We all know about the taste benefits of adding herbs and spices to our food.
Eating would be a very bland pastime without them. But as well as giving us flavour, adding herbs and spices may also be giving us health benefits that we don’t even think about. Different cultures have used herbs and spices for health benefits for years, and mixture of research and anecdote comes up with some interesting claims.
Firstly, good old basil. Apparently, it’s packed with vitamin K and is a rich source of iron, potassium and calcium making it a powerful antioxidant. It’s also an old remedy for insect bites and nausea.
Chilli peppers and cayenne contain capsaicin – the spicy bit.
Some research suggests that they speed up the metabolism and help you feel fuller - perhaps helping with weight loss. Capsaicin can also reduce the number of pain signals received by the brain, helping to make conditions like arthritis less uncomfortable. Paprika can be made from any number of ground dried red peppers such as red bell peppers or chilli peppers so like cayenne, it’s also rich in capsaicin. Paprika also might help upset stomachs and boost the immune system.
Lovely, versatile cinnamon is used in recipes both sweet and savoury. Often used to replace or reduce refined sugar, it contains cinnamaldehyde, a phytochemical thought to fight viruses, lower blood sugar and ward off diabetes and lower cholesterol.
In Tudor times cloves were used in pomanders to scent clothes and linens, and even ward off disease.
And it turns out that they, too are loaded with antioxidants. Cloves also have natural anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antifungal properties – it looks like the Tudors knew a thing or two. Another Tudor favourite, nutmeg, contains various compounds that boost mood, help relieve pain, relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure according to Harvard Health.
Now coriander is interesting. Its leaves have a higher level of vitamins and a lower level of minerals, but its seeds have a higher level of minerals and a lower level of vitamins. Yet both of them might have the same health benefits, possibly helping to reduce inflammation and blood pressure, and fight infections.
Many a pregnant woman or travelsick child has turned to a ginger nut in their time of need. And research backs up the use of ginger as a remedy for upset stomachs and nausea. What’s more, it has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce pain and stiffness.
Even just a little bit of oregano offers some of its powerful health benefits. It’s high in antioxidants which can fight diseases and help decrease inflammation in the body. Research also suggests that oregano has properties that fight bacteria and viruses.
Because nowadays it’s so much easier to get hold of a wide variety of herbs that were once considered to be exotic, parsley seems to have slipped down the pecking order and is sometimes viewed as a little bit ordinary. But it’s way more than that. Absolutely full of health benefits, it has vitamin A carotenoids – good for your eyes - and vitamin K, which is good for your blood.
Peppermint has a long history of medicinal use, especially for upset stomachs - and the science backs it up. Helpful for IBS pain and bloating, some research suggests it can also have an anti-nausea effect.
Gorgeous rosemary has a beautiful scent that’s often used in aromatherapy to improve mood. Apparently, its phytonutrients can boost the immune system too, but if you do get a cold its active ingredient - rosmarinic acid - has been shown to suppress allergies and help unblock noses. Also, it’s been suggested that the polyphenols in rosemary can reduce bacteria responsible for bloating and poor digestion.
Beautiful, green sage has been used since ancient times to help people get over many ailments. It’s full of disease-fighting antioxidants, has antimicrobial properties that can improve oral health and may help to regulate blood sugar levels.
Finally, turmeric has been talked of lately as a bit of a wonder-substance. Research suggests that curcurim, a compound found it turmeric, may reduce inflammation in the brain, it’s also helpful for people with arthritis and other pain and swelling.
Fact, fiction or somewhere in between, the one benefit of herbs and spices that we can be sure of is that they taste delicious.