5 Spices For Good Health & Healing
Looking for a delicious way to improve your health?
Spices have a rich history and were celebrated for their medicinal properties long before their culinary use. Modern science has shown that many of them do indeed have remarkable health benefits. They give depth, flavour and warmth to cooking and most of them are extremely versatile. They're good for the mind, body and soul.
We compiled a list of five essential spices for good health and healing - in no particular order:
Turmeric is everywhere at the moment as it has seen a massive rise in popularity over the past few years. Like most spices, it has been a staple in Indian health systems (like Ayurveda) for centuries. Chronic inflammation is believed to be the root of many Western diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's and various degenerative conditions. This is where turmeric can help as it contains a compound called curcumin with strong anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists have already carried out a lot of research on curcumin: the most recent I saw looked at how it can help child cancer sufferers. The research published in Nanoscale found that nanoparticles loaded with curcumin can target and destroy neuroblastoma tumour cells. Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in children younger than five years old.
As well as traditionally being used in Indian cooking, turmeric can be used in many different ways: try turmeric latte, mix with ginger, blend into juices and smoothies. Use a pinch of turmeric in scrambled eggs, a frittata or tofu scramble. Toss it with roasted vegetables, sprinkle onto greens, add to falafels, soups, rice, marinades and salad dressings. I have even seen turmeric added to cakes and sweet treats! For therapeutic use, in my opinion, turmeric paste is the best way to consume it.
Turmeric is also good for your skin and can be used to make face masks. In fact, the spice is a special part of Hindu weddings where both bride and groom cover their hands, legs, feet, and arms in a paste made primarily from turmeric. This is known as a haldi ceremony which is said to cleanse the couple and act as a positive omen for their life together. Be careful you don't stain your skin though! Orange is not a good look!
Cinnamon comes from the reddish-brown inner bark of several evergreen trees from the genus cinnamomum - part of the Lauraceae family of plants. The use of cinnamon dates back thousands of years; it was highly prized among many ancient civilisations. It was used in ancient Egypt as a medicine, a way to flavour beverages and preserve food. They saw it as being more valuable than gold and a gift from the gods. With its fragrant aroma, cinnamon is inviting, warming and a feast for the senses.
There are hundreds of types of cinnamon, but the main two species, sold commercially, are Ceylon (or true cinnamon) and Cassia. Ceylon tends to be sweeter with a finer texture and a more subtle fragrance. Cassia contains a chemical compound called coumarin which is reported to be harmful to the liver in large doses.
Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and has lots of health benefits. It may help lower blood sugar and fight diabetes by imitating the effects of insulin and increasing glucose transport into cells. It also said to be good for neurodegenerative diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It also shows promise in research conducted on general brain function, concentration and improved learning capacity.
Ginger, the strange looking cactus shaped spice, is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. I love its wonderfully fiery, pungent and sweet flavour. Ginger is part of the Zingiberaceae botanical family alongside turmeric and cardamom and mixes well with them both.
Like its sister spices, ginger is an anti-inflammatory; it contains gingerols which are strong anti-inflammatory compounds. There is a lot of evidence ginger is great for the whole body, has anti-cancer effects, is good for the immune system and has many health-promoting properties. In a study of patients with osteoarthritis of the knees, ginger extract significantly reduced their symptoms.
Ginger is well known for soothing the digestive system and aiding indigestion. I love a mug of rejuvenating ginger tea. Simply boil some water, pour into a teapot and add a teaspoon of organic ginger powder for each cup of water. Allow to seep for 5-10 minutes. Strain the tea into a mug and add lemon or honey as desired. Enjoy!
4. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper takes its name from its supposed centre of origin, the Cayenne region of French Guiana - Cayenne deriving from a Tupi Indian name. It's now grown largely in India, East Africa, Mexico and the United States, in fact, most tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Cayenne contains a compound called capsicum which gives it both its heat and healing properties. Folklore from around the world recounts amazing results using cayenne pepper in simple healing and in baffling health problems. It is no wonder it has found a place in modern as well as traditional medicines for its disease preventing and health-promoting properties. It's known to be great for metabolic health, pain relief, digestion, the immune system, the gut, the circulatory system and the heart. Many researchers believe the use of cayenne pepper in Mexican, Italian and Asian cuisine is what causes those countries to have a lower incident of heart disease.
Cayenne is a great addition to fish recipes, eggs, soups, spice mixtures, pasta, tacos, hot sauces, marinades, nachos, chocolate and many other dishes. Make a homemade dressing using part cayenne pepper, part olive oil, part vinegar and other spices. Cayenne is also said to be extremely detoxifying when mixed with lemon and water.
5. Black Pepper
Black pepper is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia and it has been known in Indian cooking since at least 2000 BCE. Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good; they were often referred to as "black gold" and used as a form of commodity money.
Black pepper is perhaps the most commonly used and well-known spice of them all. It is often referred to as the "king of spices" and for good reason. Who hasn't used it?! I feel it is almost so ingrained in our food culture as a staple condiment we forget it is indeed a spice. Or maybe that's just me!
The chemical compound piperine, present in black pepper, is responsible for its spiciness. Piperine also enhances the bioavailability of various nutrients such as vitamin A, C, selenium, and others, thereby improving overall health. Bioavailability refers to the amount of nutrient or supplement that is absorbed by the body. Research has shown that piperine also enhances the bioavailability of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, so they are great to consume together. Check out our golden paste recipe for more. Black pepper is also good for digestion.
So there you have it, five spices for good health and healing. This is just an introduction to each spice, we encourage you to research and find out what works for you. All of the above are natural ingredients, but care should always be taken when making changes to your diet. Consult the advice of a health professional or nutritionist and don't hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions.