Throughout history, herbs and spices have been used to add and enhance the flavours in dishes. But did you know that they also contain a host of amazing health benefits? Having a well-stocked spice rack not only gives you a massive range of versatility in the kitchen, but it’s also like having your very own natural pharmacy right in your kitchen cupboard.
We’ve put together a list of our top 10 herbs and spices, and the benefits that they come with!
Ah, the undeniable scent of Christmas. But, cinnamon is not just a festive treat, it also contains potent antioxidants, helps to fight inflammation and has been known to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Cinnamon is also capable of lowering blood sugar by several mechanisms, including slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract and improving insulin sensitivity.
Fun fact: Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree, which can grow up to 60ft tall!
Current research indicates that sage may be able to improve brain function and memory, particularly in those with Alzheimer’s, by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine which occurs in patients with the disease. A study of 42 individuals with Alzheimer’s showed that taking sage extract produced a significant improvement in brain function.
Fun fact: Sage had a strong reputation for its healing properties during the middle ages, and was even used to help prevent the plague!
Long used in homeopathy and aromatherapy, the oil derived from peppermint contains the agents responsible for the health benefits. Studies have shown that peppermint oil can improve pain management in people that suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and can also help to reduce abdominal bloating and can help fight nausea.
Fun fact: Peppermint is a perennial herb that will, once planted, come back stronger year after year!
Turmeric contains several medicinal compounds, however the most important of these is curcumin. A remarkably powerful antioxidant, the curcumin found in turmeric helps to fight oxidative damage and boosts the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Curcumin is also extremely anti-inflammatory, to the point where it actually matches some anti-inflammatory drugs.
Fun fact: Some of the compounds found in turmeric are natural anti-venom for bites from a King Cobra!
Not be confused with regular basil, holy basil is a herb found in India that is considered to be sacred. Also known as tulsi, it is capable of inhibiting the growth of a range of bacteria, yeasts and moulds. Studies have also shown that holy basil can boost the function of the immune system, reduce blood sugar levels and help to treat anxiety and depression.
Fun fact: In Hindu mythology, holy basil is believed to ward off evil spirits and ghosts!
A type of chilli pepper most commonly used to prepare spicy dishes, cayenne contains a chemical called capsaicin which has been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat burning in many studies. In fact, one study found that adding just 1 gram of cayenne to meals reduced appetite and increased fat burning compared to the those who didn’t.
Fun fact: Cayenne pepper is also an active ingredient in pepper spray!
Ginger is widely used in alternative medicine to help combat feelings of nausea brought on by morning sickness, chemotherapy and sea sickness. Ginger also has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can help manage pain from osteoarthritis. Research has shown that a mix of ginger, cinnamon, mastic and sesame oil had a similar effect on pain management as treatment with aspirin or ibuprofen.
Fun fact: Ginger is actually a rhizome (an underground stem), not a root!
Containing the plant protein 4-hydroxyisoleucine, fenugreek has been shown to improve the function of the hormone insulin. Many studies have shown that at least 1 gram of fenugreek extract per day can lower blood sugar levels – particularly in diabetics.
Fun fact: Fenugreek seed can be used as a substitute for coffee!
Containing an active ingredient called rosmarinic acid, rosemary has been shown to suppress allergies and ease nasal congestion, as well as containing anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a great source of iron, calcium and Vitamin B6.
Fun fact: During the 16th century, people would burn bunches of rosemary in order to disinfect rooms.
If you often suffer from colds, then adding more garlic to your diet could be incredibly helpful. The compound, allicin, found in garlic is well known for combatting sickness including the common cold. Garlic also has convincing evidence on its side for having a beneficial effect on the heart, and for lowering blood pressure. As if that wasn’t enough, garlic is packed with potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and Vitamin C!
Fun fact: Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops, and was fed to the builders of the Great Pyramids in Egypt under the belief it gave them strength and endurance!
Lead image: AlexRaths via Getty images.