Herbs and spices have had a long history of flavoring and coloring food. Fresh green basil, for example, adds aroma, flavor and color to an otherwise plain slice of pizza. A sprinkling of fresh or dried rosemary does wonders for roasted potatoes. And curry wouldn’t be curry without its signature zing of spices, including ground turmeric, ginger, coriander and cumin.
Herbs and spices do enhance our foods, for sure, but they may also provide health benefits when consumed in moderation. Many herbs and spices contain vitamins, as well as flavonoids and polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help to fight free radicals in the body.
Let’s take a look at the possible health benefits of some of the most common herbs and spices, many of which can be found in our Market Bulk section and grocery aisles, or in our Produce or Whole Health Departments.
Ten herbs and spices to consider trying
- Basil: A fragrant herb, fresh basil is loaded with vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, which regulates blood pressure and supports the immune system. Basil also contains antioxidants. Note that dried basil loses the benefits of the fresh herb’s essential oils.
- Black pepper: The active ingredient in black pepper, piperine, is like the capsaicin in chili powder and cayenne pepper. When tested in animals, piperine has shown to aid digestion and assist in cognitive brain function.
- Cayenne pepper: This “hot” spice contains capsaicin, an alkaloid that reduces the number of pain signals sent to your brain. Thus, it can help with pain management, especially for joints and muscles. It is also known to aid gut health by limiting the growth of the bacteria that causes ulcers and may improve heart health.
- Chives: Like garlic, chives are a member of the allium family. It makes a tasty garnish, and it’s loaded with vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. Chives also contain folate and choline, both of which have been linked to improved brain function.
- Cinnamon: Used for thousands of years, ground cinnamon lends great flavor and a hint of sweetness to many foods, without adding sugar – an ideal choice for people who have diabetes. Cinnamon is also rich with antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Garlic: Beloved by cooks the world over, garlic adds that extra something to any dish. Research has also found that the edible bulb may reduce LDL levels in cholesterol, and there is limited evidence that it may benefit those with high blood pressure.
- Ginger: Whether fresh or ground, this root herb is commonly used to ease motion sickness and nausea. It may even help relieve the nausea cancer patients experience through chemotherapy. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Rosemary: This widely used herb is fragrant and has been shown to contain antioxidant properties. A small amount of rosemary leaves goes a long way—consuming too much of the leaves’ natural oil could cause side effects.
- Thyme: A member of the mint family, fragrant thyme contains many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Vitamin C supports immune health, and potassium may help reduce blood pressure, while manganese helps with the digestion of proteins and amino acids.
- Turmeric: A member of the ginger family, turmeric has a long history in Ayurvedic medicine for treating skin disorders, joint pain and digestive upset. Curcumin, a component of turmeric, gives the spice its signature yellow color.
Consuming herbs and spices
Beyond the use of fresh or dried herbs and spices to liven up our foods, five to 10 percent of U.S. adults use botanical supplements, such as spices, for health benefits, according to the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
It’s important to note, however, that the Food and Drug Administration recommends that you consult with a health care professional before using any dietary supplement.
Herbs and spices have a wonderful place in our kitchens. Enjoy exploring their flavors and how they enhance your food. Any health benefits you may yield from them are just a bonus.
Sources and suggested links
Oregon’s Wild Harvest
Log House Plants
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Johns Hopkins Medicine
University of Rochester Medical Center
National Library of Medicine
Federal Drug Administration