10 Culinary Herbs And Spices With Remarkable Health Benefits

From remarkable fat-burning powers to possible cancer-fighting compounds, herbs and spices are the unsung heroes of our kitchens. They not only have the ability to turn a bland, uninteresting meal into a delicious, gourmet dinner, but also to ease aches and pains, and protect against diseases. Every year people spend thousands of dollars on medicine, diet pills, or health gimmicks found online, but some of the most potent solutions can be found in their kitchen cabinet. Here are 10 spices and herbs that are notable for their role as culinary accents, as well as medicinal properties.

1. Rosemary

You’ve probably had rosemary with lamb or chicken, but you most likely didn’t know that it is a great source of calcium, vitamin B6 and iron. Some of the explored health benefits of rosemary have been its abundant antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals that help the immune system and blood circulation. Rosemary also has some extremely important active ingredients such as carnosic acid that has shown to protect against neural degeneration, especially in the hippocampus. Your hippocampus is responsible for consolidating short term memory into long term memory, and is often the first place to get hit with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Recent studies in oncology have also shown that it seems to have anti-inflammatory properties and slows propagation of leukemia and breast cancer cells. All in all, rosemary is one of the most potent herbs you could possibly have in your kitchen- and costs next to nothing compared to modern medicine.

How to use: Using it as a lamb or chicken rub for dinner is all well and good (especially if you combine it with a little thyme), but try branching out into fish, soups, and sauces. Also, infusing it in olive oil can be a great way to increase your usage and add a little extra flavor to all your savory dishes. Boiling water with rosemary can also serve as a home-made antiseptic. However, if you are feeling really adventurous, try incorporating rosemary into soap. It can relieve nasal congestion and fight aging by stimulating capillaries beneath the skin.

2. Ginger

Ginger’s main benefit is for treating all different types of nausea- whether it is due to motion sickness, chemotherapy, or morning sickness. Studies have shown that ginger can help relieve the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, muscle soreness, period cramps, bronchitis, and other conditions. So, if you are used to popping a couple of ibuprofens for pain, try having some ginger instead- some studies have shown it to be even more effective than your common pain killer. The gingerols, a main active ingredient in the ginger, have also been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. Ginger is a super food that has long been a tradition in Asia, but it definitely deserves a place in your cabinet as well.

How to Use: A favorite use of ginger is in tea. If you are usually a decaf sort of person, grate, steep, and strain out ginger in boiling water and then add honey and lemon to taste- this creates a delightfully refreshing herbal tea that will rejuvenate. You can also use ginger in foods like a good vegetable or meat stir fry, noodles, or even for an extra punch in baked goods. If you are looking for a slightly healthier candy substitute, ginger can be sugared to make a great anti-nausea substance and satisfy your sweet tooth.

3. Garlic

The medicinal uses of garlic go far back to ancient Greece and the inception of Western medicine. Today, however, we have science to back up such claims. Garlic contains allicin- The active ingredient that causes most of the health benefits and is responsible for its pungent smell. When allicin is digested, it gets absorbed into the digestive tract and spreads throughout the body. Studies suggest that just two cloves of garlic a week can have cancer preventing benefits by disturbing the metabolism of tumor cells. If you have a cold or the flu, garlic can also boost your immune system significantly to shorten the length of your cold, or even to prevent it in the first place. If you suffer from major cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, eat as much as garlic as you can. Studies have shown that allicin can be just as effective as some hypertension drugs, lower bad cholesterol, and prevent neural degeneration because of its antioxidants. If you are looking for a tasty way to prolong your healthy life, garlic is an easy choice.

How to Use: Of all the herbs and spices in this list, garlic is one of the easiest to incorporate in a tasty way. It goes well with practically any savory dish- put a little into any soup or sauce for an extra punch. Sauté some garlic and mix with some red pepper flakes, Parmesan, and pasta for a quick, healthy dinner. Garlic oil can also be an easy way of incorporating it into your diet. If you are cooking, however, remember to let the garlic sit for a while after you chop it and before you cook it, otherwise the allicin will not be effective.

4. Oregano

Oregano is so much more than the dry, flakey stuff you put on your pizza. True, it is a common ingredient in Mediterranean food, but it is also renowned for its antioxidants. An active ingredient in oregano is rosmarinic acid, which is so strong an antioxidant that it has more than most fruits, berries, and vegetables. It also helps boost the immune system which can help fend off the flu and colds. It also has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer properties. Some studies show that oregano can stop growth and possibly cause cell death of cancer colon cancer cells.

How to Use: Instead of the dry, flakey stuff, try adding a teaspoon of fresh oregano instead on your pizza, eggs, vegetables, or salad dressings. Oregano oil is also something that is easy to find and a must-have in your closet. It can help fight UTI’s, yeast infections, and food-borne pathogens.

5. Cayenne

Capsaicin is the main ingredient in hot sauce, cayenne, and other chilies that are responsible for its amazing health benefits. It has great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that has made it an active ingredient in over-the-counter pain creams. Capsaicin also reduces your appetite and bolsters your metabolism-making it a key ingredient if you’re trying to lose some weight. By stimulating circulation and sweating, it also is great for your next total body detox. And, just like most of the other spices in this list, animal studies have shown that capsaicin can combat certain types of cancer such as lung and liver cancers. No matter what way you’re trying to whip your body into shape, cayenne will help do the trick

How to Use: You don’t need hot sauce in your bag, but you could stand to add a dash in any savory meat or vegetable dish. Throw in some cayenne powder into popcorn to give it a little extra pop, or add some to pasta sauce for a fiery kick. Be warned though, the more you get used to the spice the more you have to use to get the beneficial effects. If cayenne is too tame for you go with another pepper that has capsaicin like a hot habeñero. If you aren’t used to the spice, no worries! Try a pimento or other non-spicy pepper that can give you similar effects.

Image Source: Super Herbal Foods

6. Turmeric

If you walk into an Indian restaurant and see a bright yellow curry, chances are you are looking at turmeric. Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory and pain management properties equal to, or possibly even better than, medicines like ibuprofen. Antioxidants are also abundant with curcumin because it stimulates the body to produce its own enzymes. Turmeric could also be a new revelation for degenerative diseases, since curcumin increases the levels of certain hormones that promote the generation of new neurons. Curcumin can also combat the world’s number one killer: heart disease. So, if you find yourself repelled by the bright yellow color, try to get over it because just a pinch of turmeric can go a long way.

How to Use: If you aren’t used to eating Indian food, give it a try, because most will have at least a little turmeric. Add a little to any soup or curry, or even just ¼ a teaspoon to rice while you cook it for flavor and color. You can use it while sautéing vegetables, cooking fish, or making chicken soup for a little extra flavor and lot of extra health benefits.

7. Cinnamon

Cinnamon buns, cookies, and cakes- you’ll be glad to know that there is at least some benefit to all of these things. Cinnamon has incredible levels of antioxidants and an ingredient called cinnamaldehyde that give it its amazing anti-inflammation properties. It has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as alleviate nausea and increase your fat burning abilities. However, cinnamon’s greatest achievement is with blood sugar levels. It can increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin and slow the breakdown of carbohydrates. If you are a type 2 diabetic, cinnamon is the spice for you.

How to Use: If you aren’t used to eating Indian food, give it a try, because most will have at least a little turmeric. Add a little to any soup or curry, or even just ¼ a teaspoon to rice while you cook it for flavor and color. You can use it while sautéing vegetables, cooking fish, or making chicken soup for a little extra flavor and lot of extra health benefits.

8. Sage

Whether or not it’s a coincidence, whoever connoted sage with wisdom could have been on to something. Sage tea can be used for nausea and other stomach issues, but new research shows that sage really shines when it comes to neural health. It has always had a reputation for healing things such as the plague, however research suggests it can improve brain function, memory, and cognition- especially for those with Alzheimer’s. If someone has Alzheimer’s, their brain has a deficit of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. Sage stops the breaking down of acetylcholine, and in studies has shown to produce significant improvements in brain function of Alzheimer’s patients. In healthy people however, other studies have shown memory improvement no matter the age. So if you find you need just a little extra memory boost before your next exam, maybe try adding a little sage to your diet.

How to Use: Sage goes very well in different stuffing, which is why it’s fairly common during thanksgiving. However, if you really want the benefits, try to eat it more than once a year. Sage pairs very well with squashes and walnuts, as well as enhancing a baked chicken or fish. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, try buying or making your own sage butter to use for different recipes.

9. Thyme

If you haven’t incorporated thyme into your diet, then it’s about time you do so. Thyme has an impressive resume. People use it to treat cough, sore throats, arthritis, diarrhea, yeast infections, parasites, types of cancer, bronchitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and is especially high in iron. An essential compound of thyme is thymol, which can destroy harmful bacteria and makes thyme a great disinfectant. If you are sick of constantly seeing a dermatologist and buying expensive acne medications, thyme may be exactly what you’re looking for. Its antibacterial properties make it a better pimple popper than most anti-acne products.

How to Use: If you’re looking to control your high blood pressure or cholesterol, substituting thyme for salt will surely do the trick. If you have a frog in your throat or a cold try making a thyme tea. However, if you’re looking for a cheaper way to clear skin, try making a tincture. Steep thyme in alcohol for days or even weeks and you will have the cheapest acne remedy you can find.

10. Basil

Basil is an herb that’s so delicious and healthy it has crossed multiple cultures. It has great antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and is known to increase cardiovascular health. If you have asthma or suffer from chronic respiratory infections, the anti-inflammatory properties of basil can really help you. Basil has also been associated with decreased blood sugar, pain, and swelling so if you have diabetes or arthritis pay attention- this could be an easy way to help control it.

How to Use: Basil can pretty much be used in anything. Add a few leaves into any pasta sauce, soup, or curry for a burst of flavor. Incorporate some into an omelet or layer it with tomato and fresh mozzarella for a creamy, fresh, Caprese Salad. If you’re feeling up to it, try making your own fresh pesto with plenty of basil for a full, robust flavor and equally potent health benefits.

About The Author

Deepti Varathan is a writer specializing in psychology and neuroscience. She is passionate about modern medicine and finding other therapeutic techniques, and how both of these affect the developing brain. Deepti works for CogniFit, a major vendor in cognitive assessments and neuroscientific brain training programs.