Spices That Heal

It is becoming more mainstream knowledge that garlic has antiviral and antifungal properties and that ginger can soothe digestion and nausea.  People are taking their health into their own hands using foods that are commonly found in their kitchens and getting great results.  Many of our culinary spices have medicinal properties that were promoted for use in cooking by healers of long ago.  Below is discussion of a handful of herbs that can be used to create delicious foods and have extra health benefits.  The BBC website has an eclectic mix of recipes that are worth checking out.  Follow the links at the end of each herb discussion, please send us an email or write a comment if you have feedback on any of these delicious looking recipes!

Fenugreek Trigonella foenumgraecum.  An herb commonly found in Indian, Persian and Ethiopian dishes as a spice (the seed), vegetable and flavouring (dried or fresh leaves). In medicinal circles, fenugreek is used for gastrointestinal inflammation to soothe and reduce gastric upset.  It also lowers blood sugar and blood levels of cholesterol making fenugreek an excellent diabetic herb.  Nursing mothers rely on fenugreek to increase and promote breastmilk production and an Australian study completed in 2011 showed that men who took fenugreek extract for 6 weeks had an increased libido by 25%.  The following link has more information and recipes on using fenugreek in cooking. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/fenugreek

Cinnamon Cinnamomum species.  A tasty addition to your morning bowl of steel cut oats and baked goods, this herb has many properties of healing including lowering insulin resistance in diabetes and blood sugar regulation.  It can be used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent and provides pain relief and decrease of excessive menstrual flow or other bleeding irregularities.  Small amounts can be used to soothe digestive irritation and correct nausea and vomiting.  Try adding a pinch of cinnamon to your daily routine. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/cinnamon

CayeneneCapsicum frutescens.  This spicy culinary herb does more than just set your mouth on fire.  In small doses cayenne can stimulate appetite and be used as a gargle for sore throats due to its antiseptic nature.  Topically in an ointment of cayenne extract called capsaicin, it can be used as a vasodilator to promote blood flow to an injured area and reduce pain by depleting substance P (a communicator of pain to our pain receptors). If ingested it can stimulate circulation while lowering blood pressure and helping to break down clots. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/cayenne_pepper

Tumeric Curcuma longa.  This root is in the same family as ginger has too many medicinal properties to properly address.  Commonly used in curry dishes, the active medicinal ingredient is called curcumin and can be used for a wide variety of health concerns ranging from gallstones to cancer to cardiovascular disease, arthritis and gastric ulcers.  Curcumin is known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties for use in auto-immune diseases, inflamed joints, digestive disorders, atherosclerosis and cancer.  It protects the liver and can be used in cases of liver disease such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.  Curcumin must be extracted properly and placed into supplements in forms that are absorbable so it is not recommended that generic brands of curcumin be used for medicinal purposes. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/turmeric

There are many more culinary herbs that are commonly used in naturopathic medicine such as alfalfa, anise, caraway, cardamom, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon balm, licorice, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage and thyme.  Watch for Part 2 of Spices that Heal coming soon!

- Dr. Jennifer Luis ND

Dr. Luis is a Naturopathic Physician practicing at Downtown Wellness Centre in Vancouver. Educating her patients on nutrition and lifestyle is part of every treatment plan and is combined with supplementation, acupuncture, IV therapy and/or homeopathy to help achieve optimum health.

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