Yes, the herbs and spices in your cupboard have health benefits. Herbs and spices have been used throughout human history, often used as a commodity of distinction or value since ancient times, often only available to the wealthy, and often costing more than livestock, and were even used to pay the rent.
Herbs and spices have been used medicinally, as coloring agents, flavoring agents and preservatives from the hunter gathers, the ancient Egyptians, and throughout the Mediterranean, Chinese, Arab and Indian Cultures.
Herbs and spices either come from the leaf, root, bark, berry, bud, seed and stigma of a plant or flower and are used in cooking. Not only do they enhance flavor, aroma and color of food and drink, they also protect against the development of acute and chronic disease and help maintain health. They are your very common kitchen herbs and spices and are found in most people’s homes.
There has been an increased interest in their medicinal properties, because of 1. A belief that they lack adverse side effects 2. greater availability to use and 3. Knowing the benefits.
The medicinal benefits are fully acknowledged and there is a growing amount of literature discussing the benefits of these foods from a health perspective.
Culinary herbs and spices are rich in bioactive molecules like sulfur-containing compounds, tannins, alkaloids, and polyphenol groups, these have a diverse range of benefits to health as antioxidants, anti inflammatories , anti carcinogenic, glucose and cholesterol lowering activities as well as properties that support healthy cognition and mood, because of these amazing effects many companies are producing them in supplemental forms.
Although the daily intake of herbs and spices is low compared to most other foods these seasoning agents should not be underestimated. The powerful bioactive compounds have the potential to benefit human health at small doses and are still very much available to the body when used daily in the diet.
Most studies show that the cooking of herbs and spices do have strong antioxidant capacity though it is not always consistent, this may be due to the matrix of the food and the type of cooking method used.
The bioaccessibility of a compound in a food item is defined as the fraction that is released from the matrix of the food in the gastrointestinal tract to become available for absorption. The habitual use of herbs and spice either cooked, uncooked or in drinks do provide bioactive antioxidants beneficial to health at levels consumed in the daily diet, but their bioavailability are impacted by the digestion and the food matrix in which they are ingested this can either create a synergistic effect , an additive or an antagonistic effect depending upon the herbs and spices used and the food choice.
Chili peppers are hot, the parts used are the fruits, the bioactive compounds of red pepper include capsaicinoids, capsaicin and capsinoids. These compounds benefit cardiovascular health, blood glucose regulation, thermogenesis and gut health.
The regular consumption of chillies is related to a reduced risk of mortality as a result of cancer, ischemic heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease. The health benefits of chillies are truly amazing.
With daily consumption, especially fresh, chillies reduce oxidative stress in organ systems and tissue, reduce vascular permeability and proinflammatory cytokines. Effects that contribute to aging and chronic disease.
Capsaicin the active compound may even suppress obesity induced inflammation by modulating the message molecules released by fat cells.
Chili peppers have thermogenic properties and could be used for weight management. Chllies may help reduce energy and fat intake, increase body heat production, prevent fat cells from growing into mature cells and increase the rate of fat burn off.
Chili peppers are gastroprotective, antimicrobial and enhance healthy gut flora. Add Chillies to any foods, wonderful in curry, bean and meat dishes, pasta and rice
Cinnamon is sweet and warm, the part used is the bark, its key bioactive compounds are broad ranging from essential oils, cinnamaldehyde, water soluble polyphenols and flavonoids, most research is centered on mega doses through supplementation, but I still recommend the use of this sweet tasting herb as a food in the daily diet. Cinnamon is shown to have antibacterial and antifungal effects that especially target infections of the respiratory and gastrointestinal system, it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which benefit a healthy heart and circulation and blood sugar balance and its compounds may also protect the liver. Add cinnamon to your sweet foods, breakfast cereals, smoothies , fruit bowls, cocoa drinks
Ginger has an instant warming effect on the body, its part used are the root, with its many bioactive compounds including gingerols, shogaols, paradols and zingerone, ginger is a famous remedy for treating nausea and vomiting, but not only does ginger help digestive problems, it may benefit metabolism, joint and muscle health and cardiovascular health
Ginger has calming and antispasmodic effects on digestion and can be used for flatulence, bloating, and cramping. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions benefit the heart and circulatory system as well as having anti-glycemic effects for healthy blood glucose. Ginger seems to benefit thermoregulation and fat oxidation, when used twice daily dried ginger root showed enhanced thermogenesis and reduced feelings of hunger.
The benefits to joint and muscle health indicate it may reduce joint swelling, cartilage destruction, and reduce the levels of inflammatory cytokines, it may also accelerate muscle strength following intense exercise. Ginger also has powerful antiviral activities and may be useful as an adjunct in respiratory infections. Ginger is versatile and easy to use in the kitchen, used as a herb tea, cocoa and turmeric drinks, added to savory or sweet dishes like porriage, smoothies / bowels, meat and vegetable dishes
Turmeric is such a famous spice, it is a super star in herbal medicine, the parts used are the roots its bioactive compounds are complex these include curcuminoids, demethoxycucumin, bisdmethoxycurcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin. It is an anti inflammatory, it inhibits lipid peroxidation, LDL peroxidation and prevents deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) oxidative damage, its powerful antiinflammatory activity has a protective effect on heart function, circulatory health, and lipid profile.
When regularly used, it benefits digestion and liver function, and may help functional bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease. The benefits to brain health are widely known, supporting cognitive function and improving memory. It may have antidepressant activity through its role as an anti-inflammatory with continuous use and in supplementation form. It may benefit non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.Its other benefits include, maintaining healthy joints, blood sugar regulation, weight management and chemoprevention.
Turmerics active compounds are poorly absorbed by the gut although some research shows the benefits of turmeric maybe due to its interaction with the gut microbiome, supplementation may be recommended in specific conditions but I still recommend daily use in food especially combined with good fat (olive oil) and black pepper, Turmeric is fat soluble and by doing this you enhance the bioavailability of turmeric compounds, works well in meat dishes, use with vegetables, beans, in salad dressings, homemade pestos, bean paste, homemade fermented vegetables, curries and stews.
Black pepper’s antioxidant capacities are in the seeds, the seeds contain an active compound called piperine which is shown to protect against oxidative damage by inhibiting or quenching free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Black peppers actions may help reduce joint pain, support digestion and reduce allergy symptoms.
Black pepper has remarkable anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities, when combined with turmeric black pepper has synergist benefits in relieving arthritic pain as it reduces the proinflammatory cytokines.
Shown in animal models black pepper has anti allergic properties, it was found to both inhibit histamine release and eosinophil infiltration as well as reduce allergic airway inflammation. And the benefits on digestion are because black pepper has actions on the digestive enzymes and bowel transit time when consumed in the diet. Black pepper has the ability to enhance the bioavailability of other herbs and spices, it’s a spice that can go in most food and it is a regular in the daily diet. Historically peppercorns had a monetary value back in the day you could use them to pay the rent, a spice once considered valuable.
Saffron red gold is a high valued spice considered the most expensive in the world. The parts used are the stigma, this is very labor intensive it takes time to collect these tiny parts. Normally used in small quantities as seasoning in order to give color, flavor and aroma to food, this beautiful red spice contains high concentrations of bioactive compounds that have many health benefits, Saffrons bioactive compounds includes crocin, crotein, picocrocin and safrranal, also includes anthocyanine, carotene and lycopene. The knowledge of its bioavailability through food is still limited, but the use of saffron supplements for depression is becoming popular with its proven effectiveness in recent studies and the cultures that have used saffron regularly for hundreds of years have much lower incidence of neurodegenerative disease as opposed to the western world . It is a traditional herb used in Chinese, Ayurvedic, Persian and Unani medicines. Saffron is an expensive herb, I have started adding some to my herbal teas, the water goes bright yellow, with water extraction such as infusions you still get the crocin and crotein. I will then combine with another herb like tulsi. It is often added to rice and bean dishes.
Rosemary the herb of remembrance. The parts used are the leaf, this herb has been cherished for centuries, a native herb to the mediterranean but now cultivated around the world. Rosemary’s main action is as an anti- spasmodic, analgesic, anti inflammatory, anti anxiety and memory boost. It is attracting much research because of its ability to elevated conditions of the nervous system such as anxiety, depression and withdrawal syndrome. It is commonly used as a herb in cooking and in the food industry as a natural preservative due its rich antioxidant activities.
The bioactive compounds found in a hot water infusion (herb tea) are rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid which have been shown to elevate anxiety and depression in mouse studies.
The dried or fresh leaves can be added to salads, meat dishes and pesto. I drink it to support memory, liver health, and its rich antioxidant activities and I also love to make skin care products with it.
There are so many herbs and spices that you can use in your daily cooking that enhance your health, support your mood, immunity, gut microbiome, and reduce inflammation. Start adding them to your meals or drink them as a herbal infusion, they have powerful compounds that your body needs and will love you for.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17022438/ Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-90453-7 A single serving of mixed spices alters gut microflora composition: a dose–response randomised trial
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30651162/#:~:text=Spices%20and%20herbs%20such%20as,heart%20and%20respiratory%20system%20diseases.Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666667721001562 Association of pepper intake with all-cause and specific cause mortality – A systematic review and meta-analysis
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5222470/ The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095754821000661 Therapeutic potential of ginger against covid – 19: is there enough evidence
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33327732/ Nutritional and health beneficial properties of saffron (Crocus sativus L): a comprehensive review
https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/a-0660-9565 The Efficacy of Saffron in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Depression: A Meta-analysis
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567082/ Saffron: The Golden Spice with Therapeutic Properties on Digestive Disease
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5943931/ Saffron: An Old Medicinal Plant and a Potential Novel Functional Food
Spices and herbs: Potential antiviral preventives and immunity boosters during COVID‐19
Therapeutic effects of rosemary ( Rosmarinus officinalis L.) and its active constituents on nervous system disorders