We use them every day in our cooking, but what are the benefits of these herbs and spices we so love?
Did you know that your herb and spice rack not only can make your meals tastier and more ‘instagrammable’, but they are also jam-packed with health benefits? Herbs and spices can assist in a range of health concerns; from helping you reach your weight-loss goals, to boosting your immunity, to even treating athletes foot! Our experts share the low down on these natural health boosters….
“Cinnamon has the highest antioxidant value of any spice. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar and blood triglyceride levels. Cinnamon has also been used to alleviate nausea and to increase sensitivity to insulin and aid in fat burning. It provides manganese, iron and calcium. Its antimicrobial properties can help extend the life of foods.
“While cinnamon is an incredibly healthy and nutritious spice, it is often hard to branch out from the most common uses of cinnamon: biscuits, muffins and desserts. Other places in the world use cinnamon in savoury and sweet dishes, everything from breakfast to dessert. I like to use it in curries for tanginess or sprinkle on top of my coffee,” advises Pippa Campbell, Nutrition & Weight Loss Coach (www.pippacampbellhealth.com).
“A substance call capsaicin is found in peppers and it is the compound that gives peppers their heat. It is thought to help fight weight gain and obesity by decreasing calorie intake and lowering blood fat levels.
The capsaicin’s heat may help with a process called thermogenesis where your body can convert fat into heat and so burning more fat which adds to weight loss. Including these thermogenic ingredients in your diet may boost your metabolism by up to 5 per cent, and increase fat burning by up to 16 percent,” explains Dr. Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist and Author of The Natural Health Bible for Women (www.marilynglenville.com).
“Black pepper contains a substance called piperine, which has similar effects to capsaicin in peppers. Piperine may help to stop the formation of new fat cells.
“A combination of these spices may be even more beneficial than single spices because when black pepper is combined with other spices such as capsaicin, it has been found to burn the same amount of calories as taking a 20-minute walk. Black pepper can also act as an anti-inflammatory; so can help with problems such as arthritis and painful joints in general. Black pepper may also help with lowering cholesterol and fighting infections,” explains Marilyn.
“I add basil to practically everything I make, from eggs to vegetables to soups. Basil has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and can help prevent osteoarthritis. It has also been used in digestive disorders. Though commonly used in Italian cooking. Basil is a versatile herb that can be added to practically anything. Try making your own pesto with basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts and some nutritional yeast with a good olive oil. I add Basil to my Bolognaise at the end of cooking,” explains Pippa.
“For many people, dandelions are an irritating garden weed, but traditionally the roots and leaves of the plant have been used as medicines for breast problems, bloating, digestive disorders, aching joints, fevers, and skin disorders.
“Dandelions contain fibre so can help you feel full longer and so help control your appetite. The leaves of the plant are very rich in vitamins, including A, C, D and B-complex. They also have high levels of minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, copper, choline, calcium, boron and silicon.
“The leaves of the plant are very nutrient-rich, and so dandelion can be a good herb for women who are approaching the menopause or for those who have a poor diet. Dandelion can also be used as a gentle diuretic and can decrease cholesterol in some people. Today, many herbalists use dandelion to purify the liver and gallbladder of toxins and it can stimulate the manufacture of bile,” explains Marilyn.
“Arrowroot is a starchy herb that I keep on hand, especially since I went gluten-free. It has an amazing thickening ability similar to cornstarch, and it can be added to soups, dips, baking etc. Arrowroot can be used in place of flour for a roux, or as the main baking ingredient in a gluten-free teething biscuit for kids. It is soothing and highly digestible, so it is often used in treatment for conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” explains Pippa.
“Turmeric is the yellow spice that is often used in curries. Its active ingredient is curcumin which has had a lot of research focused on its anti-inflammatory effects for conditions like arthritis.
“Although the research has not shown that curcumin can actually help with weight loss it is thought to stop the re-growth of fat after someone has loss weight. This could be helpful as many people end up putting the weight they have lost after a diet back on,” explains Marilyn.
“Mint has traditionally been used to calm digestive troubles and alleviate nausea. Many people enjoy a tea made from peppermint or spearmint leaves, and the volatile oils in both have been used in breath fresheners, toothpastes and chewing gum. Externally, the oil or tea can be used to repel mosquitos. This herb is easiest to consume in beverage form, although an adventurous cook could add it to meat dishes or dessert recipes. Try adding it to a Greek salad – feta, cucumber and tomatoes or chop finely into homemade meatballs,” suggests Pippa.
“Like turmeric, ginger also acts as an anti-inflammatory and is thought to help with maintaining healthy joints. It may also have the same thermogenic effects as capsaicin because it has warming effects in the body.
“Simmering a few slices of ginger root in boiling water makes a ginger root tea that stimulates and aids digestion. Ginger in food has the same effect,” explains Marilyn.
“Oregano is a common ingredient in Italian and Greek cuisine, and they have the right idea! Oregano (and it’s milder cousin, marjoram) are antiviral, antibacterial
“Its oil and leaves are used medicinally in treatment of cough, fever, congestion, body ache and illness. Combined with basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme and rosemary, it creates a potent antiviral, anti bacterial, antimicrobial blend. It can also be sprinkled on any kind of savoury foods. A couple of teaspoons added to a soup will help recovery from illness,” advises Pippa.
“Thyme is a member of the mint family and contains thymol, a potent antioxidant (and also the potent ingredient in Listerine mouthwash). Water boiled with thyme can be used in homemade spray cleaners and or can be added to bathwater for treatment of wounds. Thyme water can be swished around the mouth for gum infection, or for the healing of wounds from teeth removal.
“Thyme tea can also be taken internally during illness to speed recovery. In foods, it is often used in French and Italian cooking. Add to any baked dishes at the beginning of cooking, as it slowly releases its benefits,” explains Pippa.
“Cardamom is thought to help increase fat burning by improving metabolism. It is also thought to be good for digestion, so people would often have cardamom tea after a meal, to help reduce flatulence and general digestive discomfort,” explains Marilyn.