Most of us in the field of holistic medicine could spend hours discussing different approaches to food and diet. However, I think that we often overlook the power that a diet varied in an abundance of spices can provide. The history of spices is simply fascinating. Did you know that wars were fought over spices and kingdoms were lost over them? And the truth is that even back in 2600 BCE, spices were already recognized as powerful medicine. Not only do they add interest to our plates and palates, but they promote health in incredibly powerful ways. Here are some spices that are worth adding to your culinary undertakings.
Ginger is rich in phytonutrients called gingerols. Studies support the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial effects of gingerol. It's useful against arthritis, migraine, asthma, heart disease, heartburn, cancer and nausea.
This is the world's most expensive spice: It takes 80,000 blue saffron crocus flowers and a quarter million dried stigmas to produce one pound of saffron. But it's worth its weight in gold! Saffron has two compounds, crocin and saffranal, that preserve levels of dopamine, seratonin, and norepinephrine in the brain. Several studies out of Iran have shown that saffron is as powerful as or more effective than fluoxetine and imipramine in treating depression. Studies also show that it may help protect against atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, many forms of cancer, anxiety, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and PMS.
Rosemary grows like a weed in many parts of the world, and this easy-to-grow backyard herb packs a powerful punch in the form of rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid and carnosol. It's incredibly anti-carcinogenic, and has been found to significantly decrease levels of dangerous heterocyclic amines when cooked with meats at high temperatures. It's also been shown to be effective in improving dermatitis, enhancing memory, protecting the liver and alleviating arthritis pain.
Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices, and believe it or not, in the Middle Ages it was considered more valuable than gold. Piperine is the active ingredient in black pepper, and it has been shown to jumpstart digestion, prevent certain cancers and heart disease, improve vitiligo, lower blood pressure, and prevent arthritis.
Turmeric was once called a poor man's saffron, but now we know how incredibly healing and powerful this spice truly is. New studies are coming out on a daily basis touting its incredible litany of benefits. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric that is powerfully anti-inflammatory as well as rich in antioxidants.
More than 1,000 studies have demonstrated curcumin's anti-cancer effects. It inhibits the activation of genes that trigger cancer, inhibits the proliferation of tumor cells, shrinks tumor cells, and prevents development of the blood supply necessary for cancer cells to grow. Beyond its anti-cancer properties, turmeric has been shown to combat allergies, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, colitis, dyslipidemia, eczema, uveitis, gout, gum disease, macular degeneration, psoriasis and high blood pressure.
Oregano is a great spice to grow on your windowsill and keep on hand. The major components of oregano, carvacrol and thymol, are wonderfully antiviral, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, and anti-fungal. Aside from its ability to curb infections, studies have shown that oregano can help calm colitis, support the liver, prevent and ameliorate metabolic syndrome, and suppress inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-6.
Star anise is a beautiful 8-pointed star made of slender pods and seeds. Shikimic acid and anethole are two of the compounds that give star anise its powerful infection fighting properties. Star anise has been found to inhibit Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes mononucleosis), herpes simplex 1, hepatitis B, tooth decay and even HIV.