The Spice of Life: the Hidden Benefits of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are great ways of adding flavour to food. Bland, uninspiring dishes can be quickly turned into spicy mouth-watering meals with just a pinch of chilli, a sprinkle of rosemary, or a dash of cumin, but using herbs and spices when cooking has other benefits too. Many herbs and spices are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and they contain far more vitamins and minerals than most fruit and vegetables.
The medicinal benefits of spices have been known for thousands of years, and traditional Ayurveda medicine makes good use of their healing properties. While many people in the west turn to bottles of pills or nutritional supplements, many of the same health benefits can be gained by simple spicing up food.
Chilli is great for adding heat to a dish. The ingredient that creates the spiciness of chilli is called capsaicin and it has some incredible properties. Capsaicin is a natural painkiller and anti-biotic, and eating it regularly can help stave off heart disease and reduce the risk of developing certain cancers. Furthermore, while people with stomach problems often steer clear of hot and spicy food, capsaicin can actually prevent and treat ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. While eating too much chilli may cause the mouth to feel like it is burning, these symptoms are harmless Chilli peppers come in a huge number of varieties, from the relatively tame jalapenos, pimentos and cherry peppers to the explosive Scotch bonnet, haberno and world’s hottest chilli pepper, the Bhut Jolokia. All parts of the chilli plant contain capsaicin but the seeds contain the highest amount and these are used to add heat to vindaloos and some of the other hotter curries.
Rosemary and Thyme
Often used together, rosemary and thyme are packed with minerals and essential oils. In fact, thyme contains more iron than any green vegetable, including spinach. It has also traditionally been used to improve appetite, but can alleviate the symptoms of chest infections and diseases such as bronchitis. Rosemary has over 40 anti-bacterial and anti-biotic ingredients, so is great for fighting infection. Many people mix it with water to make a natural mouthwash for fresh breath and to treat the symptoms of a sore throat. Rosemary also contains several essential oils that stimulate hair and nail growth. Many hair treatments and shampoos contain extract of Rosemary, so it is great for men worried about baldness, ladies who worry about split ends and people with dandruff and scalp conditions such as psoriasis, as the essential oils in rosemary improve scalp circulation and ensure hair grows without breaking. In addition, these oils also do the same thing for nails.
The distinctive orange and yellow of turmeric is what livens up the colour of many dishes. However, turmeric’s properties far exceed just a natural colouring. For years, people have used turmeric to heal wounds and relieve pain. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties so regular consumption reduces the effects of arthritis and rheumatism. Furthermore, people with serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis regularly eat turmeric to alleviate symptoms, and recent research has identified turmeric has even more incredible health boosting properties. Scientist have identified the main active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, can actually fight cancer cells, and is now being used in synergy with regular cancer treatments to give patients a better chance of making a full recovery.
Many Indian dishes are often garnished with a sprinkle of coriander, but this easy-to-grow-herb, has so many health benefits you could fill a pharmacy with coriander-based remedies. Coriander has 11 essential oils, six health-boosting acids, and is packed full of minerals and vitamins. As a natural anti-inflammatory, coriander is great for rheumatism and arthritis, but it can also help reduce cholesterol, thanks to the number of fat-busting acids present in the plant. Coriander seeds are also of these essential oils and acids, so when ground up they make a great natural disinfectant that can be used to treat skin disorders. They also taste great and add that extra depth of flavour to any dish to which they are added
Another common ingredient in Indian cookery, cloves are also a renowned natural pain killer. For years, people have used cloves to provide pain relief for toothache and insect bites, but they have other health benefits too. Adding cloves to food helps alleviate digestive problems and reduce the feelings of nausea. Next time you get hiccups, try drinking ground cloves mixed with hot water for instant relief. Cloves are also full of flavour and contain essential minerals such as potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and magnesium, and are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin B6, thiamin, vitamin C and riboflavin, which makes cloves a natural and cheaper alternative to buying multivitamins.