Did you know? You currently have health-enhancing medicinal herbs sitting in your kitchen cabinet. Yes, it’s true! And no, we’re not talking about exotic and expensive superfoods like chlorella and maca. We’re talking about humble, healing spices with big health benefits, some of which you can even grow yourself this summer. Healing spices and herbs like oregano, cayenne, rosemary, cardamom, and thyme are a staple of the well-stocked pantry. While you don’t necessarily see many sold in the form of capsules and tinctures in the supplement section of your local health food store, their health-boosting properties deserve some attention.
Let’s explore why you might want to turn to simple spices and herbs for health, how to choose and store them for optimal freshness and benefit, and finally, join us as we dive into the medicinal properties of five popular spices, which you probably have in your kitchen now.
Why use healing spices and herbs for health?
Spices and herbs are the easiest, fastest way to use food as medicine. They’re usually more affordable than supplements, and lend themselves well to daily use. Using spices like cardamom and cayenne along with aromatic herbs such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme in foods is also better suited to meet the needs of pregnant or nursing moms, and the needs of the kiddos – who often are encouraged to avoid more potent herbal preparations like capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts.
Finally, healing spices are lovely to have on hand because you can even grow some yourself this summer. Whether in the backyard garden or in pots on the balcony, you can harvest fresh herbs like parsley and chives, taking your meals to the next level!
How to choose and store your healing spices and herbs
When it comes to choosing your healing spices and herbs, quality is a top priority. Use your senses to evaluate freshness: Is the colour bright? How is the aroma? Stale or degraded spices and dried herbs are less likely to yield the health benefits that you’re going after, so buying them from a reputable source is important. Once you bring them home, store your spices and herbs away from direct heat and sunlight to preserve freshness. Remember, they’re best replaced after one year, especially for powders which lose their potency faster. Buy organic (and fair trade!) spices to avoid contamination with pesticides, which are often found in commercial spice blends.
Dried oregano stems from the Mediterranean is a fragrant, essential oil rich herb valued for its aromatic addition to various dishes. But it’s more than just a flavourful spice! With antibacterial and bactericidal properties, it’s been studied for its action as a non-antibiotic alternative to treat infections caused by multidrug-resistant (MDR) microbes. Oregano has long been a herbalists’ favourite for all things respiratory infections (e.g. cold, flu, bronchitis) and to support digestive function as a carminative. More research is revealing its benefits for dental cavities, rheumatoid arthritis and urinary tract infections, too.
For a convenient, potent dose of Oregano, many opt for Oil of Oregano, which typically contains a high content of carvacrol, the medicinal component of Oregano.
Bright red cayenne pepper is your go-to for adding that extra kick to your meals. One of its famous active ingredients, capsaicin, helps reduce systemic blood pressure. In turn, it brings beneficial influence to optimal cardiovascular function. Use cayenne to strengthen the heart, arteries, capillaries, and blood flow. Aside from nurturing heart health, compounds in cayenne have also been shown to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and metabolism-boosting properties.
Looking to get this herb into your system quickly? Try a Cayenne Pepper Tea! Simply add ground cayenne pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon into a cup of hot water. For flavour enhancement, you can also stir in a spoonful of honey too!
Dried rosemary is widely praised as a culinary spice, and is enjoyed as an essential oil for its affinity with citrus fruit and lavender, too. Also stemming from the Mediterranean, rosemary is a potent antioxidant that further supports digestive health, including the reduction of gas and bloating, and settling an upset stomach. Herbalists have long used rosemary to assist with mental stamina and concentration. Furthermore, it was recently thrown into the scientific spotlight for its promising neuroprotective ability.
When using high amounts of rosemary, pregnant women should use caution and seek medical advice as compounds in this herb may lead increased menstrual flow and increased risk of miscarriage and complications.
A staple of Ayurvedic cooking, ground cardamom seeds are known as a superior digestive tonic. Use cardamom liberally in cooking to support optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrients, as well to reduce gas and bloating. In Ayurveda, cardamom is known as “tridoshic”, which means it brings a balancing quality to all three doshas (pitta, kapha, and vata). Naturally sweet-tasting and highly aromatic, cardamom packs a medicinal punch by altering blood glucose levels and inflammatory markers. Huge benefit lies in relation to obesity, non-alcoholic liver damage, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.
The most important component of a cardamom pod are the seeds. It’s important to remember that once the pods are opened, or if purchasing ground cardamom, to store them in airtight containers so the flavour and aroma can last longer. This herb can be used in baked pastries, curries, or even in your coffee!
An aromatic relative of oregano, thyme is enjoyed both for its taste and its long history of use as a therapeutic herb. Thyme contains naturally occurring compounds (such as thymol) that may help fight bacterial and fungal infections. Simultaneously, it delivers potent antioxidants to lower the effects of oxidative stress on the body. Thyme has a strong affinity with the respiratory system and is often used to soothe cough and congestion. In fact, the German Commission E has approved thyme for symptoms of bronchitis, whooping cough, and catarrh.
There’s a variety of thyme herbs that can be incorporated into meals, with some common ones being lemon thyme, common thyme, and woolly thyme. Some of the more popular ways to use thyme include seasoning soups and sauces, topping on baked potatoes and vegetables, and as a marinate for grilled meats.
Herbs have such wondrous powers to support healing from within, alongside many other hidden benefits. To put things into perspective, the medicinal components of herbs can improve different aspects of health; while also intensifying your tastebuds upon adding them into your daily meals. Additionally, growing your own indoor herb garden is a great way to integrate interior plants. Studies have shown that plants can improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress levels, and boost your mood.
Get the whole family involved and transform this into a mini project for any little ones you may have at home. What herbs can you find in your kitchen cabinet?