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Health benefits of herbs and spices

28 June 2017

By Jo Campos

In the past issues, I focused on the use of herbs and spices, from growing your own little herb garden to sharing recipes using different herbs and spices. For this issue, let me share some useful tips on the health benefits of herbs and spices and how to maximize their potency on our everyday cooking.

Herbs and spices have been in use throughout history because of their medicinal benefits, apart from their culinary use. Modern science shows many of them indeed carry remarkable health benefits.

Here are some healthy home remedies and medicinal properties of herbs and spices:

* Cinnamon lowers blood sugar, making it a very powerful antidote to diabetes. A popular spice, it is found in all sorts of food, especially baked goods. Its potent antioxidant property helps fight inflammation and has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. It contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which is responsible for cinnamon’s medicinal properties. Most importantly, cinnamon can lower blood sugar by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract and improving insulin sensitivity. Studies have shown that cinnamon can lower fasting blood sugars by 10-29% in diabetic patients, which is a significant amount. The effective dose is typically 1-6 grams of cinnamon per day.

* Sage improves brain function and memory. It was generally regarded as having healing properties during the middle ages, and was even used to help fight off the plague. Sage got its name from the Latin word salvere which means “to save”. Current research indicates that sage may help improve brain function and memory, especially in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies have also shown that sage can improve memory function in healthy people, both young and old.

* Peppermint relieves irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, and could also reduce nausea. Peppermint has a long history of use in folk medicine and aromatherapy. Many studies have shown that peppermint can improve pain management in IBS. It appears to work by relaxing the colon, which relieves the pain experienced during bowel movements. It also helps to reduce abdominal bloating, which is a common digestive symptom. There are also some studies showing that peppermint in aromatherapy can help relieve nausea.

* Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It contains curcumin,  a remarkably powerful antioxidant, helping to fight oxidative damage and boosting the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Curcumin contains several compounds with medicinal properties. This active ingredient in turmeric has major health benefits, including the prevention and cure of arthritis and reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, among others. Turmeric is also effective in relieving seasonal allergies. A natural antihistamine, turmeric could prevent the body from releasing symptom-triggering histamines with this spice-infused beverage: stir one teaspoon of ground turmeric into an eight ounce glass of water and drink. Certain oxidants in turmeric help suppress histamine production.

* Rosemary helps fight dandruff flakes. Rosemary rinse will help prevent your scalp from producing too much sebum, an oil that contributes to dandruff. Make tea by adding rosemary leaves to one cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 20 minutes, then strain and cool to room temperature. After you shampoo and condition, apply the tea as a final rinse. Massage into your scalp and don’t rinse out.

* Black pepper can quell coughing. Give your throat a break with this peppery recipe: place one teaspoon of black pepper in a teacup, fill with boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Add two tablespoons of honey and drink. The pepper acts as a decongestant and the honey’s antibiotic qualities soothe the throat.

* Thyme leaves help clear up athlete’s foot. Add two tablespoons of thyme leaves to one cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and let the liquid cool, then soak a cotton ball into the thyme tea and dab on your feet and between the toes. Let them air dry. Antifungal compounds in thymol kill the fungus causing your stinky feet.

* Ground nutmeg consists of compounds containing strong antibacterial properties. To cure acne, mix equal parts of ground nutmeg and honey and dab on your pimple. Let it sit for 20 minutes, then wash off. Honey contains antimicrobials that help fight the infection and reduce inflammation.

* Oregano leaves reduce and soothe pain. Place a heaping tablespoon of oregano leaves in one cup of boiling water, then steep for 10 minutes. Scoop out the leaves and place them in the foot of a clean, used pair of panty hose. Tie a knot in the open end. Press against the bruised area for 15 minutes, occasionally rewetting with the tea. The oregano oil helps heal the bruise.

 * Sesame seeds can help kick constipation as it contains oil that lubricates the intestines and helps dry stool move through more easily. To rev your digestive tract and prevent constipation, put a tablespoon of sesame seeds in a coffee grinder, then sprinkle the powder on other foods like cereal, salads and yoghurt.

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