Our Favorite Herbs and Spices for Your Health
Herbs and spices have been appreciated for thousands of years in cultures around the world for their flavors, colors, and food preservation properties. Now, sophisticated research is telling us why they were also valued throughout history as health remedies—and why we should use them generously today.
Like other gifts from nature, the variety of herbs and spices is vast—ranging from common oregano and rosemary to more exotic turmeric and saffron. Try the staples in your rack in new ways and explore those unfamiliar to you to add new dimension and health benefits to your dishes.
Here are some of our favorites that have compelling research behind them.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known to man. It has been studied for its ability to fight inflammation, lower cholesterol and enhance the immune system, and research now suggests that it can help control blood sugar levels, especially in people with type 2 diabetes.
Plus, as little as one teaspoon of cinnamon has the antioxidant potential of a bowl of blueberries. Sprinkle it liberally on your oatmeal or add it to a smoothie. Its flavor goes especially well with apples.
Garlic has a long history of both preventing and treating health problems. Like most other herbs and spices, it has potent antioxidant effects. It also has antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral action, all of which protect the gastrointestinal tract. Garlic can guard your heart’s health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels and protecting against blood clots. Its anti-cancer benefits include helping your liver with detoxification and helping protect against tumors.
Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. As an anti-inflammatory, it has been shown to relieve muscle pain after exercise, menstrual pain and headache pain. It can also quiet inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and relieve asthma symptoms, and it has been used to relieve nausea and dizziness and lower blood pressure.
Researchers are looking into ginger’s ability to prevent tumors and help the liver detoxify the body. One of our favorite recipes that incorporate it is hot ginger tea: Simply cut up a couple of tablespoons of fresh ginger and pour boiling water over it.
We also like to add ginger to all of our stir-fry dishes, and it’s a main component in our delicious Carrot & Ginger Soup.
Red pepper, or cayenne, is produced from ground chili peppers. As little as half a teaspoon taken with a meal can help boost metabolism and fat burning, thanks to the heat-generating ingredient capsaicin. It also helps people who are cutting calories control their appetite, which suggests that it may be a tool to help with weight loss. The red color of the pepper is a mixture of carotenoids related to vitamin A that function as antioxidants.
Like most of our other favorite herbs and spices, red pepper also fights inflammation and supports liver function. A pinch of cayenne adds brightness to almost everything, especially your favorite salsa or spread.
In the winter, try this warming beverage: Combine boiling water with fresh lemon juice, honey, fresh ginger, ground cinnamon and as much cayenne as is pleasing to your taste buds.
Turmeric, the spice that gives some curries their yellow color and distinctive flavor, comes from a deeply yellow root. It has a strong action against inflammation, and it can relieve digestive upset and the pain of arthritis. Researchers are also looking at its ability to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.
Add turmeric to rice, vegetables, and spreads like hummus, or just enjoy eating curries that contain it regularly.