Plants are powerful medicine, and you have a veritable medicine cabinet in your spice rack. Spice is a blanket term encompassing a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetable. There are a few superstars worth mentioning that you can use to combat everything from arthritis to cancer. As with everything, quality matters, so make sure your spices are organic and good quality. I get mine from a local co-op and buy them in bulk, or I also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.
Here are my favorite healing spices that pack the most healing punch. Use these copiously in your cooking and baking to get the healing benefits.
My Six Top Healing Spices
- Turmeric, a root that looks like ginger, is packed with antioxidants. Several studies confirm that turmeric outperforms many pharmaceuticals against several chronic, debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and cancer. And without side effects. Curcumin, the constituent that gives turmeric its familiar yellow pigment, may also lower cholesterol and control inflammation. I prefer to take it as a tea, or you can incorporate it into recipes (it’s great with lamb). Here is my turmeric tea recipe: 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon, pinch of cayenne, 1 tsp honey (optional. I am hard core and leave it out). Put everything in a mug and pour hot water over. Stir til combined.
- Ginger is one of my favorites, from both a culinary and a healing perspective. Like turmeric, it is a root that has pretty amazing anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is very warming, increases circulation, reduces pain and cramping, relieves motion sickness, enhances digestion, and settles nausea. I use it most often for its amazing and seemingly instant ability to relieve bloating after meals. It’s also effective in combatting gas and diarrhea. I take it as a tea: grate the root into a mug, pour hot water over it and steep, then strain. Add honey if desired. If you’re super hard core, peel the ginger and slice off a chunk and chew it. This works best before meals to stimulate digestion, or to relieve bloating or nausea.
- Cayenne is the powder made from chili peppers. Its main constituent is capsaicin, which relieves pain by blocking the chemicals that send pain messages to the brain. Capsaicin is also thermogenic, meaning it causes a temporary increase in body temperature and may shift the body from carb burning to fat burning. I recommend that my weight loss clients add a hearty pinch of cayenne to their hot water with lemon in the mornings to boost fat burning. Capsaicin has also been shown to shrink tumors in prostate, lung and pancreatic cancer studies.
- Cinnamon is a blood sugar stabilizing superstar. I have my weight loss and hypoglycemic clients add a teaspoon to their morning smoothies to prevent blood sugar swings and keep energy levels stable. The bark contains a chemical called cinnamaldehyde that kills bacteria, including E.coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureas. Be certain you choose the right cinnamon! The 2 major types are Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia, and Ceylon is the true cinnamon. The cassia cinnamon is grown in China and Vietnam and has a stronger flavor. In high doses (more than a tablespoon a day) the cassia can be toxic to the liver, so check your source, and choose ceylon.
- Mint is excellent for settling an upset stomach and for combatting nausea and indigestion. I have a huge mint plant in my garden so I can make fresh tea from the leaves. (WARNING: be aware that if you plant mint in the ground, it can overtake everything in your garden. That’s why I have mine in a pot). It also helps relieve gas. I use peppermint essential oil to relieve headaches– just rub a few drops into each temple, and inhale for a mood boost. It works instantly! I use a few drops in water to ease bloating and indigestion too. Click here for the highest quality essential oils— not all are created equally!
- Fennel grows wild all around my neighborhood and in the parks in San Francisco. The fronds have a nice licorice-y fragrance, and the fennel bulb works wonderfully sliced in salads and roasted with other root veggies. Fennel is a carminative herb, meaning that it can ease bloating, gas pains, and digestive spasms. It can also stimulate milk flow in breastfeeding women.
- I don’t use parsley very often (mostly because I don’t like the taste), but it has some wonderful health benefits. I use it most often in juicing. It’s great for skin health and contains high levels of chlorophyll, so it’s very oxygenating. Parsley is also a diuretic, so it eases water retention and bloating, making it great for PMS.
- Rosemary is also growing in my backyard. It’s pretty hearty and works well in rubs or marinades for meat. Rosemary is a very rich source of antioxidants and has been used to treat asthma.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.