Spices have long been valued for their medicinal qualities. Most spices have health benefits of some type, but some are so effective in this respect that they could be classified as ‘superfoods’. They are commonly used in homeopathic medicine, and in certain cases (such as the Indian Ayurvedic lifestyle) they are a backbone and a foundation to the diet followed to promote both physical and mental well-being. While it is common knowledge that, for example, clove oil gives effective pain relief for toothache, the qualities and benefits many other spices have are not so well known.
Here we aim to give an insight into the amazing properties contained in some of our most popular and widely-used spices, showing how there is much more to them than just flavour.
The bright yellow root of turmeric has been used in medicine for thousands of years in China and India, and it is one of the most powerful of spices in this respect. And it is the substance which gives turmeric its colour, curcumin, which contains most benefits.
Its main use perhaps is as an anti-inflammatory agent, meaning it is excellent for controlling conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis. It also has powerful anti-oxidant qualities, making it very effective in preventing heart disease.
Turmeric contains very high levels of iron, manganese and vitamin B6, which all help with circulation, and it has been proved to be a very strong agent in lowering cholesterol.
Also, it is believed that turmeric is an excellent preventative against cancer (especially prostate cancer, which is very rare in countries such as India where turmeric is part of the everyday diet) and Alzheimer’s disease, two of the modern world’s most damaging conditions.
Fiery red, cayenne is another extremely powerful spice in medical terms, possessing a wide-ranging number of health benefits. It is very effective for dealing with colds, sore throats and even migraine, due to the stimulant properties of capsaicin, and is also well known as a digestive aid.
In addition cayenne is packed full of compounds essential to good health, containing large amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, iron, potassium and manganese. These properties are why cayenne is often used as a detox drug, as it attacks the free radical cells and nullifies their effects. Potassium in particular is very helpful in balancing the negative effects of sodium (salt).
Finally, cayenne is totally free of cholestorol, and like turmeric it is very helpful in balancing cholestorol levels within the body. And as an appetite suppressant, it can be effective in weight loss.
Try taking a teaspoon of cayenne diluted in a cup of water every day – spicy, yes, but you will notice the difference!
This fiery root is one of the cornerstones of the Indian Ayurvedic diet, and has also been used throughout history in China for its health benefits.
It is an amazingly powerful anti-inflammatory agent, making it ideal for calming stomach trouble or nausea and even for alleviating the pain of arthritis and rheumatism. Also it is extremely effective in dealing with migraine.
Ginger boosts the metabolism, making it helpful for weight-loss and for improving circulation, and it stimulates the digestion. It is known for its role in preventing heart disease as well. It has a vast range of benefits, from calming airsickness to colds, and is even thought to be an aphrodisiac!
The easiest way to get its benefits is by adding a chunk to hot water for ginger tea, or grating some into your morning juice, and of course using ginger in your cooking more often.
The bark of the cinnamon tree is another spice with many valuable health benefits. It is a very powerful anti-bacterial agent, which is useful for several ailments ranging from toothache to stomach problems, and especially for soothing sore throats.
It is a strong anti-oxidant, making it helpful with circulation and digestion. Also it is widely used by type 2 diabetics, for its role in levelling blood sugar.
Cinnamon is thought to help with depression, again due to its anti-bacterial properties. These properties also make it very good for dealing with preventing infection and boosting the anti-immune system.
Try a stick of cinnamon in your morning tea as an easy way to begin getting the benefit of cinnamon.
These seeds are very beneficial to health. They are known to be helpful in dealing with epilepsy in children, and are a powerful agent in resisting MRSA, allergies and asthma.
Also they are thought to be very effective in dealing with certain cancers, including breast cancer.
On an everyday level nigella is effective against high blood pressure, psoriasis and sore throats, and it is known to help protect against heart disease.
To take advantage of nigella, use it sprinkled on breads and savoury pastries, or in salad dressings. It is commonly used in Indian cooking, and also simply adding a couple of teaspoons to hot water is a great way to get its benefit.
Fennel’s greatest quality is as a digestive aid, and the seeds are commonly chewed after a meal in India for this reason and also because they are very effective against bad breath. Also they are a laxative, making them very useful in relieving constipation.
Fennel contains a very high level of potassium, which makes it beneficial against high blood pressure and also means it helps the brain work more sharply. And it contains as well high levels of iron, meaning it is effective against anaemia.
One more convenient quality fennel has is its effectiveness in dealing with flatulence, and it is also commonly used to prevent and relieve irritation and fatigue in the eyes.
The seeds have a pleasant licorice flavour, so simply chewing on a few (as the Indians do after their meal) is a great way to get their benefits. And of course fennel also has a great range of use in cooking generally.
This spice is not a true pepper, but for many years in history was as valuable due to its great medicinal qualities. It is another of the spices that are essential in the Indian Ayurvedic diet. It is very effective in dealing with liver problems, including jaundice, and it also helps in preventing bacterial infections.
It is a very good agent for weight loss, as it is known to reduce body fat and eliminate the fatty toxins which cause obesity. It is very helpful in dealing with diabetes and its complications, as it has an advantageous effect on blood sugar levels.
On an everyday level long pepper is good for dealing with toothache, indigestion, coughs and stomach aches.
Use long pepper as you would black, and it is particularly good when added to the spice mix for making chai.
Cumin seeds are very commonly used in Indian, North African and Mexican food, and it is one of the most beneficial of all spices to the health.
Firstly it is very good for the digestion, as its oils stimulate saliva and the stomach. It is very rich in iron and vitamin C, making it extremely helpful in boosting the immune system and protecting against everyday ailments such as the common cold.
One unique quality of cumin is its ability to deal with insomnia, and also stress and anxiety, as some of the oils it contains are mild tranquilisers. It is also very helpful in keeping the skin healthy, due to its large quantities of vitamin E.
It is also effective in dealing with anaemia, piles and diabetes, and is a very useful detoxifying agent generally.
This citrussy seed is related to ginger, and so can be used in the same way for dealing with digestive and stomach problems when it is just as effective. It is very important in the Ayurvedic diet, which uses it as much for the mind as the body – it is thought to be very effective against depression.
Due to the fact that it is a powerful diuretic, cardamom is a great agent for detoxifying the system, especially the kidneys and bladder. It is also used as a cure for hiccups, and to deal with mouth ulcers and throat infections. It helps against asthma and other respiratory problems, and it is rich in vitamin C with all the qualities it brings. It relieves nausea, and is another spice which is thought to be an aphrodisiac.
Cardamom is commonly used in Indian cooking, both sweet and savoury, and it is also used as one of the spices in the mix for chai