Herbs and Spices: Key to Flavor and Optimum Health


Dr. Jim Duke is one of the world’s foremost authorities on herbs and the best-selling author of The Green Pharmacy and numerous other titles about the health-giving properties of herbs and spices. I was fortunate to have the honor of working and studying with “Dr. Jim” when we taped a one-hour special titled “Spoonful of Ginger” for National Public Television that won a James beard award. As the leading medical botanist for the USDA he compiled the herbal data base. He also recommends stocking your pantry with the following culinary herbs for their health-giving and healing properties:

Basil is a member of the mint family and native to tropical Asia, where it has been cultivated for over 3,000 years, both for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Key Benefits:

  • Rich in anti-viral compounds
  • Natural insect repellent
  • Eases gas
  • Helps fight plaque formation on teeth

Cardamom, one of the oldest spices in the world, can be dated back to 4th century Greece where it was highly valued for its flavor and medicinal properties. In India, it has been used as a digestive remedy for hundreds of years. To make cardamom tea, lightly smash 1 ½ tablespoons cardamom pods. Put in a teapot, add 3 cups boiling water, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

Key Benefits:

  •  Soothes indigestion and relieves gas
  •  Kills bad breath
  • Eases congestion

Herbs and Spices: Key to Flavor and Optimum Health
Cayenne or chili peppers can be traced back thousands of years to equatorial America, but they are now grown in tropical climates throughout the world. They are the best source of capsaicin, the substance that provides peppers with varying degrees of heat- the more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper. According to Dr. Jim Duke, cayenne and all hot peppers are “therapeutic wonders” and capsaicin ointments alleviate pain for rheumatoid arthritis,  psoriasis and shingles.
*Stimulates circulation

Key Benefits:

  • Prevents respiratory tract infections
  • Eases constipation
  • Alleviates rheumatoid and osteoarthritis pain

Cinnamon is one of the world’s most important spices and is the bark of an evergreen green related to the laurel family. It is a close cousin to cassia bark, which is used in Asia. Pungent and warming, cinnamon has been used in the kitchen and medicinally throughout Asia and the Middle East since ancient times.

Key Benefits:

  • Fights colds, coughs and fevers
  • Relieves gas and indigestion
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Eases allergies

Cloves are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tree. They were used in China as early as 266 B.C and have been used in India since ancient times. The spice is usually present in Chinese five-spice powder and garam masala, an Indian spice seasoning similar to curry powder. Oil of cloves is strongly antiseptic due to the presence of eugenol, which relieves pain, kills bacteria, and thins blood.

Key Benefits:

  • Antiseptic
  • Antispasmodic
  • Fights infection
  • Relieves toothaches

Recognized as one of the kings of Indian spices, cumin is used in the regional cooking and medicine in every part of India. It also appears in Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. Cumin is hot in nature and is believed to purify blood, stimulate digestive juices, and reduce nausea, particularly in pregnant women.

Key Benefits:

  • Excellent for colds and fevers when infused in water.
  • Easily digested and effective in relieving indigestion, gas, flatulence.
  • Believed to purify the blood, and protect against stomach infections.

Originally from central Asia, garlic is now grown all over the world and has been revered for over 5,000 years for its medicinal properties. Garlic bulbs contain allicin and other volatile oils which are highly antibacterial and antibiotic. According to Dr. Duke, garlic is most beneficial for heart and circulatory conditions.

Key Benefits:

  • Antibiotic against infections
  • Improves overall cardiovascular health
  • Strengthens body’s immune system
  • Lowers incidence of cancer in the gastrointestinal system
  • Prevents colds and the flu

Fresh ginger is a knotty, aromatic rhizome traditionally cultivated in China and India, but now grown in many tropical countries throughout the world. It has been used for medicinal purposes as well as flavor for thousands of years. It is excellent for settling an upset stomach while aiding the digestive process.

Key Benefits:

  • Soothes nausea, motion and morning sickness
  • Aids circulation
  • Antibacterial so prevents colds and the flu
  •  Lowers cholesterol levels.

Mace and Nutmeg
Nutmeg has been used in India and as a spice as early as 700 B.C. Mace and nutmeg are two different species of the same fruit. Nutmeg is the dried seed and mace is the dried “ariel” or cage around it. Nutmeg is more aromatic, sweeter, and more delicate than mace, and it is believed to impart strength and enhance sexual prowess.

Key Benefits:

  • Nutmeg relieves diarrhoea and colic
  • Ground mace has been used as a remedy against rheumatism.

Onion, like garlic, is a member of the allium genus family. They both contain the phytochemical, allicin. However, onions are gentler on the stomach and more effective in combating diabetes and allergies than garlic. Another component,quercetin, which is found in the onion skin, fights allergies and tames high blood sugar levels. Add onions to flavorings to make chicken broth and other soups. Skim away and discard before serving.

Key Benefits:

  • Fights allergies
  • Protects capillaries
  • Diuretic
  • Protects against angina
  • Combats diabetes

Peppermint is a member of the extensive mint family and contains menthol. Both menthol and peppermint oil are used to flavor all types of pharmaceutical products, including laxatives, antacids, toothpastes, breath fresheners, and mouthwash. The herb is used to season numerous dishes from soups to desserts and praised for its innumerable medicinal properties. To make fresh peppermint tea, put 5 tablespoons fresh peppermint or 3-4 tablespoons dried mint, in a teapot. Pour 3 cups boiling water, cover, and steep 10 minutes. (For an herbal remedy, Dr. Duke recommends letting the tea steep until cool, straining it, and reheating the liquid until hot.)

Key Benefits:

  • Tames muscle spasms in intestinal tract
  •  Relieves gas, flatulence, and bloating
  • Externally relaxes tight muscles and relieves pain
  • Antibacterial
  • Dissolves gallstones

Thyme is a small, hardy evergreen shrub, native to the Mediterranean. Its small, aromatic leaves are a staple flavoring in soups, stews and sauces, but have also been used since the seventeenth century for their medicinal properties. Thyme tea is an excellent remedy for sore throats and infected gums, yet it also soothes the digestive system and eases flatulence. Steep 1 teaspoon dried thyme per cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.

Key Benefits:

  • Relieves coughing and bronchial spasms
  •  Applied externally, relieves muscle spasms and rheumatism
  • Fights mucous membrane inflammation

Turmeric is native to Southern Asia where is has been used as a flavouring, a dye, and a medicine since ancient times. Curcumin and the curcuminoids in tumeric have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are responsible for giving tumeric its bright yellow color.

Key Benefits:

  • Relieves arthritic inflammation
  • Defends against cancer in the colon, gallbladder, and the liver
  • Soothes indigestion
  • Powerful antioxidant so retards aging and prevents disease

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Disclaimer: Herbs, foods, and other natural remedies are not substitutes for professional medical care.
For a specific health problem, consult a qualified health-care giver for guidance.