SOME PRIMARY ASIAN SPICES AND THEIR HEALTH-GIVING PROPERTIES
Asian doctors credit herbs and spices (as well as certain foods) with health-giving properties, and
recent scientific research is confirming some of these beliefs. Here are a few prominent seasonings
used in Asian cooking with their therapeutic properties:
The herb actually originates from India. In India tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), or holy basil, is (as the
name suggests) a sacred plant and has been used for thousands of years in healing and in religious
rituals. It grows in the garden of all Hindu households and it is also used in Ayurvedic medicine, the
traditional Indian medical system.
- Antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties
- Reduces nausea, vomiting and cramping
- Helps maintain a healthy digestive system
- Supports oral and periodontal health
- Enhances the efficacy of many other therapeutic treatments
Once green peppercorns are dried in the sun, they become black. When black peppercorns are
soaked, their skins and pulp are removed and the resulting seed is the white peppercorn. Black
pepper is known as the king of spices. In Asia, black pepper is often added to tea as a stimulant and
peppercorns are sucked to soothe a sore throat.
Key Benefits :
- Aids digestion. Pepper increases the hydrochloric acid secretion in stomach which helps us
digest food. Pepper also helps to prevent formation of intestinal gas.
- Improves the appetite.
- Prevents disease since it is anti-bacterial
- High in antioxidants and thus helps to prevent cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver
- The outer layer of peppercorn may aid in the breakdown of fat cells helping in weight
In India, cardamom is often called the queen of spices and it has been prized since ancient times and
was chewed by the Moghul emperors of India as a breath freshener, a tradition that still exists today.
Cardamom is used to improve the circulation of the lungs by improving blood flow. The ancient
Arabs believed cardamom to be an aphrodisiac, and the spice made frequent appearances in Arabian
- Considered a key digestive and is used to treat stomach disorders.
- Helps to prevent vomiting since it has anti-spasmodic properties.
- Refreshes the breath and soothes the throat.
- May improve sexual health
Although chili peppers were introduced to India only 400 years ago by the Portuguese, it is difficult
to imagine Indian cooking without them. Similar to black pepper, chilies are warming to the body..
Capsaicin, the active phytochemical ingredient, is believed to have developed to deter animals from
eating them. Yet for humans, there are a myriad of health benefits in consuming them..
- Contains Vitamin A and more Vitamin C than citrus fruits.
- Soothes abdominal pain, nausea, and throat irritation
- Capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and is being looked at as a potential treatmentfor arthritis, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy.
- A topical form of capsaicin is a recognized treatment for osteoarthritis pain, and may also
help alleviate pain from diabetic neuropathy.
Cilantro- Coriandrum sativum- (the seed is Coriander)
Cilantro in its many forms, roots or seeds is a pungent and flavorful addition to Asian, Indian,
Mexican and Southwestern dishes. It’s also a natural cleansing agent and has effectively been used to
help remove heavy metals and other toxic agents from the body. The best known chemical found in
cilantro is a substance called Dodecenal. In a recent study, tests
- owerful anti-inflammatory capacities that may help symptoms of arthritis
- Protective agents against bacterial infection from Salmonella in food products
- Acts to increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and reduces LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
- Relief for stomach gas, prevention of flatulence and an overall digestive aid
- Has been shown to reduce menstrual cramping.
- Adds fiber to the digestive tract
- A source of iron, magnesium, and is helpful in fighting anemia
Cinnamon, along with cardamom and bay leaf, is part of the Ayurvedic trio of aromatics used to heal
the body and disguise the taste of medicines. When steeped in warm water, cinnamon tea harmonizes
the flow of circulation, aids digestion, and helps the stomach to discharge gas. It reduces nausea and
decongestion and leaves an appealing flavor in the mouth.
- Strengthens the heart, stimulates the kidneys and aids circulation.
- Cinnamon tea soothes colds, nervous tension, and stimulates digestion.
- Cinnamon oil is used as a liniment to soothe headaches, rheumatic pains, body aches, and
Recognized as one of the kings of Indian spices, cumin is used in the regional cooking and as a
medicine in every part of every part of India, from Kashmir to Gujarat to Bengal. The spice is cooked
in street snacks and banquets alike, and blended into drinks to act as a cooling protection against
indigestion or water borne stomach infections. Most of the digestive properties of cumin lie in the
toasted seeds, or fruit. According to T.V. Sairam, author of “Home Remedies”, cumin seeds are
actually the fruit). Cumin is hot in nature and is believed to purify blood, stimulate digestive juices,
and reduce nausea, particularly in pregnant women.
- Excellent for colds and fevers when infused in hot water
- Easily digested and effective in relieving indigestion, gas, and flatulence
- Purifies the blood and helps to protect against stomach infections
Five Spice Powder
All of the five flavors – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty – are found in five-spice powder. The
specific combination of spices used to make up five-spice powder does vary, however. A standard
recipe calls for fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, along with star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. It
works well in, Asian recipes, with meats, and makes an excellent seasoning in a marinade.
Key Benefits :
- Like black peppers, Sichuan peppers also aid in digestion by increasing gastro-intestinal juice
in the gut.
- Sichuan peppers are also a good source of vitamins such as vitamin A, carotenes, pyridoxine,
and thiamin and minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.
- One of the popular ingredients of East Asian cooking, this spice is a very rich source
of essential oils, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidant.
Garlic, or the “bulb of life” as it was known to ancient Indian physicians, has been celebrated for its medicinal properties for centuries. In 350AD, Susruta, one of the earliest Indian surgeons, wrotea treatise on its therapeutic properties. In rural India, strings of bulbs are hung to ward off insects, snakes, and evil spirits.
Medicinally, garlic exhibits five of the six essential tastes prescribed by Ayurveda in balancing
aggravation. All parts of the plant are eaten: Pungency is found in the bulb, bitterness is in the leaves,
salinity at the crown, astringency in the stem, and sweetness in the seeds. Garlic is eaten is added to
the majority of Indian curries since it lends a good taste to meat and fish. It also helps to digest them.
- Traditionally used to treat asthma, deafness, and congestion
- Lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and relieves rheumatism.
- Powerful detoxifier, rejuvenator, and cleanser for the blood
This flavorful rhizome has been used for centuries in Indian cuisine and medicine. Ayurvedic texts
credit it as a “universal great medicine”. Although ginger is widely used by both Indian and Chinese
physicians, it originated on Indian soil and was introduced to China just 300 years ago. In addition
to its hot, vibrant flavor, ginger is an excellent digestive and aphrodisiac. Ginger cures nausea and
is good for rheumatism. Ayurvedic doctors suggest eating slices of ginger sprinkled with salt before
meals to aid digestion. Chewing on a fresh piece of ginger relieves a sore throat, and hoarseness.
- The anti-inflammatory (gingerols) and anti-oxidant properties in ginger help relieve various
inflammatory disorders like gout, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- It also provides substantial relief in pain caused by inflammation and help decrease swelling
and morning stiffness.
- A natural aphrodisiac. Drink hot ginger tea (by mixing 8 slices ginger, smashed to release
flavors and oils, 1 cup hot water and raw honey)
- Drink ginger juice with raw honey three to four times a day for a bad throat. It is soothing
and helps clear up phlegm.
Mace and Nutmeg
The nutmeg tree is a wide evergreen, native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. However, it has been
used in India as a spice and medicinally as early as 700 BC. Mace and nutmeg are two different
spices from the same fruit. Nutmeg is the dried kernel and mace the dried aril, or “cage” which
surrounds the seed. Nutmeg is more aromatic, sweeter and more delicate than mace and it is believed
to impart strength and enhance sexual prowess.
- Nutmeg relieves diarrhea and colic
- Is believed to be an aphrodisiac
- The active principles in nutmeg are believed to be effective as an anti-fungal, anti-depressant,
as a digestive and in carminative functions.
“Kala Namak”, or rock salt, is the salt most commonly used in Indian cuisine. It is produced from the
fertile quarries of the Gangetic plains in central India. Ayurvedic doctors believe rock or sea salt are
the most beneficial forms of salt because unlike ordinary salt, they don’t increase the sodium content
of blood and are therefore recommended for patients with high blood pressure. Salt also activates
the flavors of food thereby enhancing the taste. It is also a rejuvenator while aiding digestion and
- Believed to improve eyesight
- Cure for flatulence and heartburn
- Aids digestion
Star anise has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and cooking for centuries. Both cultures
use it as a breath freshener and digestive. It’s soothing to the stomach and is often used in cough
medications. Star anise is usually mixed together with ginger and clove to treat nausea and vomiting.
- Aids Digestion
- Freshens bad breath
- The oil is believed to relieve rheumatism.
Tumeric (Curcuma longa)
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties,
recent research has revealed that turmeric is proving beneficial in the treatment of many different
health conditions from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric has been used in both Ayurvedic
and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases,
and wounds. Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant.Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and
may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause. In addition, curcumin reduces
inflammation by lowering levels of two inflammatory enzymes (called COX-2 and LOX) in the body
and stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.
- It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.
- Reduces the risk of childhood leukemia
- May prevent melanoma and help destroy existing cancer cells.
- Is a natural liver detoxifier.
- May prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing amyloyd plaque
buildup in the brain.
- May prevent metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer.
- It is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but
without the side effects.