Herbs and Spices – All their properties

Herbs and spices are so tightly entwined with the history of nations and throughout the years the desire to be part of the lucrative commercial opportunity from the spice trade monopolies has led explores to discover new routes to reach spice producers across the world. In the 15th century, spices came to Europe via the Middle East land and sea routes, and spices were in huge demand both for food dishes and for use in medicines. Most notably, explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and Vasco De Gama being so instrumental in our use of spices today with the most ubiquitous of all – Black pepper!

‘Spice’ was a term liberally applied to all lands of exotic natural products from pepper to sugar, herbs to animal secretions. Spices had been imported from the East into Europe since antiquity, and Europeans had developed a definite liking for them. Part of the attraction was the flavour they gave dishes, although the long held view they were primarily used to disguise the taste of bad meat is incorrect. Another attraction was their very rarity, making them a fashionable addition to any table and a real status symbol for the wealthy. Spices were used to add flavour not only to sauces but also wines; they were even crystallised and eaten on their own as sweets.

Valuable spices used in food preparation across Europe included pepper, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, saffron, anise, cumin, and cloves. Although most of these were reserved for the tables of the rich, even the poorer classes used pepper whenever they could get it. Spices, despite their cost, were used in great quantities.

Today we know that the functions of herbs and spices are multiple, whilst flavour may be the most well known, we now have scientific evidence to prove that many herbs and spices have undeniable medical properties, providing valuable antioxidants, anti inflammatory properties, essential minerals that positively affect cognition and mood. If you don’t have much experience in cooking with herbs and spices, there’s no need to go on a hunt for exotic ingredients, and it’s surprising what is possible to achieve with a trip to your local market and what you already have in your fndge.

Use the real thing

Changing our eating habits can be tricky, and sometimes is tempting to take the short cut and turn to supplements or capsules. However you should keep in mind that consuming the spices and herbs as they come is more beneficial than taking it in pill form. It’s always good to remember that there’s little oversight on supplements, and sometimes capsules might not contain the amount of something as indicated on the label.

 Best herbs & spices for your health

herbs mint pots

If you don’t have much experience in cooking with herbs and spices, we suggest to start using a pinch at a time, so you won’t overdo it and it will help you reach the perfect amount of spices for you gradually and better understand what flavour combinations suit your palate.

Here’s some spices you might want to consider for your next meal:

  • Cardamom: has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. It might help in protecting your heart from elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. It may also help manage diabetes and lower liver toxicity.
  • Chilli:  has  has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces cholesterol level and improves blood oxygenation. It also helps digestion by increasing the secretion of gastric juices. It is an excellent homeopathic remedy – like marjoram – for healing colds, sinusitis and bronchitis.
  • Cinnamon: compounds in cinnamon have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial properties, and that they might offer protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease
  • Ginger: Ginger is a popular remedy for nausea and stomach pain, and is rich in antioxidants and nutrients helpful to treat arthritis, inflammation and infections. Some researches have also found that ginger can potentially reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer.
  • Cumin: Aids in weight loss, is rich in antioxidants, may help to control blood sugar and lower cholesterol. Some studies demonstrated that consuming cumin mitigates IBS symptoms.
  • Garlic: Widely used for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart, including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, heart disease and hypertension.
  • Turmeric: Used to alleviate depression and osteoarthritis, turmeric is known to reduce inflammation and swelling and can help with hay fever, a type of liver disease and itching.
  • Rosemary: Helps boosting the immune system and improves blood circulation. Rosemary is a cognitive stimulant and improves memory and focus.

For what concerns herbs, here’s a few suggestions:

 

  • Sage – Can improve brain function and memory: In a 4-month study of 42 individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, sage extract was shown to produce significant improvements in brain function
  • Peppermint: relieves IBS pains and may reduce nausea
  • Basil: Helps fight infections and boosts immunity
  • Rosemary: can help prevent allergies and nasal congestion
  • Chamomile: helps treating bowel inflammation and joint cramps
  • Lavender: prevents fainting and allays nausea. In oil form, it is often used in therapeutic baths to reduce stress. It can also lower blood pressure. A small amount makes a useful application on skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis.
  • Poppy: Helps soothing cough and induces sleep. Poppy petals are helpful treating asthma, bronchitis and angina.
  • Valerian: some people use valerian for depression, mild tremor, epilepsy

 

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