – Zingiber officinale (Zingiberaceae)
Ginger contains gingerols, which are antioxidants that offer soothing compounds. Ginger contains vitamin B6, copper, magnesium, manganese and potassium. Safe for pregnant women, ginger helps stimulate digestion, relieves arthritis and treats nausea. Ginger is used as a natural treatment for colon cancer. Ginger has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
* Nutmeg – Myristica fragrans (Myristicaceae)
Containing the antioxidant eugenol along with vitamin A and potassium, nutmeg has been used since ancient Roman times to enhance memory function. Nutmeg reduces nervous tension, relieves stress and stimulates concentration and dreaming. Used to relieve stomach pain and arthritis in Chinese medicine, nutmeg oil increases circulation, relieves pain and stimulates the liver. Nutmeg boosts kidney function and helps remove kidney stones. Toxic in high doses (i.e. a whole jar consumed in one sitting) nutmeg is used to treat respiratory problems such as coughing. Nutmeg has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
* Parsley – Petroselinum crispum (Apiaceae)
Parsley contains the volatile oils myristicin and aiole along with vitamins A, C, and E. Parsley contains iron, flavonoids, phthalides, and coumarins (including bergapten). A natural pain reliever and antioxidant, parsley helps to promote and relieve menstruation. Parsley is a natural antidote for garlic breath and has even higher medicinal value in seed form. Parsley has anti-inflammatory properties.
* Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis (Lamiaceae)
Rosemary contains the volatile oil rosmaricine along with apigenin, borneol, camphene, camphor, and diosmin. A mild stimulant, rosemary can be used to boost memory performance and to treat vertigo, epilepsy, migraines, sore throat, poor circulation and stressed adrenal glands. An uplifting herb, rosemary has been used to treat depression. Rosemary has anti-inflammatory properties.
* Sage – Salvia officinalis (Lamiaceae)
A member of the mint family along with about 500 other species of Salvia, sage contains the volatile oil thujon, a powerful hormone stimulant. Sage relieves muscle spasms and treats a sore throat. Sage is considered to be the classic herb for fowl. Sage has astringent, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and antimicrobial properties. Sage helps relieve flatulence.
* Thyme – Thymus vulgaris (Lamiaceae)
Thyme contains several antioxidants including methyl apigenin, borneol, chavicol, cineole, and luteolin. Well known as the longevity herb, thyme has strong anti-aging properties. Thyme contains a particular volatile oil containing a powerful substance called thymol. A natural expectorant, thyme also expels worms, relieves muscle spasms and treats allergies. There are over 350 species of thyme. Thyme has antiseptic and antifungal properties.
Bottom Line on Spices
While it may seem surprising, the truth is that most ailments can be relieved by cooking dinner at home with the proper seasoning providing the medicinal benefits of spices. Compare this to eating out where most foods are loaded with harmful ingredients, and it should be an easy decision. While providing subtle effects, spices help restore whole body health over the long run. While certain spices retain their flavor for years, one should choose the freshest spices possible. Try to choose living plants, whole seeds and non-irradiated seasonings. Should treatment be needed, look for concentrated herbal extracts and essential oils.