If you go to www.greenmedinfo.com and type in “herbs and spices,” you will find an endless list of research articles explaining how herbs and spices can help treat and even prevent health conditions from allergies to diabetes and cancers, and even mental health conditions such as depression. Herbs and spices have been used by many cultures around the world throughout history to help treat and prevent various health conditions and are even prevalent in the practice of Ayurveda (one of the oldest practices of medicine), but somehow the SAD (Standard American Diet) seems to have missed this plethora of information.
The most common “spice” used in the SAD is table salt. According to Margie King, graduate of The Institute of Integrative Nutrition and author of Nourishing Menopause: The Whole Food Guide To Balancing Your Hormones Naturally, salt is the deadliest food in our kitchens. King claims that we could save 150,000 lives each year if we cut our usage of salt in half, as it is a huge contributor to heart attack and stroke. King is on the right page, but we shouldn’t just stop here.
The Role of Spices and Herbs in Health and Healing
Luckily, there has been a health trend focusing on anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric. These two roots are popping up in drinks at juice bars around the country. They are popular due to their anti-inflammatory properties but they offer more than that. Turmeric has also been deemed an anti-carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute and has many other healing properties such as decreasing LDL cholesterol and delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes, as well as promoting blood flow and in turn increasing brain function and improving focus. Cinnamon is not as famous for its anti-inflammatory properties, but a study done in Iran showed that both ginger and cinnamon helped reduce muscle soreness in a group of young female athletes when used over a six week period, due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
When I was doing research on depression for my Culinary Nutrition Program, I was surprised to find that spices could even help with mental health conditions. Saffron is know to be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression, the body extracts compounds from rosemary that are used to help the central nervous system, and turmeric decreases inflammation and cortisol due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties mentioned above.
It doesn’t stop with mental health though! Here is a little guide to help you discover what herbs and spices can be used to help with various health conditions. (This is not a complete guide).
So how can you begin to reap all of the benefits of herbs and spices?
Herbs and spices can be added to many different recipes and you can start adding them to your meals today! If you are looking to include herbs or spices to help with specific health conditions you should start by doing some of your own research. When it comes to our health, we need to take control. Looking into herbs and spices on your own will allow to gain knowledge that can help you reach optimal health.
Fresh Herbs and Spices
One way to really begin to get some benefits is to replace dried herbs and spices with fresh ones. Of course the dried versions of natures medicine is better than not including it at all, but the further these gems get away from their natural state the less benefits we receive from them. You can easily buy common herbs and spices at gardening stores and transfer them into a pot on your porch or even in your kitchen windowsill. Here is a guide to growing spices indoors. You can also freeze your fresh herbs to have them easily on hand for cooking. Learn how here.
Teas & Elixirs
One of my favorite ways to enjoy ginger is as a tea. This is also my go to whenever I feel a cold coming on. Simply chopping up some ginger root, putting it in a pot with some water and bringing it to a boil before simmering it for about twenty minutes will extract its healing properties and help you kick that cold right in the butt! There is an endless amount of combinations of herbs that can be used to make healing teas. This guide is a great resource to have on hand to learn how to use herbs in your teas to help heal all your ailments.
Teas are also used as the base for elixirs! Elixirs are filled with many other healing foods and can be customized to meet specific health needs. Adding a rosemary tea base to this Chocolate Chaga Elixir will help to treat symptoms of depression.
Cooking and Bake Goods
Herbs and spices are easiest used in cooking and you can even add them to your baked goods. The reason we are missing a lot of the benefits of herbs and spices in the SAD is because most of the food we eat is not home cooked. Homemade recipes include a lot of spices and when we look at cuisine from other cultures around the world, they naturally use a lot of herbs and spices in their dishes. Try looking for recipes from Asia or the Middle East to find different ways to include spices in the meals you cook at home!
Baked goods are another place to sneak some of these healing plants into your diet. You can add rosemary to your zucchini bread and this Spiced Chai Mix would be great to add to your Banana Muffins this fall!
Tinctures and Supplements
You can also find herbs and spices in tinctures and as supplements. One study showed that lavandula oil (lavender) significantly decreased scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale. Rosemary supplements can be used to help treat symptoms of depression.
Although herbs and spices have an endless supply of healing properties, they should not be used to replace medication provided by a medical professional without consulting your medical provider first. Add medical professional should also be consulted determine the best way to include herbs and spices in your diet to achieve optimal results.