The 12 Most Healing Ingredients You Should Always Have On Hand

Image by Patricia Niven

It's helpful to have flavorful, healthy ingredients on hand that take a dish from good to extraordinary. Tanita de Ruijt, chef at London's Koya Bar, a traditional Japanese udon-ya and author of the new cookbook Super Roots: Cooking With Healing Spices To Boost Your Mood, is all about incorporating healing herbs and spices into her Eastern-inspired dishes. In this excerpt from her new cookbook, Tanita de Ruijt shares her top 12 favorite "tastemakers." Besides enhancing taste, each one of these ingredients has healing properties that you won't want to miss.

1. Black pepper

According to ayurveda, the pungency and heat of black pepper work to help metabolize food as it is digested in our system. Its warming qualities also help to clear congestion in the respiratory system. Use for indigestion, sinus congestion, excess toxin buildup, fever, sluggish metabolism, and obesity.

2. Cardamom

Known as "the queen of spices," cardamom is related to ginger. Like ginger, it's good for improving digestion, soothing stomach pains, and relieving gas. Its warming properties also help to cleanse the body and improve circulation. You will have to break open the pods to discover its plethora of health benefits.

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3. Chili, fresh or dried

The heat you feel from cayenne pepper and chili powder comes from capsaicin, a compound that has been shown to invigorate the blood, clear the nasal passages, and thin mucus. Fresh chilies also pack more vitamin C than oranges.

4. Cinnamon

An antibacterial spice found in most households, cinnamon increases general vitality, warms the body, counteracts congestion, improves digestion, relieves menstrual cramping, and improves circulation. Look for Sri Lankan "Ceylon cinnamon" (Cinnamomum verum), also known as "true cinnamon," not cassia bark (Chinese cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia). Grate the bark straight into your concoctions.

5. Clove

Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a medicinal tree once indigenous to the Indonesian "spice islands." Also found in the spice racks of most homes, cloves are known to have antiseptic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, warming, soothing, and flatulence-relieving properties.

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6. Cumin

The cumin seed was once thought to promote love and fidelity—it was thrown around at weddings, and soldiers were even sent off to battle with a fresh loaf of cumin-seed bread. It's traditionally used as a carminative, to help settle the stomach and ease bloating and trapped wind.

7. Garlic

Aphrodisiac, currency, food, medicine, vampire repellent—garlic has had several uses in many cultures for thousands of years. Its pungent sulfurs and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are used to prevent colds and flu and treat a wide range of conditions and diseases.

8. Ginger

The best-known member of the family: primarily for its flavor but also for protecting and promoting a healthy digestive system. It's one of the most ancient medicinal plants used in Chinese, ayurvedic, and Indonesian medicine. In Asia, ginger is known to warm the body, ease nausea, rev up the appetite and digestion, help ward off any aches and pains, as well as restore strength to those suffering from illness. Steeped hot ginger teas help relieve symptoms of cold and flu. When combined with turmeric, its effects multiply. The skin can be left on, as long as it is rinsed thoroughly.

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9. Lemongrass

An aromatic healer with a distinct lemony flavor and citrusy aroma, lemongrass is nature's acetaminophen: It reduces pain and inflammation, helps to bring down high fevers, and relieves headaches. It’s known as "fevergrass" in Jamaica. Lemongrass also helps to restore our vital systems, including digestion, respiration, excretion, and the nervous system. Heavily bruise the white part of this grass root to unlock its potential.

10. Onion

Onions have been used to reduce inflammation and heal infections for centuries. They're also one of the healthiest foods you can eat. A natural antihistamine, onions are also rich in vitamin C, sulfuric compounds, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals that can soothe the throat and clear stuffed-up nasal passages. An onion a day may help keep the doctor away.

11. Star anise

Used in traditional Chinese medicine to fight flu by clearing mucus from the respiratory tract, this spice is effective in fighting viral, bacterial, or fungal infections, as well as inflammation. It's also a common ingredient in medicinal teas, to treat coughs and chest infections. The seeds can be chewed before meals to stimulate the appetite or afterward to relieve gas and bloating.

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12. Turmeric

Turmeric is king when it comes to spice. Its yellow color has long been considered sacred in the Eastern world. Yellow symbolizes the sun—a source of light, energy and growth—which is why this color is associated with royalty and is believed to offer protection from evil spirits throughout Asia.

Based on excerpts from Super Roots: Cooking With Healing Spices To Boost Your Mood by Tanita de Ruijt with the permission of Hardie Grant Books. Copyright © 2019.

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