For many of us when we think about spices our first thought is their ability to enhance the flavours in our food. But more importantly then that, they are the flavour of our food (we all know tofu without spice is just air). Spices are what make us able to distinguish between our mom's curry and some other kids mom's curry. They are a representation of our culture and allow a basic ingredient to travel around the world. A piece of chicken seasoned basil, fennel and oregano takes us to Italy. With dried chillies, cilantro and cumin we are in Mexico. Coriander, turmeric, ginger and garam masala in Indian. And allspice, hot pepper, ginger and bay leaf we are laying on the beaches of the Caribbean.
Spices have been apart of who we are for as long as we have existed. It is believed that hunters and gathers wrapped meats in the leaves of bushes, accidentally discovering that this process enhanced the taste; as did certain nuts, seeds, berries, and bark. The Spice Trade which was established 4,000 years ago built entire societies. Spices were so valuable they were used as currency, and they were the reason colonists went off to discover new worlds. Spices have for centuries been used in every aspect of our lives from magic to religion, tradition to preservation and of course medicine. Spice was the base with which our original medical systems were created. The Ebers Papyrus from Early Egyptians which dates from 1550 B.C.E. describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures. Chinese Medicine and the Indian practice of Ayurveda which are stated to have been used for approximately 2,000 and 5,000 years respectively, and still widely practiced worldwide today are based on the powerful healing properties of spices.
I love using a variety in spices in my food for both the flavour boost and health benefit. If my joints are sore I may decide to make a curry to get the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric. If I am feeling under the weather I will make a soup and ensure to include ginger. Below you will see a list of some of my favourite spices: cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, coriander, allspice, clove, cumin and nutmeg. If you have made any of the Whole Health Kitchen recipes, these spices should sound familiar. I love them for both the variety in their flavour profiles and in their health benefits. Scroll down and see how these spices may benefit you.
Antiseptic, has the ability to prevent infection
A soothing digestive tonic
Circulatory stimulant which improves circulation
Diuretic, beneficial in blood pressure regulation
Mimics the action of insulin (the hormone in the body that regulates blood sugar) by stimulating insulin receptors on the fat and muscle cells. This action helps to move sugar out of the blood and into the cells (1gram of cinnamon a day added to the diet of people with type 2 diabetes has shown to improve blood sugar and blood fat levels to reduce their risk factor of cardiovascular disease)
Reduce muscle soreness after exercise by reducing the damage of oxidation and inflammation both of which are elevated after an intense workout
Improves circulation to all parts of the body
Surpasses all other herbs when it comes to suppressing queasiness, motion sickness and soothing an upset stomach - studies have shown it to work better then the active ingredient in over-the-counter drugs like Dramamine without any side effects making it great for the nausea-filled first trimester of pregnancy.
Help painful inflammation by inhibiting the effects of arachadonic acid - a fat responsible for triggering inflammation involved in the immune response which leads to pain at the site. A review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that ginger inhibits the same enzymes that cause inflammation as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil)
Stimulates amylase concentration in the saliva and therefore aids in the digestion of starches and fatty foods.
Highly valued in Ayurveda and long used in India for everything from food (giving curry its beautiful colour and flavour) to blessing the bride and groom on their wedding day.
Antioxidant which prevents oxidation in the organs reducing low-grade inflammation
Anti-inflammatory it contains two compounds - curcumin and curcuminoids - which decrease inflammation naturally and may be effective in helping to relieve the symptoms of arthritis
Study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry showed that turmeric could be an effective enhancer of an enzyme that protects the brain against oxidative conditions such as Alzheimers disease
Improves circulation by reducing elevated blood levels of fibrinogen safely without side effects
Reduces bloating and gas by stimulating the liver and gall bladder to produce bile.
Known as the queen of the spices and my personal favourite
Widely used in asian cooking and is an essential ingredient in garam masala
Reduces symptoms of gastrointestinal disorder such as constipation and diarrhea
Beneficial in reducing blood pressure. A serving of 3 grams has been shown to significantly decrease diastolic pressure without side effects
Antimicrobial activity against the microorganisms that cause dental cavities and bad breath
Ground from the seeds of the coriander herb (also commonly known as cilantro)
Provides powerful antioxidant protection
Can relieve the pain, cramps, bloating and discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Contains antispasmodic properties which help to relax the over active muscles of the digestive tract can also relax the arteries of the cardiovascular system resulting in lower blood pressure
The dried fruit of the Jamaican Pepper (aka Pimento) tree and the main ingredient that gives jerk its wonderful flavour
Can ease digestive problems such as cramps and bloating
Reduce muscle pain
Popular for a variety of uses in both Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine form morning sickness to flatulence, indigestion, stomach cramps and vomiting
Can used topically to numb dental pain
Can help naturally improve appetite
Fun fact: cumin was used in the cocktail of preservatives used to mummify pharaohs
Natural properties useful for cancer prevention and treatment
Lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
Hailed as an aphrodisiac
Treatment of bad breath
Ease intestinal problems such as bloating and gas
Can help with insomnia