Here is a breakdown of the health benefits of various herbs and spices that you may, or may not, have around the house.
Cinnamon has the highest antioxidant value of any spice. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar and blood triglyceride levels. Cinnamon has also been used to alleviate nausea and to increase sensitivity to insulin and aid in fat burning. It provides manganese, iron and calcium. It’s antimicrobial properties can also help extend the life of foods.
Basil has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and can help prevent osteoarthritis. It has been used in digestive disorders and is being studied for its anti-cancer properties. Though commonly used in Italian cooking, Basil is a versatile herb that can be added to practically anything. Fresh is always best, but dried is ok too as long as it is freshly dried. Basil can be sprinkled in omelets, on baked or grilled veggies, in soups, on meats or sliced fresh into salads.
Turmeric is a common ingredient in Indian foods, and a great addition to soups. It contains Curcumin, a cancer-fighting compound. It is more often taken medicinally in America for its ability to reduce inflammation and improve joints. For a spark of flavor, add to egg dishes, soups, meat dishes, sauces and baked foods.
Fresh cloves are always best, but powdered, minced and granulated forms provide excellent flavor. Is great in just about everything - from eggs, to tuna salad, to baked fish for dinner. Studies show that just 2 fresh cloves a week provide anti-cancer benefits.
Dill has antibacterial properties but is most known for its stomach settling ability (ever wonder why pregnant women crave pickles?). It contains a variety of nutrients but loses most when heated to high temperatures. For this reason, it is best used in uncooked recipes or in foods cooked at low temperatures. It is a great addition to any type of fish, to dips and dressings, to omelets or to poultry dishes.
Cayenne has many health benefits and can improve the absorption of other nutrients in foods. It has been shown to increase circulation and reduce the risk of heart problems. Though available in capsule form, it is also a great addition to many foods. In small amounts, it can be added to practically any dish, meat, vegetable or sauce. As tolerance to the spicy flavor increases, the amount added can be increased also.
Traditionally used to calm digestive troubles and alleviate nausea. Many people enjoy a tea made from peppermint or spearmint leaves, and the volatile oils in both have been used in breath fresheners, toothpastes and chewing gum. Externally, the oil or tea can be used to repel mosquito. This herb is easiest to consume in beverage form, and also goes well with meat dishes or dessert recipes.
Oregano (and it’s milder cousin, Marjoram) are antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer and antibiotic. It is extremely high in antioxidants and has demonstrated antimicrobial properties against food-borne pathogens like Listeria. Its oil and leaves are used medicinally in treatment of cough, fever, congestion, body ache and illness. Combined with basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme and rosemary, it creates a potent antiviral, anti-bacterial, antimicrobial and cancer fighting seasoning blend. It can also be sprinkled on any kind of savory foods. A couple teaspoons added to a soup will help recovery from illness.
Cumin provides a distinct and pleasant taste. It is most often used in the U.S. in Mexican or Spanish dishes and in seasonings for tacos or chili. I recommend just buying in bulk and using with chili powder to season these dishes. This will provide better flavor and save money. Cumin has antimicrobial properties and has been used to reduce flatulence. It is a wonderful addition to curry powder or to flavor Mexican or Middle Eastern dishes.
Curry can have a wide variety of ingredients, but often contains turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, mustard powder, cayenne, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, fenugreek and a wide variety of peppers. With all these ingredients it has an amazing range of beneficial properties. Curry is an acquired taste, but can be added to meats, stir frys, soups and stews.
Rosemary has a high concentration of the antioxidant carnosol and research shows it may have benefits in cancer treatment and healthy digestion and use of cholesterol. It has a pine/lemony scent and is often used in soap making due to its smell and ability to fight aging by rejuvenating the small blood vessels under the skin. Try it on meat dishes, in soups or with vegetables. Water boiled with Rosemary can be used as an antiseptic.
Thyme is a member of the mint family and contains thymol- a potent antioxidant (and also the potent ingredient in Listerine mouthwash). Water boiled with thyme can be used in homemade spray cleaners and or can be added to bathwater for treatment of wounds. Thyme water can be swished around the mouth for gum infections or for the healing of wounds from teeth removal. Teas made with thyme have been used to treat athletes foot and vaginal yeast infections. Thyme tea can also be taken internally during illness to speed recovery. In foods, it is often used in French cooking (an ingredient in Herbs de Provence) and Italian. Add to any baked dishes at the beginning of cooking, as it slowly releases its benefits.
There are many other beneficial cooking herbs and spices and I hope to cover them all at some point. I encourage you to branch out from salt & pepper and try all the wonderful culinary combinations that can be made with these herbs and spices.