We’ve come a long way from the simple days of enhancing our meals with salt and pepper. Today, it’s not uncommon to find elaborate spice racks in the decked out kitchens of top chefs all the way down to the 600 square foot apartment of a budgeted college student. In a day and age where food is not just a necessity, but an art form, and cooking shows rule the airwaves, unique spice combinations have become the focal point of dishes not only in upscale city restaurants, but in family homes across the country.
While spices enhance your meals and add zest to your food, you might not realize just how beneficial they are to your health as well. The following is a list of five spices and their amazing potential health benefits.
Whether you sprinkle it into your morning coffee or mix a few spoonfuls into your multi-grain oatmeal, one thing is for sure; cinnamon is one of the tastiest and healthiest spices out there. Cinnamon has been used for ages for everything from cold remedies to arthritis relief. It used to be so valuable, that at one time, Arabian traders spread the tale that cinnamon was found in phoenix birds nests in marshes and guarded by winged serpents and bats. They told this to competing spice traders so that they would have an advantage in obtaining this amazing spice. Cinnamon is actually found in the inner bark of trees in Sri Lanka and typically ground into the fine spice you find at your local grocery store. While ingesting large amounts of cinnamon can be toxic, studies suggest that as little as a few dashes a day can help with many mild to severe health issues.
- Cinnamon oil has been used to clear congestion and break up mucus from a common cold. This approach is most commonly used in tea combined with fresh ginger.
- Cinnemaldehyde, an essential oil found in the highest quantities in the actual bark of the cinnamon tree, has proven to be an effective anti-inflammatory.
- Cinnamon aromatherapy relieves headaches and menstrual cramps and may reduce rheumatic pain and muscle spasms.
- It is considered by some medical practitioners as an anti-viral and antiseptic, and can help increase circulation.
- Researches have also been studying cinnamon’s positive effects on diabetes as well as acting as an anti-clotting agent, although there are inconclusive results. (While they have found cinnamon to be a potential blood thinner, when mixed with blood thinning medications, it could cause excessive bleeding. Consuming large amounts of cinnamon may be toxic. As always, consult your physician before trying any home remedies.)
While its exact origin is unknown, turmeric is believed to have originated in India over 2500 years ago. It was thought to be harvested first for use as a dye, due to its rich color, and then later as a spice. Turmeric is very similar in taste to Saffron, and often used as a replacement as turmeric for optimal health results.
- Chinese medicine utilizes turmeric to clear infections and inflammation.
- Curcumin, the main component of turmeric, has been found to block an enzyme that causes head and neck cancer in recent studies.
- Studies have shown that turmeric has the potential to act as a major antioxidant, possibly preventing such cancers as prostate, skin and colon.
- Turmeric has proven to be one of the most potent anti-inflammatories in lab tests.
Marjoram is considered the sweet, dainty cousin of oregano. It can be easily distinguished from oregano, however by the tiny white flowers that sprout from the center of its leaves. The ancient Greeks believed marjoram represented marital bliss. It was often woven into the head garlands of brides and grooms on their wedding day; and it was believed that if you slept with it under your pillow you would have dreams of true love. People often planted Marjoram on the graves of loved ones before the middle ages, believing it would bring them happiness in the afterlife. A more muted oregano flavor, marjoram is perfect to add to Italian dishes such as pastas, pizzas and salads.
- Considered one of the most fragrant herbs and full of antioxidants, marjoram is often used as an essential oil for aromatherapy and massages to relieve muscle aches.
- Drinking marjoram tea is believed to aid in digestion and minor stomach upsets.
- Pouring hot water over marjoram sprigs and breathing in its vapors is known to act as a decongestant for the common cold and even bronchitis, and aid in asthma and respiratory problems.
Ginger has been a staple worldly ingredient for thousands of years. Mentions of its medicinal uses have been found in the earliest medical books from China and India. While Ginger has a strong, acquired taste, its health benefits cannot be denied.
- Ginger is most commonly known for its quick relieving effects on heartburn, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, motion sickness and morning sickness. ginger ale, ginger candy and ginger tea are some of the more favored methods of use for this calming root.
- In some studies, ginger has been found to be a beneficial anti-inflammatory, due to its high levels of gingerol, making it a great natural remedy for headaches, minor body aches and even some cases of arthritis.
- The Chinese commonly use ginger tea mixed with brown sugar to relieve menstrual cramps.
- Ginger is thought to be beneficial in aiding common cold and flu ailments.
- Though it’s still inconclusive and highly debatable, research currently in progress has produced some promising results in the positive effects of ginger and Diabetes as well as ovarian, prostate and bowel cancer.
Coriander is the seed of the popular herb cilantro. Its name derives from the Greek word “koris,” meaning “bed bug.” It received this odd name because when the unripened seeds and leaves are crushed, their smell is comparable to that of a crushed bed bug. Don’t let that deter you from using coriander in your culinary dishes, however. These tasty seeds are used in everything from desserts and candy to Indian and Tai dishes. Aside from its unique flavor, coriander is thought to have many health benefits as well.
- Coriander is believed to help reduce skin inflammation due to the anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic properties of two of its components – cineole and linoleic acid.
- Filled with antioxidants, coriander possesses great disinfectant and detoxifying properties.
- Coriander is known to aid in stomach issues such as diarrhea and help maintain healthy digestion.
- Certain acids in coriander have been proven to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.
- Coriander consumption has shown positive results in reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension.
- Many people turn to coriander to help reduce allergy symptoms due to its antihistamine properties.
There are so many health benefits in herbs and spices. This list is just a small portion of the positive effects they can have on you!
www.discovery.com “Where Does Cinnamon Come From?”
www.livestrong.com “The Health Benefits Of Cinnamon Tea”
www.livestrong.com “What Are The Health Benefits Of Ginger Root Tea?”
www.ucla.edu Medical Spices Exhibit- UCLA Biomedical Library: History & Special Collections
Photo credit: With A Red Bird On My Shoulder