Spices are there for us at every meal, making our lives more enjoyable. They don’t discriminate among vegans and meat-eaters – they add extra taste to steaks as well as salads. They have wonderful colors and aromas, improving everything between a slice of toast and a seven-course luxury dinner. And, as an added benefit, spices also have the potential to improve your health in ways you might not even know.
Before becoming common spices, many of them were part of traditional medicine. The ancient Egyptian healers used herbs to cure a series of conditions, but you can also find mentions of “medicine men” using spices in the Old Testament. I’ve already told you about black pepper, used to treat conditions like toothaches or insomnia. Now let’s take a look at some other inhabitants of our spice cabinet, and the positive effect they have on our health.
Chili pepper – the most furious of the spices
Chili peppers are as common as salt and pepper in some countries, and known in most others. Their spicy, sweet aroma coupled with their sting makes them popular in the kitchen. They can add color, character and a “zing” to your dishes, making them stand out from the crowd. And they are also very healthy.
The peppers themselves contain a series of nutrients – the vitamins C, A, K and all the B’s (except for B12) – and also a considerable amount of iron and copper along with other minerals. The fruit is also high on antioxidants – capsanthin, violaxanthin or lutein, depending on their color. But the best known health-improving component in chili peppers is the very same that makes it hot: capsaicin.
Capsaicin is known for its multitude of health benefits. Used externally it can relieve pain from a series of conditions, like arthritis, nerve pain or lower back pain. When ingested, the substance will help suppress appetite. It’s also helpful in the prevention of gastric ulcers – it has been shown to help not just prevent, but heal them in time.
Cinnamon – more than just a festive spice
The aroma of cinnamon and apples might be coming your way more than usual during the holiday season, as it is a spice associated with sweets and Christmas. But it’s widely used other times of the year, too – it’s used both in sweets and meat dishes, and as a beautiful (and tasty) topping on a kapuziner in Austria. Among others, of course.
Cinnamon is a strong spice, and it comes with some extra health improving effects, like lowering cholesterol levels, prevent urinary infections, fight inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and it might even protect against cancer and degenerative nerve diseases.
Just make sure you are not sold Cassia instead, which has a very similar taste, but comes from a different plant.
Parsley – more than just a trivial green
Parsley might not look impressive, but it’s a game changed when it comes to mushroom-based dishes. Its aroma complements that of the mushrooms well – but it’s a welcome addition to any meat-based dish, and salads as well. It might seem unimportant to many – but hidden under its plain, green leaves it has several health benefits.
Aside from its high vitamin content, parsley helps support kidney function, flushing out excess fluids from your body. It also helps control blood pressure, relieves joint pain, and can even help prevent cancer. Used externally (in the form of an essential oil, for example), this simple green spice can reduce hair loss, ease inflammation and serve as a relief in case of persistent itching.
Rosemary – add it to your diet!
Rosemary is a herb with many uses. Aside from being one of the best looking spices you can grow in your kitchen, it is used both as a spice and as an aroma for perfumes. It can make your meats taste divine, and is great with mushrooms, too. And it has its share of health benefits, known for healers since ancient times.
Back in the day rosemary was used to improve memory, hair growth, blood circulation and the immune system. Some of its health benefits were confirmed by science, too. Studies have confirmed that rosemary helps protect the brain and improve memory, fights free radicals, helps with inflammation, and reduces the formation of cancer-causing agents in our body.
Rosemary is also thought to help in case of indigestion, relieve pain (when used externally) and prevent hair loss.
Thyme – the small green leaves of wonder
Last, but not least, let’s take a look at the many benefits of thyme. It is a wonderful spice, used in most Mediterranean cuisines, adding woodsy overtones to many dishes. But its use as a medicine stretches back to ancient times.
Thyme oil is known to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, making it a worthy ally for disinfecting your home or your skin. It is also used in a series of skin care products and even mouthwash. When taken internally – either as a spice, or as a supplement – thyme can lower heart rate and blood pressure, can help alleviate coughing, and can even boost your immune system due to its high dose of vitamins and minerals.