Anti-Inflammatory Herbs & Spices, and How to Use Them

By Cat, Sept 2017

Cat’s note to self: Look up spices and words in red, and provide more info about them.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. It is most often characterized by localized redness, swelling, pain, and/or heat. It’s purpose is to heal the body and restore normal tissue function. Acute inflammation is typically a protective and localized response to infection or injury. (1b) But when the damage is repeated and overwhelming, chronic inflammation can cause trouble, and this is where anti-inflammatory foods come into play.

Hippocrates hypothesized that “all disease begins in the gut,” and that is where the inflammation starts. Heal the gut, you heal the disease.

I use a lot of spices in my cooking and baking, and am learning about which ones are anti-inflammatory, because I have many such issues. The Food Revolution Network states (1a):

Chronic inflammation is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and many other ailments.

Anti-inflammatory Spices and How they Work

The following list of anti-inflammatory spices come from the Food Revolution Network  (1). and Mercola (2), with additional information from other sites; all references are noted, with detail in the ‘References” section.


This is one of my favorite spices (along with cardamom and cinnamon), especially for Greek, Middle-Eastern and lamb recipes.

See Individual Herbs & Spices, A – F until I get more information specific to inflammation


This, as all peppers (fruit) including cayenne and dried red pepper flakes have anti-inflammatory action primarily because of capsaicin, which acts by altering the composition of gut bacteria to more beneficial strains. This, in turn, lowers inflammation-associated obesity (5)!

If cayenne is too hot for you, try paprika (see below). Note that other hot peppers also contain capsaicin and have similar action.

See Individual Herbs & Spices, A – F for more


This common spice blocks the activity of inflammation-promoting molecules, arachidonic acid and TNF-alpha (7). Note, there are two types of cinnamon, both of which are anti-inflammatory:

  • Cassia or Chinese cinnamon, the one most commonly found in grocery stores. It can be problematic because it contains coumarin, which is a liver toxin.
  • True or Ceylon cinnamon, which is much harder to find, is much lower in coumarin, and also helps with blood sugar control.

Golden Milk/Tea is an excellent anti-inflammatory beverage containing cinnamon.

See Individual Herbs & Spices, A – F for more about the two types of cinnamon.


The main anti-inflammatory and anti-viral compound in cloves is eugenol. It can help your body deal with infections and inflammation. Cloves also contain kaempferol and rhamnetin, flavonoids that share the same properties as eugenol. (3).

Cloves have been used as an expectorant, and to treat upset stomach, nausea, and inflammation of the mouth and throat. There is mounting evidence that cloves have anti-inflammatory properties. (3)

Whole cloves are used to stud meats, especially ham for baking, or to infuse both flavor and nutrition into hot drinks like tea or cider.. Powdered clove works well in baked goods and in some savory dishes, like hearty soups and stews.

See Mercola’s Herbs & Spices article on cloves for lots more about its properties, and  a cinnamon and cloves tea recipe (2d).

See Individual Herbs & Spices, A – F


Ginger, like its cousin turmeric, is a rhizome (root) with amazing healing properties. The gingerols provide it’s anti-inflammatory action. Need more info.

Golden Milk/Tea is an excellent anti-inflammatory beverage containing ginger.

See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z until I get more information specific to inflammation


Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree, and mace (see below) is the covering of the seed. They both have anti-inflammatory properties, but nutmeg is far more common. In addition to spicing up the holiday season, it is also a commonly used spice in Greek cuisine; I use it in my Moussaka and Pastiitsio (or Pasticcio) recipes.

It fights inflammation by blocking nitric oxide synthesis (8). Nutmeg oil (from the seed) may also block the production of COX-2, also the target of ibuprofen, but more study is needed for this aspect (9,10)

Important note: “at high doses, can cause hallucinations (11) and be toxic in pregnancy (12). Similarly, infants should not be offered nutmeg teas, an ancient remedy for digestive discomfort, because of toxic effects at high concentrations (13)”


Like nutmeg (above), mace (the covering of the nutmeg seed) has anti-inflammatory properties. It has a slightly different flavor, but nutmeg and mace can be substituted one for the other in recipes.


See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z until I get more information specific to inflammation


See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z until I get more information specific to inflammation


This spice is a cooler pepper than cayenne but has much the same action, tho less of the active ingredient capsaicin than cayenne. (6) In addition to using it in specific recipes, I like to sprinkle it on tops of casseroles or chicken pieces about 5 – 10 minutes before the end of the baking time.

Paprika releases its flavor when heated, especially when heated with an oil or fat. But it loses color and flavor the longer it is heated

See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z for more about paprika.

Pepper (peppercorn)

It is the piperine in pepper that is anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the central inflammation regulator, NF-kB (17). It is most effective against irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric ulcers (18,19).

Add freshly-ground black pepper when using turmeric, to boost turmeric’s bioavailability. (20)

See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z for more about pepper.


See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z until I get more information specific to inflammation


See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z until I get more information specific to inflammation


I’m not familiar with sumac as a spice (but I recognize the name because of the poisonous variety similar to poison ivy). It has a sour flavor common in Middle Eastern Cuisine. Hmm, I love Middle Eastern foods so I’m surprised I’ve not heard of it before, but I’ve probably eaten it at restaurants).

It is a powerful anti-oxidant, especially during various cellular functions and in presence of high levels of inflammation where it cleans up free radicals (15,16).

According to the food revolution article, “It has been shown  to block multiple arms of inflammation, including inflammation-promoting molecules called cytokines, like TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-8. Sumac appears to have this effect by blocking catalysts of inflammation, such as NF-kappa B, STAT-3 and nitric oxide (14).”

As of this writing, I’ve not yet added sumac to my posing Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z, but check it out in case it has since been added, to learn more.


This cousin of ginger is by far the safest and most generally anti-inflammatory of all herbs and spices. Its use dates back to the origins of human culture. One of my favorite ways to consumer turmeric is Golden Milk/Tea, similar to chai and easy to make in your own kitchen. Other ways to use turmeric (2f):

  • As an ingredient for rubs or marinades
  • Add it to a salad to give your vegetables more spice
  • Add a dash  into vegetable or chicken soups to add warmth;
  • Sprinkle  over sautéed vegetables for more flavor and nutrition;
  • Add to smoothies

The Food Network Revolution lists some of the most amazing demonstrated properties of turmeric, related to its anti-inflammatory properties (1b):

  • Destroying Multi-Drug Resistant Cancer
  • Destroying Cancer Stem Cells (arguably, the root of all cancer)
  • Protecting Against Radiation-Induced Damage
  • Protecting Against Heavy Metal Toxicity
  • Preventing and Reversing Alzheimer’s Disease Associated Pathologies

continue with info from (2e) (see last tab on this window)

Curcumin is the main anti-inflammatory and healing component of turmeric. However, it is poorly absorbed in your body; if you add turmeric to your foods, you’re only absorbing about 1 % curcumin. To work around this problem, you may try these two (2f):

  • Make a micro-emulsion: Mix 1 Tbsp raw turmeric powder with two egg yolks and 2 tsp melted coconut oil (Note, Mercola doesn’t say what to do with this emulsion. If you add it to salads, be aware you are adding raw egg yolk, so know your farmer to be sure the raw egg is safe; alternately, coddle the yolks before mixing into the emulsion).
  • Boil the powder: Whisk 1 Tbsp turmeric into a quart of boiling water. It’s important that when making this beverage, the water should be boiling to increase the bioavailability. After 10 minutes of boiling, you will have created a 12% solution that needs to be consumed right away.

If using turmeric or curcumin supplementally, be sure the supplement includes all the curcuminoids to provide well-rounded benefits: Curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin.

While curcumin is generally quite safe for consumption, do be aware of the following symptoms of sensitivity/allergy or other trouble (2f):

  • Headache and nausea: A 450-milligram dose may cause one or both of these two conditions.
  • Digestive problems: Bloating, acid reflux and diarrhea may occur when taking a 1,000-milligram dose.
  • Rash: An extremely high dose (8,000 milligrams) may cause a skin rash, but this is very rare.
  • Lead exposure: Certain brands of turmeric powders may be high in lead, a heavy metal that can have adverse effects to your nervous system.

See Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z for more about Turmeric, and Mercola (2f) on curcumin (in turmeric)


  1. Food Revolution Network articles: (1a) by Kanchan Koya, and (1b) by Sayer Ji
  2. Mercola articles: (2a) Healthful Herbs & Spices (; (2b) Anti-Inflammatory Foods, Herbs & Spices:; (2c) Anti-Aging Spices:; (2d):; (2e):; (2f):
  3. Healthline, on Turmeric (
  4. WHFoods
  5. (source 3 in Food Revolution Network article)
  6. (source 6 in Food Revolution Network article)
  7. (source 7 in Food Revolution Network article)
  8. (source 8 in Food Revolution Network article)
  9. (10)
  10. (11)
  11. (12)
  12. (13)
  13. (14)
  14. (15)
  15. (16)
  16. (
  17. (18)
  18. (19)
  19. (20)
  20. (


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