If you’re looking for all-natural remedies to common health problems, you may be surprised that many of the herbs and spices found right in your kitchen cabinet can help. Herbs and spices offer the best alternative to medications, and they can be used to treat simple ailments or prevent serious health problems like cancer and heart disease.
To get the most out of the healing powers of herbs and spices, buy them fresh from organic stores. The packaged spices that are found in a regular supermarket have usually been sitting on the shelf for too long, so they will not be as effective. If you have a small garden, you can also grow most of these yourself.
Understanding The Healing Properties Of Herbs And Spices
Why do these herbs help to fight disease? The main reason is that most of them are antibacterial, antiviral and full of the vitamins and trace minerals that your body needs. They can be even more effective than fresh fruit and vegetables at fighting diseases because they are packed full of antioxidants.
These herbs are all natural and they come from the world of plants – the leaves, seeds, roots, flowers, fruits and bark. They give you a wonderful alternative to pharmaceuticals that are known to carry side effects, and this means that they are also ideal for children. Natural herbs and spices are also cheaper, offering a great alternative for people without adequate healthcare coverage.
However, like anything that has medicinal properties, there can be health risks. Don’t let the “all-natural” label give you a false sense of security. Make sure you check dosages, know risks and know if they will react with other medications you are taking. If you are using these spices in small doses to add flavor to food, there is nothing to worry about. Still, with all of their possible risks, they are much safer and better for you than pharmaceuticals. And because they stimulate the body’s natural processes, they are often more effective.
One of the most interesting things that is happening today with the marriage of scientific based medicine and a re-discovery of ancient remedies is that we can now know the “why’s” of how things work. There is still much to be explored and learned from traditional medicinal systems like Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, etc. The learning is never done and the opportunities are endless!
Garlic, or Allium sativum, has a wide range of benefits on health. Perhaps it’s most well known action is that of an antimicrobial, acting on viruses, bacteria and parasites, especially in the gastro-intestinal system. The volatile oil of garlic is also excreted via the lungs, and therefore can even be useful in infections of the lungs, bronchi and upper respiratory system, such as colds and influenza. Many people are familiar with its use as an oil for ear infections and can also be taken as an alternative to antibiotics for sinus infections. Some evidence shows that it’s antifungal properties could have it be used topically for things like ringworm, or recurrent thrush, as it is known to inhibit germination of fungal spores and growth of hyphae.
Other uses for garlic may not be as well known. It can be used to help reduce cholesterol levels and elevated triglycerides (fats) in the blood while raising the levels of HDL “good” cholesterol. It is also believed to reduce some problems with existing plaque through it’s anti-oxidant activities. It also has some effect to lower blood pressure and in one study lowered the average blood pressure by 16/9 points! There is also some experimental research showing garlic has anti-cancer effects (most likely through the immune system stimulation), and also has been found to have blood sugar lowering effects– so make sure any diabetics you know are adding a bit of garlic to their food on a regular basis.
The main active ingredient in garlic is Allicin (although there are many other components). Although this is also available in a supplement form, we believe that garlic is best consumed in the natural form as it will not only add flavor to your food, but will minimize some of the potential side effects from high doses: stomach upset, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea or skin burning (if using a concentrated oil/poultice topically). Care must also be taken if a person is on anti-coagulants (blood thinners) as garlic can increase the action of these medicines when taken in large doses (not a concern in dietary dosing amounts).
For preventive purposes, 1 clove/day can be taken or added to food. When we are ill at our home, we crush 1 clove of garlic, and mix it with a small amount of lemon juice and salt. It makes it burn less and taste good enough to get it down. Otherwise, if taking a pill or tablet, 600-900 mg/day is the usual recommended dose. It also comes in an enteric coated form to reduce the garlic smell in skin/breath with ongoing use. For children, we recommend only taking garlic in it’s natural form: start with small amounts, and increase the amounts gradually to allow their tastes to adapt accordingly. If one wants to use garlic as an alternative to antibiotics (for a sinus or ear infection, for example), there are liquid forms of allicin available but be aware of the noted side effects.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is best known as an aid to digestion. It helps with vomiting, relieves gas and diarrhea pain and helps soothe indigestion. Research says that it fights motion sickness more effectively than store-bought motion sickness pills. It also works as a natural pain reliever, has antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties (can be used with fevers and as aid to arthritis, as it works on many of the same mechanisms as NSAIDs like ibuprofen), and lowers the bad type of cholesterol.
Some research indicates that it might have antiviral properties, meaning that it may be effective against colds, flus and respiratory problems. Ginger water can be used as antibacterial mouthwash, especially for kids because there is no danger if swallowed. An popular Indian/Tibetan remedy: Grate ginger with hot water, add honey, lemon and drink it a few times daily. We discovered this is amazing concoction’s effectiveness for a cold while staying in Dharamasala. Like garlic, ginger can interact with certain medications as it can mildly increase bleed times, so check with your medical practitioner first if you are unsure.
Who knew the onion was such a wonder? Onions, or Allium Cepa, which is of course related to Allium sativum, or garlic. It has essentially the same benefits listed above for the allicins. Here, though, we’ll focus on 2 other health benefits found in onions (and garlic, too). First, is the substance found in these called quercitin. which is an anti-oxidant phytonutrient that has effects on many enzyme systems, including COX (site of NSAID action), COMT (which breaks down certain neurotransmitters), and many others. Although quercitin is getting much recent attention and is widely used as a supplement, it is recognized that it is much better taken in it’s naturally occurring form with all of it’s natural richness having the ability to give it a broader use. Onions have been shown to lower blood lipid levels, lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels– a perfect combination for anyone with metabolic syndrome.
It is also historically used for it’s antiasthma effects, as it inhibits the COX and LOX, which are both active in persons with allergic conditions like asthma, eczema, etc. One interesting use was with the application of onion juice to patchy hair loss, called alopecia areata. In one study, it was found to help with hair growth! Of course, onions are very safe and with toxicity or drug interactions to worry about. Of course, there will be greater benefit with raw onions over cooked, as the chemicals are degraded with cooking and therefore less benefits accrue.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
Although cinnamon contains a number of beneficial ingredients, perhaps the most powerful is cinnamaldehyde. This compound is antibacterial, fungistatic (meaning it retards fungal growth but does not kill it), and promotes intestinal motility. It is approved for use by the German commission E for loss of appetite and stomach ache/dyspeptic complaints. In India, it is also used foe toothaches, nausea/vomiting and exhaustion. Naturopathic physicians will also use it to help against bleeding and menstrual irregularities. Think of that next time you are sipping that Pumpkin spice Latte (naturally made, of course)!
Cayenne pepper contains capsicum annuum, a compound that lowers blood pressure and has other cardiovascular benefits by increases in circulation. For sore throats, colds and flu it can be used to thin phlegm/mucous so that it can easily be discharged. Perhaps one of the best researched uses of capsicum is topically for reduction of pain. It is well documented that this compound blocks pain through the depletion of a transmitter called substance P, which transmits pain and itch signals in the C-fibers of the nerves, reducing pain but not making the area completely numb. This has promise for the pain of arthritis, nerve pain like trigeminal neuralgia, shingles, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy.
Turmeric is a spice that is not commonly used in U.S. cooking, but is used widely in other parts of the world such as India. You are probably most familiar with this spice as a part of curry dishes, or used as a natural yellow food coloring when added to mustard, mac n’ cheese or butter. It contains curcumin, which is a substance with a number of health benefits, primarily related to it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. Curcumin has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer through a number of different mechanisms, many of which are actively under study by the National Institutes of Health currently. It also has powerful anti-oxidant effects comparable to Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Perhaps it’s most important and well known uses, though, stem from its impressive anti-inflammatory properties. It works on many of the same parts of our inflammation system that medicines like ibuprofen (COX 2), Singulair (Leukotrienes) and aspirin (platelet aggregation). Perhaps this is why in India, it is known as a very good allergy reliever.
Although curcumin is available as a supplement, it is well known to have very poor GI absorption and frequently must be combined with other herbs like bromelain to increase absorption. Nevertheless, it is very safe even in experimental high doses and therefore a safe addition for children. We recommend adding it to foods on a regular basis. Freshly fine-grated root is much more savory compared to the powdered herb, which if not especially fresh, may not have as rich of flavor. As noted above, it is a great yellow food coloring, and can be added to make rice, mashed potatoes, eggs, homemade mac n cheese (which is never as yellow as the fake kind, and may cause your kids to reject it since it doesn’t “look” like what they are familiar with) a beautiful bright yellow color without adding spiciness or such a distinctive taste that they are likely to reject it.
Of course, this list is hardly exhaustive and couldn’t even be called the tip of the iceberg. However, these are spices that we all have in our kitchens and could be put into use immediately to benefit our health, as well as our children’s. Additionally, since these are foods and are familiar, we really don’t have to worry about side effects, toxicity, or drug interactions at normal doses. So, start adding these health promoting foods into your diet today; not only will your food taste better, you’ll be healthier for it!
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