Tis the season for healthy herbs and spices

Self Care, Diet and Nutrition

“I’m hungry,” nine-year-old Mike whined. “What’s for dinner?”

“What IS for dinner?” Jesse groaned. “The same old meat, potatoes and green beans. It’s all you guys ever want to eat. Bor-ing!”

Jesse flung open the spice cupboard. There has to be something in here that will tickle our taste buds, but what?”

While rummaging through the cabinet, Jesse pulled out the smartphone to google the best tasting combinations for tonight’s chicken and mashed potatoes.

Jesse didn’t realize many of herbs and spices that create appetizing flavors also boost the family’s health.

Clove spiced hamWhat’s in your cupboard?

From mulled-apple cider to rosemary-and-sage-laced stuffing, November and December expose us to mouth-watering smells and the comforting tastes of pumpkin pie, roast turkey and clove-spiked ham.

Many studies report the spices that make our holidays memorable also play a supporting role in our health. So, sit back and relax with your cinnamon spiced latte or herbal tea and learn how to spice up your health.

Allspice

This dried berry from the Jamaica pimenta shrub adds a complex flavor resembling cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. When used in pies, puddings and the occasional Jamaican Jerk Chicken recipe, allspice adds a dose of quercetin, gallic acid, ericifolin and eugenol to your food. According to an article published on PubMed.gov, an extract of the Pimenta dioica berries shows promise in the fight against breast cancer. More study needs to be done to determine effective use and dosage.

Cardamom

A relative of the ginger family, Cardamom’s smoky-citrus flavor adds a peppery complement to dishes made with cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Scandinavian and Indian kitchens, cardamom shows potential as an anti-inflammatory. It is also reported to reduce oxidative stress to help prevent diabetes.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a staple in most holiday kitchens. Used to create Gramma’s gooey cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning or add an unexpected layer of flavor to a pot of Cincinnati Chili, cinnamon’s flavorful presence may improve your digestion and your memory.

Ceylon cinnamon, known as real cinnamon, comes from the bark of the Laurel plant. Powdered Ceylon cinnamon is light brown with a sweet scent. Ceylon’s cinnamon sticks or quills roll in one direction. (Unlike Cassia cinnamon quills, which have a scroll-like appearance.) Ceylon cinnamon provides the highest health bonus for your money.

Some reports say cinnamon:

● Fights bacteria
● Combats fungus
● Supports blood clotting function
● Lowers cholesterol

These claims are based on small studies. The Cleveland Clinic also compiled a list of studies that show cinnamon’s potential in lowering glucose levels. But additional research is needed to determine dosage.

Ceylon cinnamon sticksBut, don’t just start adding cinnamon to everything.

Cinnamon may have an adverse effect on your condition or may interact with your medications. For instance, eating too much cassia cinnamon, the type commonly sold in the United States, may cause problems with liver function.

If you want to add cinnamon to your foods and drinks, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before making it a staple in your diet.

Cloves

These dried flower buds of the myrtle tree have anesthetic abilities. According to the Journal of Dentistry, cloves work as well as benzocaine as a topical numbing agent. The antiseptic and anesthetic qualities of eugenol, the active ingredient in cloves, act as a natural breath mint. The spice also has a reputation for improving circulation, reducing digestive disorders and relieving joint pain.

Garlic

Peeled and un-peeled garlic cloves and bulbsAccording to the Linus Pauling Institute, this bulbous plant has a few medicinal claims worth noting. Garlic can:

● Boost immunity.
● Reduce the risk of colon cancer. An Iowa Women’s Health Study found women who ate garlic reduced their risk of colon cancer by 35 percent.
● Provide anti-inflammatory protection.
● Reduce the risk of high blood pressure. One large clove of garlic a day may keep high blood pressure at bay.
● Act as an antibacterial agent and antifungal agent.
● Clear acne. Dab a slice of raw garlic on a pimple.
● Kill foot fungus. Rub raw, sliced garlic on the affected area.
● Clear congestion and reduce the impact of colds. Drink a cup of strong garlic tea.

To tap into garlic’s healing properties, chop or crush garlic cloves and let them rest for at least 10 minutes to trigger allicin, the active ingredient in garlic. Add the garlic to your recipes during the last few minutes of cooking to preserve its medicinal features.

GingerGinger root and ginger tea

Ginger is a medicinal powerhouse. For centuries, Ginger has been used to calm upset stomachs and relieve gas, nausea and morning sickness.

Unlock ginger’s healing attributes by steeping two teaspoons of grated ginger root in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Ginger helps relieve congestion and reduce inflammation. The warming qualities of this spicy root also can ease chills.

If steeped ginger is not your cup of tea, try making gingerbread cookies, cakes or pancakes.

Sage

For centuries sage has been associated with wisdom, knowledge and good judgment. Our “sage” ancestors were on to something. Preliminary studies of this herb from the Salvia plant suggest sage improves memory and brain function. Though sage needs additional review, the initial results are promising.

Peppermint

According to an article in the American Family Physician journal, peppermint is the go-to-herb for the intestinal distress of irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia (heartburn, belching, upper abdominal discomfort) and colon spasms. The oils contained in peppermint leaves relax the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. Studies also show peppermint oil rubbed on the temples may relieve a tension headache.

Brew peppermint tea by soaking peppermint leaves in hot water for 10 minutes to release the herb’s soothing menthol.

RosemaryPeppermint, Rosemary, Thyme and Sage

This native Mediterranean herb appears to be good for you – inside and out. When added to food, rosemary minimizes bloating and eases digestion while it boosts your immunity. Rosemary oil diffused through the air may improve sleep and relieve headaches by decreasing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Thyme

Thyme may provide some benefits for reducing coughs and bronchial symptoms. Thyme also has antibacterial and antifungal components.

Turmeric

The golden-yellow color of this earthy root loans its distinct flavor to mustard and curry. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, turmeric is as effective as ibuprofen for controlling knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Not only does turmeric warm the taste of many dishes, but scientists also are studying its ability to:

● Fight cancer
● Resolve digestive issues
● Reduce surgical pain
● Treat Alzheimer’s disease
● Prevent rheumatoid arthritis

Turmeric and powdered turmericIf you are being treated for a pre-existing condition or taking medication, talk to your healthcare provider and pharmacist before adding turmeric to your diet or supplement regimen.

Always ask your healthcare provider and your pharmacist if spices interact with your treatment or your medications.

While preventing and curing disease is not as easy as adding new spices to your favorite foods, they can be part of a healthy diet.

Next time you’re looking for a flavorful way to liven up your favorite recipe, consider one of the health-filled heroes in your spice cabinet. Not only will you create great tasting dishes, but you also might give your health a boost, reduce painful inflammation and prevent infection.

 

 

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Meet Shauna L. Christopherson, APNP, FNP

 

 

 

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