The health benefits of spices like turmeric, cloves and cinnamon were known as early as the first human civilization. Our ancestors from the caves used the leaves and barks of certain trees and bushes and wrapped them around meat to enhance the taste. Later on, Papyri from ancient Egypt in 1555 BC classified few important spices like coriander, fennel, cumin and garlic as health promoting spices. In the 3rd century BC, the Chinese emperors carried clove and nutmeg in their mouth so that they could get sweet smelling breath. Indians knew the culinary and medicinal uses of spices thousands of years ago. Acharya Sushruta applied turmeric and white mustard paste as an antiseptic for the surgical wounds. The hunt for the spices drew voyagers from all over the world to India.
Spices are still being used as the alternate remedy to cure health problems like common cold, sore throat and toothache. Now, science is catching up to discover more about the benefits of spices. Let us explore how these spices boost our health.
Black pepper is the most common spice in the world and has been honored as the “King of Spices”. Cuisines around the world are incomplete without a pinch of ground black pepper. Along with seasoning food and providing a spicy aroma, black pepper is believed to have many medicinal properties.
Black pepper helps in constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, liver disorders, gangrene, insomnia, insect bites, oral abscesses, sunburn and tooth decay.
Black pepper has the ability to enhance the functioning of the digestive tract. It stimulates secretion of digestive juices from the stomach. It also stops harmful bacterial growth in the intestinal tract.
A brilliant yellow-colored spice, turmeric is most often used as a dry powder. It is one of the most important ingredients to make curries and other foods in the Indian cuisine because of its color. Many of us must have seen families where the grandparents and children drink hot milk with a pinch of turmeric and spoon of honey in it. It is believed that milk with turmeric helps to strengthen immunity against cold and infections. Research shows that turmeric has excellent anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties. Turmeric also applied on the scalded and wounded skins during injury and burns. It has potential anti-tumor properties. Apart from these, turmeric is believed to provide a fair and glowing complexion and is applied on the skin of the bride and groom before a marriage ceremony in Hindu culture.
Turmeric is served with hot black tea to relieve stress and tension. It has also been found to cure ulcers, inflammation, urinary diseases, intestinal worms and other stomach disorders. The fresh juice of the turmeric extracted from the fresh roots helps to cure body ache, hepatic and dental diseases.
Fenugreek, commonly used to add strong flavors to Asian curries, possesses many health benefits. It is an excellent remedy to cure the indigestion and problems related to it.
Fenugreek is used to cure respiratory, digestive and renal disorders, and loss of appetite. Fenugreek also helps to cure fevers, bronchitis, tuberculosis, sore throats, wounds and vomiting. It is useful when a person is suffering from insomnia, allergies, rashes, hay fever and nosebleed.
Fenugreek is the best remedy for women who are suffering with menstrual cramps and other reproduction problems. Studies done in the Swafford University in 2000 show that adding fenugreek to the diet of lactating women helps to increase their milk production.
Cloves are aromatic dried flowers buds. They have been used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicines since ancient times. They are very rich sources of antioxidants. The oil extracted from cloves is used as an anodyne (painkiller) for tooth ache. Clove has been reported to work as an analgesic, anesthetic, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antiperspirant and antiseptic. It is believed to cure headache, fungal infections, sore throat and bacterial infections. Hence, keeping a small bottle of clove oil at home would be really helpful in the cases of injuries, infections and stomach diseases.
Cinnamon is a common spice in every household. It is prominently used in curries in Asia. This spice has regulatory effect on blood sugar, which makes it beneficial for people suffering from type 2 diabetes. In some studies, it has been shown to work against resistant strains of fungi like Candida species.
In a study at Copenhagen University, patients who took cinnamon with honey every morning showed relief from pain due to arthritis. They could walk without pain after one month of eating cinnamon with honey everyday in their breakfast. Studies also show that cinnamon is effective against ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria and other pathogens. Cinnamon has the potential to cure tooth infection, urinary diseases, heart diseases, constipation, scorpion sting and food poisoning.
Some studies show that when cinnamon is added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural preservative. Researches done in Kansas State University show that cinnamon fights E. coli bacteria in the unpasteurized juices. One study states that cinnamon boosts cognitive function and memory. It is also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron and calcium.
If black pepper is the King of Spices, then cardamom is referred to as the Queen of Spices. It is known as elaichi in Indian subcontinents. It gives a fragrance to food and has various health benefits. Studies show that cardamom fights against gas. It helps in stimulation and regulation of gastric juices and stomach acids. It is also used in aromatherapy to relax people suffering from stress and sleeplessness. It has been used as an antidepressant in ayurvedic medicines since ancient times. Cardamom is also useful to protect against heat stroke and headache.
One of the most important benefits of cardamom is that it helps in asthma and whooping cough. It is a boon for vocalists and improves their voices. It is also a good remedy for vomiting.
Red chilli, the hot spice that is known for its heat and flavor, is a rich source of vitamin C and carotene. The medicinal values of the red chilli are because of the chemicals present in them. They are famous for stimulating appetite and boosting blood circulation. They provide heat to the body, and hence are an important lunch item for Sherpa during climbing mountain peaks like Mount Everest. Red chillies have beneficial effects in pain, inflammation, cardiovascular health, cold and flu, weight control and cancer prevention. In 2008, The American Cancer Society website mentioned that red chillies help to prevent prostrate cancer. They are also helpful for people suffering from diabetes, nausea, vomiting, tonsillitis and back pain. They have properties to boost immunity too.
Garlic is a main ingredient in cuisine all around the world. It is loved by Spanish cooks and is like gold to the Chinese. Garlic has been used as an important component of medicine in China since around 3000 B.C. In India, it is used in many varieties of curries and non-vegetarian dishes. It is also used for cleansing the digestive system and to boost immunity. Garlic has potential of curing wounds very quickly. Records show that during World War I, garlic was used to control infection in the wounds. It was also used by Russians to control a raging flu in 1963.
Today, studies show that garlic helps to lower the blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. It increases high density of lipoproteins and reduces the levels of harmful cholesterol. In certain studies in China, it has been shown that garlic contains chemicals, which are capable of preventing cancer. The researchers have suggested eating garlic twice a day with meals to stay healthy.
Garlic is boon to pregnant and lactating mothers too. Studies show that toddlers preferred the milk of those mothers who were consuming garlic daily in their diet. It provided a different but better taste to the mother’s milk.
Ginger has been used as a remedy for cold and sore throat since ancient times. It is taken with tea to cure stress, tiredness and headache. It has anti-histaminic properties and can cure allergies. It has been medically proven that ginger treats feelings of nausea, particularly seasickness and motion sickness. It is also used to treat side effects of chemotherapy.
Here is some good news for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness. The University of Maryland reports that a dose of ginger, as small as 1 gram each day is enough to reduce the incidence of morning sickness. It also relieves muscle pain, sprains and constipation in pregnancy.
Ginger displays anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat arthritis and various muscular disorders. Ancient Greeks used to eat ginger to ease the digestion process. Ginger contains special enzymes, which are responsible for catalyzing the proteins present in the food. It is proven to lower the cholesterol levels and formation of blood clots. Hence, consuming ginger is very healthy for heart patients.
The best property of all these spices is that they can be savored with our food and make food delicious. There are no major side-effects of consuming them in moderation. There is no need to take them daily as supplements and they have the ability to cure multiple diseases. Spices have proved to be excellent alternate remedy for many diseases and are easy to find. Thus, your medicine chest is not the only place that you should look in when you are unwell the next time. Your kitchen jars may have the answer to your problem!