25 Herbs and Spices That Promote Healing
By Mélanie Préfontaine-Darius – Communications
During the course of my 10-year journey to better health, I’ve come to realize that all the healing compounds we need to survive, and thrive are actually present in herbs and spices. We are so used to dealing with chronic health conditions in a pharmaceutical way that we’ve forgotten about anything else that could help. Before pharmaceuticals were patented, we had plants growing all over the planet that could help us with every ailment. We’ve simply forgotten about the healing power of these plants, their roots, leaves, flowers, stems and seeds. After researching herbs, essential oils and spices for a decade, I noticed that they all have powerful actions on the body and they have fewer side effects than medications.
Most people are used to salt and pepper, and that’s where it ends. Some of you are a little more adventuresome and use garlic, onion powder or a little cayenne. But again, that is where it ends. I used to be like that when I was a young girl. Today, my spice cabinet is like a natural pharmacy, I have dozens of spices and sprinkle them on everything I eat. There are hundreds of healing spices, and many taste so amazing you’ll wish you had discovered them years ago. It’s so easy, honestly, just sprinkle marjoram into millet, shave a little ginger into your morning cleanse, a dash of Ceylon cinnamon to your tea and over fruit, or sprinkle a touch of allspice into your salsa along with the cayenne. Use your spices as flavorings for meals. The idea is to integrate new and different spices for their healing benefits otherwise they just go stale in your cabinet. Experiment, its fun and you’ll get used to eating them more frequently and the side effect is health! The compounds in spices act upon the same metabolic and biochemical pathways that drugs do, but they do not cause the same problems as the drugs. Of the hundreds of herbs and spices available to us, I have covered 25 in the list below and include a chart at the end that matches herbs to common ailments.
This powerful antioxidant is loaded with 25 active phenols, ellagic acid, eugenol (just like in clove) and quercetin. These all quell oxidative damage (free radical damage) that contributes to cancer, heart disease, memory loss, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s etc. Ellagic acid in particular is metabolized in the human microbiome to “urolithin” which is being studied as an anti-cancer compound, especially for prostate cancer. Three different studies have all shown that allspice is capable of lowering blood pressure (in animals). The best part (if you’re a woman) is that allspice can help improve and relieve symptoms of menopause.
This spice has the flavor of licorice. The flavor of anise is due to the compound anethole, which is a strong inhibitor of the pain-causing cytokine called TNFα (tumor necrosis factor alpha). This means it has anti-inflammatory properties. In March 2015, Anethole was written up and published in scientific paper, Biotechnology Letters, because researchers are trying to encapsulate nano particles of it to use for breast cancer. Aniseed relaxes muscles in the respiratory tract and it is a strong anti-inflammatory. It is a good pick if you are told that you have asthma or other disorders of the respiratory tract. The best-known use for aniseed is for the digestive tract. This use is endorsed by the German Commission (equivalent to the United States Food & Drug Administration). Aniseed can be used if you have bad breath, constipation, indigestion, bloating, abdominal cramps, flatulence or colic.
If you love garlic and onion, this should be in your cabinet … but wrapped tightly because the aroma is strong and it will waft throughout your house for hours! The word “foetida” in Latin means “stinky”. It is among the most powerful immune boosters and it is great for memory. A study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias evaluated asafetida’s role in cognition, and found that memory retention and markers for amnesia were significantly improved in the treated animals compared to the placebo group. The scientists attribute asafoetida’s benefit to two of its primary constituents called ferulic acid and umbelliferone. Ferulic acid is well known to protect your retinas, especially diabetic retinopathy and other diseases of the retina. Asafoetida is awesome if you have the flu or if you are worried about getting it.
I eat this fresh and cut up on a salad, but you can certainly sprinkle it too. There are approximately 30 different varieties of basil and they all contain phytonutrients and antioxidants such as apigenin, eugenol and vicenin. Let’s look at apigenin in particular, because it is a strong antioxidant and can help with chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that basil has anti-stress compounds that help normalize high levels of cortisol and help lower blood sugar (which spikes when you come under stress). Basil also seems to reduce creatine kinase which is an enzyme generated during times of extreme stress, for example a heart attack. It can help with overworked adrenals which causes adrenal hypertrophy. This means dipping into pesto cuts down on stress!
5. Bay Leaf
You’ve likely added this to your soups for the taste. When it heats up, the bay leaf releases all its goodies – all the volatile oils! You would never guess that these little dried leaves could infuse so much health into your body. Where to begin! Bay leaf is fantastic for people with Type 2 diabetes. Research on humans showed that after one month, the bay leaf group saw a 26% reduction in blood sugar! They also showed approximately 35 to 40% reductions in LDL cholesterol and a jump in the good HDL particles by about 25%! The bioactive compounds in bay leaves improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake while reducing inflammation and oxidation (rusting in your cells and damage to your DNA). This is another infection fighter! Research shows it can kill the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS virus; this is a contagious lung infection.
6. Black Cumin
Black cumin is not the same as plain cumin, these are two different spices that look different and taste different. You can include black cumin spice in your diet (which I suggest) or look for supplements of
Nigella sativa. It is helpful at normalizing cholesterol ratios. Because it is a powerful antioxidant, it can quiet down symptoms of asthma and chronic allergies. Two studies have suggested black cumin slows the progression of MS (multiple sclerosis). There are countless articles in peer reviewed journals regarding black cumin’s ability to fight migraines, allergies, hepatitis C, parasites, MS, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and many different kinds of cancer. Studies have shown it can even cause cancer cell death when used for pancreatic tumor cells.
7. Black Pepper
Next to salt, black pepper is the most common spice. There was a time when only the wealthy could afford black pepper. It stimulates taste buds as well as the production of pancreatic enzymes. In animal studies, one compound in pepper called “piperine” was able to reduce cancer-causing enzymes specifically in lung cancer and colon cancer too! This research was published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Researchers in the United States found that adding black pepper to a culture of colon cancer cells slowed growth. You’ll commonly see piperine in curcumin dietary supplements and the reason it’s there is to drive the curcumin into your cells since curcumin is not normally absorbed well on its own. Finally, if you have rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune disorder affecting the joints, cartilage and surrounding bone of the affected joint, piperine is known to reduce inflammatory compounds which cause flares.
8. Caraway Seed
This spice contains carvone, a natural intestinal antispasmodic and candida fighter. It is great after dinner, and possibly better than antacids. The bacteria responsible for most cases of food poisoning is E. coli and it hangs out in chicken, something most people eat a lot of. If you get contaminated chicken, just remember that carvone can slow the growth of Escherichia coli or “E. coli” and thus, reduce misery associated with food poisoning. Caraway may help with an upset stomach, much like fennel seed. Aside from using the spice, you can make your own tea.
It’s found in chai, this spice is excellent for relaxing the airways and healing your breathe, and can help with asthma. German research found that supplements which contain one of cardamom’s active ingredients “cineole” could help asthmatics after just two months of use. The participants were able to reduce their need for steroids by about 36% compared to only 7% of the non-treated group. This research was published in Respiratory Medicine. If you’re prone to sinusitis, perhaps you should have chai tea? I’m only half kidding, remember chai contains cardamom. More specifically, supplements of cineole (two 100mg capsules) were given to study participants three times daily. After just 4 days, symptoms were greatly relieved; there were fewer headaches, less sinus pain and pressure and reduced nasal secretions in those who took the cineole supplements.
10. Celery Seed
This is gout medicine! Celery seeds have a strong flavor, use them sparingly. They are the tiniest spice in the entire world and 750,000 seeds are needed to make a pound. Animal studies suggest this spice may lower blood pressure and cholesterol. When taken as a dietary supplement it acts as a diuretic so people often use it for hypertension instead of prescribed diuretics. There are hundreds of active ingredients in celery seed, the most notable being apigenin an antioxidant and strong anti-inflammatory. They are powerful anti-inflammatories and could help with rheumatoid arthritis, bronchitis, osteoarthritis and anything ending in “itis.” They work by squashing both COX1 and COX2 enzymes. COX-2 inhibition is what describes the pharmacological effect of many common and widely recognized medications such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and celecoxib (Celebrex).
11. Ceylon Cinnamon
Best known for balancing blood sugar, cinnamon is also helpful for other complications, for example hypertension, and cholesterol management. In a recent study, 109 people with Type 2 diabetes were evaluated and those people who received cinnamon showed a slight reduction in hemoglobin A1C. In a smaller study, people with Type 2 diabetes who took 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon daily showed a reduction in fasting blood sugar by about 29%.
12. Fennel Seed
Fennel is a licorice tasting vegetable. The volatile oil called anethole is the same compound that gives anise its licorice flavor. Fennel is probably the best spice I can think of for abdominal cramps. It is used for babies with colic and a study showed significantly less crying in babies who were given fennel. Women with menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea can benefit, also. A study published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that fennel worked as well as ibuprofen in relieving menstrual pain. Another study of 110 teenagers proved the same thing, actually better because the fennel supplement slightly outperformed the ibuprofen. There are fewer risks with fennel than an NSAID [Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug] drug like ibuprofen. A Moroccan study found that fennel could lower blood pressure, the systolic number which is the top number in your reading.
Don’t worry about your breath! Garlic is best known for reducing blood pressure and protecting your heart. It’s a natural blood thinner and works similar to aspirin but without the gastrointestinal side effects. Garlic can help normalize cholesterol ratios. Garlic can give you more flexible arteries which is excellent. The lining of the artery –the endothelium– generates nitric oxide which relaxes your blood vessels and widens them. Researchers found that after 2 weeks of taking a garlic supplement, the participants experienced endothelium dilation by 44%. The interesting thing is that these men were taking a statin and aspirin already. There are over 600 scientific studies demonstrating its ability to prevent and treat cancer. Research from China found that giving garlic supplements over a period of five years reduced the rate of stomach cancer by 47%. Women who ate the most garlic were 38% less likely to develop endometrial cancer. Garlics cancer fighting compounds prevent cancer from damaging our DNA, clean up free radicals that damage our cells and boost activity of enzymes that kill cancer cells. As for coughs and colds, garlic (and onions) are well known to provide immune-boosting benefits. One clove of garlic a day should be enough to get some healing benefits.
This spice is known to help with nausea, motion sickness and morning sickness. It contains many compounds including gingerols, which are strong antioxidant compounds. They also have strong antiviral and antibacterial effects. Researchers know that ginger limits the release of vasopressin which diminishes nausea related to motion. We all have a certain speed at which we digest our food and move it through the gut, it’s referred to as gastric emptying time. Some experts recommend ginger for people with heartburn because it can cut gastric emptying time in half according to some research in the European Journal of Gastroenterological Hepatology. Ginger also happens to maintain electrical activity in your stomach (termed tachygastria) during periods of motion sickness, otherwise the activity would be chaotic. Most people don’t realize that our stomachs have electrical activity. Ginger is a very strong anti-inflammatory and can help with joint pain, so you might consider this instead of ibuprofen. For a gentle effect, you can use fresh ginger and turn it into a tea. You can sprinkle dried ginger powder on your food or you can grate the real stuff.
15. Lemon Grass
This spice is found commonly in curry and Thai foods which I love! Lemongrass comes from a grass native to Southeast Asia and it’s recommended for those who have nervous anxiety, tension, stress or insomnia. It is very calming. You can cook with it or take it in supplemental form. It can help with cholesterol too, even tough to tame cholesterol that doesn’t respond to medications. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin studied lemongrass in 22 people and after three months, more than a third enjoyed big drops in their cholesterol, about 35 to 40 mg/dL. Lemongrass can be used as a tea, to help with fungal infections such as Candida albicans, or thrush in the mouth. While it’s too early to tell if lemongrass can help with epilepsy, an animal model suggests that it could reduce the frequency of episodes. People often confuse lemongrass with citronella, but citronella oil is derived from an inedible form of lemongrass, they are not the same.
This spice contains powerful compounds like ursolic acid, carvacrol and thymol which is very high on the ORAC scale and stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (cinnamon and cloves are also high on the ORAC scale). This is a method of measuring antioxidant power of different foods. Marjoram is able to trigger the release of pepsin, a protein-digesting enzyme found in gastric juice. Pepsin helps metabolize proteins such as those found in meat, eggs, seeds, or dairy products. Marjoram increases pepsin production by 30%. Marjoram is a natural, mild blood thinner so it could reduce platelet aggregation similar to aspirin. Researchers in Iran found that it reduced clumping of blood components that cause dangerous clots by 40% which makes it a powerful player in those with cardiovascular disease. If you are worried about a stroke or heart attack, marjoram should be sprinkled on your food. Finally, it could slow Alzheimer’s disease by boosting levels of your memory molecule acetylcholine.
This spice is something I sprinkle on top of my chia bowl and coffee, and use in cookies and banana bread. It contains an intense, sort of sweet flavor which comes from myristicin, a volatile oil found in other spices including celery and parsley. Myristicin has been studied quite a bit but in a way you may not have thought of. It fights worms and is called an anthelmintic. A study published in 2015 found that myristicin has activity against “Anisakis simplex,” a foodborne pathogen common to raw fish and sushi. Furthermore, Myristicin can protect your skin from the damage of UVB rays. It might even help prevent the break down of elastin, the protein fibers that keep your skin tight. It’s a strong anti-viral and was shown to kill 90% of rotaviruses, the most common cause of diarrhea. Nutmeg was studied as an aphrodisiac in animals and increased libido and sexual desire. It also can boost mood, this was shown in a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. Macelignan, another compound derived from nutmeg can help with tremors and maybe even Parkinson’s disease. It has an effect on inflammation and also protects the degeneration of cells that make dopamine. This compound has neuroprotective effects on your brain, specifically the cells that produce dopamine (termed “dopaminergic neurons”) and it might enhance the effect of medications too, rather than interfere.
I use raw organic onions, and dried onion powder on almost everything! White, yellow, red onions, shallots, leeks, any kind of onion, or spice derived from them is good for you. Cutting into fresh onions may make you cry, but they can make you well if you eat them! The chemical power in onions is due to the sulfur, which is also what gives them that familiar pungent aroma. Onions are rich in quercetin which is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-cancer activity. Quercetin is getting a good reputation as an excellent tool for cardiovascular disease. Several research papers have identified strong benefits and pharmacological applications for atherosclerosis, ischemic damage (angina), heart attack or cardiotoxicity by toxins or heart-damaging drugs. Just like garlic, onions contain allicin, which is an organic sulfur compound, not to be confused with “sulfa” which is a compound found in prescription drugs that people are sometimes allergic to. Allicin keeps pests at bay, it’s kind of like a natural plant pesticide. Few spices come close to the anti-cancer power of onions. Data from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was analyzed from thousands of people. Global studies have correlated a lower risk of endometrial, pancreatic and stomach cancer.
THE MORE ONIONS YOU EAT, THE BETTER!
BREAST CANCER- 25% REDUCED RISK
COLON CANCER- 56% REDUCED RISK
ESOPHAGEAL CANCER- 82% REDUCED RISK
KIDNEY CANCER- 38% REDUCED RISK
ORAL CANCER- 84% REDUCED RISK
OVARIAN CANCER- 73% REDUCED RISK
PROSTATE CANCER- 71% REDUCED RISK
This spice is really gifted in that it helps you from head to toe. There are hundreds of compounds in rosemary which help relieve anxiety, reduce risk of cancer, improve memory, and protect from arthritic pain. Dozens of studies prove how potent carsanol and carnosic acid are in suppressing cancer cells or causing apoptosis (programmed cell death). It may have benefits for people with breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia among others. As for joint pain, it could help with osteoarthritis (wear and tear) and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies in Mexico found that adding rosemary to an animal’s diet alleviates pain and inflammation. Other research suggests rosemary could help you restore normal joint health. As for memory, you will need the essential oil of rosemary (as opposed to the fresh herb), and taking a whiff of it will not only reduce anxiety, but it will also improve cognition and total recall.
This is an antidepressant spice that helps with anxiety and insomnia. It contains many biologically active compounds including crocin and safranal which protect levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, just like the prescription antidepressants. Saffron boosts mood and lifts a tired and worn spirit. In a human study of 40 participants with mild to moderate depression, saffron alleviated depression in 25% of the participants and worked as well as fluoxetine (Prozac). Another study published in Phyotmedicine found that six weeks of treatment with 30mg of saffron helped boost mood. Many people with depression suffer with erectile dysfunction (ED) and poor libido. Researchers gave 20 men with ED 200mg of saffron per day and after just 10 days their scores improved by 44%. Finally, crocetin is helpful at combating Parkinson’s disease at least according to an animal experiment where the researchers found that saffron could protect the dopamine-generating brain cells and stabilize dopamine levels naturally. Choose high quality saffron, don’t buy the cheap stuff that is cut with turmeric, you want 100% pure saffron or high-quality supplements.
Sage is good for your mind, it can protect your memory and improve your mood. Iranian research on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease proved sage “produced a significantly better outcome on cognitive functions.” Interestingly, sage was shown in lab studies to help reduce flare-ups of herpes-related viruses such as cold sores and genital herpes.
22. Sesame Seed
These little seeds can stabilize and improve blood pressure! You can get better effects from raw unrefined sesame oil rather than eating the seeds themselves. Consuming tahini (sesame seed butter) is also a great! Researchers tracked 398 patients with hypertension, all of whom were taking nifedipine (Procardia), a calcium channel blocker used commonly for hypertension. Over the course of two months, they were told to use sesame oil as their only dietary oil. Remarkably, the participants enjoyed a tremendous drop in both their systolic and diastolic pressure. For example, the upper reading (systolic) went from 166 to 134 while the lower reading fell from 101 to 85. Furthermore, the balance between sodium and potassium normalized proving better control of electrolytes needed to balance blood pressure naturally.
There are many varieties of thyme, and they all contain thymol, a volatile oil that is one of the most powerful antiseptics known to man! It is a natural cough suppressant and a strong antimicrobial. Thymol is found in many dental products too, and it can help prevent cavities according to a study in the Journal of Dentistry and another one conducted on children published in Caries Research. This herb also has anti-viral effects and may help reduce outbreaks of cold sores. A study published in 2015, in the Journal of Immunotoxicology found that thymol and carvacrol, the two major constituents of thyme could reduce TNFα and Interleukin 1B (IL-1B) as well as other pain-causing compounds. Reducing inflammation is key to controlling many dangerous diseases, especially the chronic ones that cause pain all over the body. We all know how much damage alcohol does to our brain and liver… thyme may protect the body from these damaging effects. Thyme is a strong antibacterial agent and can fight one of the most deadly organisms called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
This spice is native to India and it is a strong anti-inflammatory. It contains compounds that prevent our cells from oxidizing or rusting as I prefer to think of it. If I have an ache, I prepare a vegetable juice with fresh turmeric root. I do this in lieu of ibuprofen whenever I need a pain killer. It is often used to reduce aches and pain all over the body. It can be applied topically if you make a paste with it to help clear skin problems and speed wound healing. It has been dubbed the anti-cancer spice because of its ability to control the growth of cancer cells. Not only does it block the activation of genes that trigger cancer, it also slows the spread of tumor cells, kills cells that mutate into cancer, and shrinks some tumor cells. It can slow down angiogenesis. It has been studied for its anti-cancer effects on almost three dozen cancers including pancreatic, liver, esophageal, blood, bone, brain, breast, colon, prostate and skin cancer. Some of the most remarkable effects are on breast cancer, and not just treatment of it, but also making chemotherapy easier on the body. Turmeric has shown benefits for people with scleroderma, psoriasis, chronic pain, age-related macular degeneration, asthma, gout, and chronic allergies. It dampens many inflammatory chemicals so if you have a disease that ends in “itis” you can try turmeric or specialized supplements which have extracted one of its healing compounds called curcumin.
There are at least 200 phytonutrients in vanilla including vanillin. There was a Malaysian study which found that vanillin could kill human cancer cells. In Thailand, a study found that vanillin could slow
down metastasis, which is the term used for spreading of cancer cells. It turns off cancer-promoting enzymes and slows down angiogenesis, which is the formation of blood vessels which support cancer growth. Research conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia tested a vanillin-derived drug on mice and it showed that it could help with sickle cell anemia. That is the inherited disorder caused by a mutation in a gene. In sickle cell anemia, abnormal hemoglobin (iron-rich protein that colors your blood red) causes your red blood cells to become rigid or sticky and simply put, it chokes off the proper flow of blood and oxygen to your organs.
If you want to reclaim your health, consider Mother Nature’s spice cabinet!
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Disclaimer: This list is not to be taken as medical instruction nor advice. Always consult your doctor before beginning any treatment, including with herbs and spices
About the Author
I no longer have an autoimmune disease and have been cancer free for more than ten years. I attribute much of this restorative success to the body's ability to self-regulate, my positive attitude and commitment to making specific lifestyle changes, being disciplined in the process and continuously learning/studying. I respect and understand that a one size fits all approach to health or medicine is the wrong approach and can leave many harmed. I am currently a student enrolled in a holistic nutrition program and anticipate successfully completing the program and becoming a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant (C.H.N.C) in Alberta, soon. In good health, Mélanie.
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