By Cat, Aug 2007 (Photo of Cat’s spice rack, right, by Cat)
NOTE: spices/herbs in red (below) have yet to be added to this post. Also, chile peppers are discussed individually by type. Herbs/spices in red in the “Includes” list below have not yet been added to this post.
- Includes: Allspice, Anise, Basil, Bay leaves, Cardamom, Cayenne, Chervil, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Clove, Coriander, Cumin, Dandelion, Dill, Fennel, Fenugreek
- See also: 1. Herbs & Spices (About); 2. Individual Herbs & Spices: G – Z; 3. Ancient Medicine through food; 4. Curries & Blends; 5. Anti-inflammatory Herbs & Spices and How to Use Them; 6. Cinnamon: treatment for blood sugar and insulin sensitivity; Other sites: 1. Mercola: several articles on herbs & spices (1)
Many people mistakenly mistake this for a spice blend, such as Apple-Pie-Blend; but allspice is actually the dried unripe fruit of a Caribbean evergreen tree. Its name comes from its aroma, which reminds one of a mix of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Allspice is very commonly used to flavor lamb in Mediterranean & Middle-Eastern cuisines. In the Scandinavian countries it is used to season preserved meats; I suspect it has preservative properties.
It is a good substitute for cinnamon in recipes, but has different health effects. It is a common ingredient in jerk seasoning; see Cooks .ndtv.com (4) for a jerk paste recipe.
The main active ingredient in allspice is eugenol, which helps with digestion issues, and, along with the tannins in this spice, may help numb pain from arthritis or sore muscles when applied externally. Allspice has been used as remedy for: (1, 2)
- stomach aches
- indigestion and gas
- anesthetic (external application)
and has antifungal and antiseptic properties. (1,2)
When applied externally, it may help numb pain (3).
To avoid confusion among similar looking and tasting spices, please reference the three photos in this section. Photo credits: Anise seeds (left) from Savory Spice Shop.com (6); Star Anise (lower right) from Wikimedia Commons; Fennel Seed (lower left) from Wikimedia Commons.
All three seeds have a distinct licorice flavor, and can be substituted for one another in recipes, but they come from different plants and have different health effects.
Anise (or aniseseed, above left) has been used traditionally to treat stomach upset and gas. The phytoestrogens in anise can stimulate milk production in new mothers. And it has anti-inflammatory properties. (2)
Its essential oils are antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal; it has been used successfully to treat head lice, and is effective against the plasmodia that cause malaria. (2)
Star anise (right) has anti-fungal and antioxidant properties; for more, see Livestrong.com (5).
‘Fennel’ (left): is the seed of a plant related to celery, carrot, dill, and parsley; see below, for more on its benefits.
(Image, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
By far, the best way to use basil leaves is fresh, picked from the live plant. Dried basil can also be used, but the flavor is not as strong. One of my favorite uses for basil is my Balsamic & Basil Vinaigrette.
It was first native to India, Asia and Africa, but its culinary popularity has allowed it to spread around the world. Both leaves and softer stems can be used to flavor pesto, soups and sauces. Torn fresh leaves are great added along with other greens to salads.
When cooking with basil, it is best to add it near the end of the cooking time, to preserve its volatile oils which provide the bulk of its health benefits. Additionally, it is an excellent source of vitamin K, manganese, copper, carotenoids and vitamin C, and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, and essential Omega-3 fats.
However, you will get maximum benefit if you use it raw. Add a few leaves to the greens in a salad, or add it to your salad dressing (such as my Balsamic & Basil Vinaigrette). Make a pesto and add it to individual servings of pasta, meats, etc..
To dry basil leaves (2): “Warm your oven to 140 degrees while placing a single layer of basil leaves on a baking sheet. Turn off the oven and pop in your pan for 20 minutes (you don’t want them to actually bake). Remove the pan, cool the leaves, and store immediately in airtight bottles or zip-lock bags, away from sunlight”
Basil’s health benefits (2, 13):
- The volatile oils in basil give it antibacterial capability, especially against some of the most troublesome bacteria that are developing resistance to pharmaceutical antibacterial agents, according to a study published in the July 2003 issue of the Journal of Microbiology Methods. Basil and thyme also serve as effective preservatives in raw foods such as salads.
- One of its oils, eugenol, also gives basil anti-inflammatory ability for individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel conditions.
- It is a rich source of beta-carotene, a powerful anti-oxidant that can help reduce the proliferation of free radicals in arteries, and thus protect the heart.
- It’s high levels of magnesium, which helps muscles and blood vessels to relax, potentially lessening irregular heart beat or spasming of the heart muscle or that of its arteries.
Bay Leaves (Bay Laurel)
Bay leaf is a common herb in Italian recipes, casseroles, soups, and classic bean recipes; it works by adding depth and dimension to the flavor.
Both fresh and dried bay leaves help the digestive system function properly, acting as a diuretic and eliminating toxins. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the leaves symbolize wisdom, peace, and protection, and were often incorporated in wreaths to be worn or to adorn one’s dwelling. (29, 30)
The leaves contain many volatile active components such as a-pinene, ß-pinene, myrcene, limonene, linalool, methyl chavicol, neral, a-terpineol, geranyl acetate, eugenol, and chavicol, which are known to have been antiseptic, anti-oxidant, and digestive properties; and thought to have anti-cancer properties. (30)
Fresh leaves are good sources of folic acid and vitamin C. Fresh or dried, the are a good source of vitamin A and many B-vitamins that help in enzyme synthesis, nervous system function, and regulating body metabolism to increase energy and amp up th metabolic rate. (29,30)
Bay laurel is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. (30)
Lauric acid in the bay laurel leaves has insect repellent properties (30). (NOTE: lauric acid is not found in many food sources; the other main source is raw breast or dairy milk).
This flavorful spice is the seed of a member of the ginger family. There are two genera, one commonly called “green” and the other “black” cardamom.
Commonly used in Asian curries, it is also popular in Scandinavian cuisine, especially for major holidays such as Christmas and Easter. It has a very strong, aromatic flavor, so a little bit goes a long way.
To use the tiny seeds, you must first remove them from the tough, papery pod. Then they are easily crushed or ground in a mortar. However, some recipes use the whole pod.
Green cardamom is used medicinally to:
- Treat infections in teeth and gums. In India, the pods are often chewed to freshen breath (and improve dental health in general), and/or to aid in giving up tobacco. See Mercola’s article about cardamom and dental health (2c).
- Prevent and treat throat troubles, lung congestion (including pulmonary tuberculosis), inflammation of eyelids, and digestive disorders. (lost source reference 39)
Black cardamom is also used to treat digestive problems. (lost source reference 39)
See also Mercola’s Food Facts for more about cardamom (2)
Cayenne is very high in vitamin C and carotenes, has the full vitamin B complex, and is rich in the minerals calcium and potassium, making it good for the heart. 11
It is used primarily to soothe the digestive system; cayenne:
- relieves dispepsia (stomach ache);
- can rebuild the tissue in the stomach and restore peristaltic action in the intestines;
- improves weak digestion;
- relieves gas;
- aids elimination and assimilation;
- stimulates saliva and stomach secretions, which help to digest food;
- help the stomach create hydrochloric acid;
- helps to evacuate the bowel, and has a cleansing action upon the large intestine;
- can destroy parasites and worms in the gut.
Anecdotal evidence indicates “Cayenne has been known to stop heart attacks within 30 seconds.” (25) It has other benefits for the circulatory system as well. It is used to (26):
- improve blood flow (and thereby help other herbs and spices to work better)
- treat heart disease, poor circulation
Cayenne & Tabasco sauce can increase metabolism and fat-burning ability by up to 25%.
Effective pain relief for the following is provided by capsaicin, one of cayenne’s components (25, 26):
- post-herpetic neuroptathy (after attack of shingles)
- peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain associated with diabetes and HIV)
- cluster headaches (when applied in the nose)
- itching from skin conditions such as psoriasis
- sore throats
Not yet; See:
- Wikipedia on Chervil (8) (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chervil
- AlternativeZ on Chervil (28) (alternativz.co/knowledge-article/chervil-herb-benefits-and-uses-overview)
see Coriander & Cilantro, below.
Cinnamon & Cassia
(Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons).
Cinnamon is the aromatic bark of trees, cut and scrolled as it dries. It is sold both as ‘cinnamon sticks’ (scrolls) and ground cinnamon. There are two main types of cinnamon; both have similar flavoring (from cinnamaldehyde), but differ in their health-promoting properties. See Cassia vs True Cinnamon, below, for more.
For me, the most important and frequently used spice on my shelf is cinnamon, for its flavor and many health benefits. It is not just for sweet treats like cookies and spice cakes. It is also used in many savory main dishes as well; for example, my recipe for the famous Greek casserole, Moussaka (Greek Lamb & Eggplant Casserole), or in a spice rub for lamb chops.
It’s no accident that cinnamon is added to many sweet baked goods: cinnamon helps to curb blood sugar spikes from ingestion of sugary foods (see below).
Cassia vs True (Ceylon) Cinnamon
The cinnamon you can buy on your grocer’s shelves is a related spice called cassia, or Chinese or Vietnamese cinnamon. True cinnamon comes only from Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
In traditional Chinese medicine, cassia cinnamon is used for colds, flatulence, nausea, diarrhea, and painful menstrual periods. In traditional Indian medicine (Ayurvedic), true cinnamon is used as a remedy for type-2 diabetes/insulin resistance, indigestion, and colds, and it is often recommended for people with the kapha Ayurvedic type.
How I use the different types:
- For cooking/baking: I use cassia cinnamon which is more aromatic and adds more flavor.
- For my morning smoothie, I use Ceylon (true) cinnamon for its health benefits, especially to help my insulin resistance. However, if I have a cold or gas/nausea I use half Ceylon cinnamon and half cassia to cover both bases.
How to tell them apart:
- Cinnamon sticks: they differ by the type of scroll (see photo, above right): True cinnamon is rolled as a single roll; Cassia is rolled from both sides toward the center, like a scroll.
- Cinnamon powder: it is difficult to distinguish them (although true cinnamon is fluffier and less aromatic), so best to contact the manufacturer if the species name is not provided. However, most cinnamon on your grocers’ shelves is cassia, as it is less expensive.
Historically, cinnamon and cassia have been used to treat (9, 10, 11, 12):
- coughing, hoarseness and sore throats
- nausea, flatulence, diarrhea and morning sickness
- inflammation, especially arthritis
- improve blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides)
- prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease
- atherosclerosis (coumarin in cinnamon oil is an anticoagulant or blood thinner)
Additionally, true cinnamon is useful for treatment of type-2 diabetes and insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome, by enhancing insulin sensitivity; this use has been recognized by the USDA (11). See my article: Cinnamon: treatment for blood sugar and insulin sensitivity for more detail.
Other health-related uses of cinnamon:
- to preserve meat (its phenols inhibit the bacteria responsible for spoilage);
- antiseptic and astringent properties.
Recent research from Israel shows promise for the antiviral and antimicrobial properties of the oils derived from cinnamon (link for this source no longer works; the parent link is israel21c .org (16); search the Health tabs for cinnamon):
- In airports to disinfect the air against Avian flu
- In hospital air conditioning systems to prevent the spread of infectious diseases
- Alternative to the flu vaccine
- To immunize chicken embryos against Newcastle disease virus
- Neutralize and immunize against the following viruses: Avian Flu H9, Sendai, HIV, Herpes Simplex-1
See Mercola’s article on cinnamon (2) for lots more.
Clove is the flower bud of the clove tree, and is rich in minerals (such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, potassium), and other nutrients (hydrochloric acid and vitamins A & C). (18) They lend their flavor and aroma to many beloved holiday foods and beverages such as gingerbread, hot toddies, and pumpkin pie; also to stud a baked holiday ham.
Historically, cloves and clove oil has been used medicinally (1, 13):
- as a natural pain reliever, especially for tooth ache
- to alleviate cough, cold and sinus problems
- to treat indigestion, stress and blood impurities
- as food preservative
It can also be used as/for (1, 13):
- anti-inflammatory agent, providing relief from muscle pains due to injury, arthritis and rheumatism
- anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and vermifuge agent (to eliminate intestinal parasites)
- eugenol in clove oil provides protection from external toxins such as carbon tetrachloride, and is a natural pesticide: mix a little clove will into your lotion to ward off mosquitos and other bugs (29)
- relief from respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis
- blood sugar control for diabetics
- skin care for treatment of acne
- may encourage creativity and mental focus (especially by improving the health of the digestive tract)
Coriander & Cilantro
Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, and belongs in the parsley family. Cilantro leaves are a tasty herb often used in salsa and other Mexican dishes, and also in Asian cuisine. The seed has a nice savory flavor, and is a good source of iron, magnesium, fiber, and flavonoids. Its use has mention in the Bible.
Like basil, cilantro is best added add the end of the cooking time, or as a garnish.
Health benefits of coriander/cilantro (2, 19, 20)
- antibacterial: protects against salmonella, and urinary tract infections;
- cilantro is an herbal chelator of heavy metals. [I use cilantro tincture (from fresh, not dried cilantro) and chlorella powder (in my smoothie) to chelate mercury and remove it from my body];
- aids digestion; prevents nausea
- treatment of flatulence
- strengthens the immune system (contains iron)
- anti-inflammatory, useful in treating arthritis
- improves insulin sensitivity (and decreases blood sugar if it is high)
- improves lipid profile: lowers blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increases HDL cholesterol level
- improves heart health
Cumin is a good source of iron and manganese. (21) Iron is required by the body to make haemoglobin in the blood, for proper functioning of enzymes, and for manufacturing proteins. (19) Cumin has been used as a food and cosmetic dye. It is also a common spice in SW, Mexican, Spanish and middle-eastern foods.
Health benefits of cumin (19, 21, 13):
- aids digestion; prevents nausea
- strengthens the immune system (contains iron)
- anti-carcinogenic properties
- may stimulate secretion of pancreatic enzymes to improve digestion and nutrient absorption
Dandelion (root and leaves)
Dandelion leaves have more nutritional value than broccoli or spinach, being high in minerals, and vitamins C, A, K, thiamin and riboflavin. They are also a powerful diuretic. Their roots have medicinal value, especially for your liver.
But most of us think of them as weeds and do all we can to eradicate them. Most of those methods do harm to the environment and wildlife, but there are ways to keep dandelions where you want them (such as in your herb garden), and not where you don’t want them (such as your lawn), without hurting the environment.
See Mercola’s article, How to Grow Dandelion Greens (2) for more.
Dill is perhaps best known as a flavoring in dill pickles, but it is far more versatile. It is native to southern Russia, Mediterranean and western Africa. Both the leaves and seeds are used in recipes:
- The soft feathery leaves (dillweed) are common in Russian and Eastern European regions, and the Mediterranean regions. Fresh dillweed is preferable t0 dried dillweed because of its superior delicate fragrant flavor. The leaves of fresh dill should look feathery and green in color.
- The seeds are most common in Scandinavia and Germany. The seeds have a flavor similar to caraway, which is also popular in these countries. (13) The seeds can also be sprouted, but the technique is different than that normally used for seeds.
Cat’s recipes with dillweed
This list is not complete, but rather gives ideas on different uses for dill:
- Main course: Beef Stroganoff; Cabbage Rolls; Chicken Kiev (Breasts stuffed with butter & herbs); Danish/Swedish Meatballs; Danish Pot Roast with Dill; Pâté de Saumon, en Croûte (Salmon & Rice Loaf, in Brioche); Salmon & Leek Tart, Quiche or Casserole
- Salads & Sides: Beet and Blue Cheese Salad; Fusilli with Feta and Green Peas; Herb Bread (Yeast-Risen); Tsatziki (Greek Cucumber Dip); Turnips Au Gratin
- Soups: Borscht – Eastern European Beet Soup
- Vegetarian: Black Bean & Goat Cheese Quesadillas, with Guacamole; Cabbage Rolls stuffed with rice and mushrooms; Russian Vegetable Pie or Pierogi
Stop fresh dillweed in the refrigerator either wrapped in a damp paper towel or with its stems placed in a container of water. However, it will only keep fresh for about two days.
Dillweed can be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers; Or freeze the dill leaves in ice cube trays covered with water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. (13)
Dry dill seeds, then store in tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dry and dark place Stored in this way, they will keep fresh for about six months. (13)
Health benefits of dill
Dill’s unique health benefits come from two types of healing components:
- Monoterpenes, including carvone, limonene, and anethofuran. These provide antioxidant protection against free radicals. and cancer (much like parsley).
- Flavonoids (volatile oils), including kaempferol and vicenin. These provide protection against cancer by neutralizing certain carcinogens such as benzopyrenes in smoke (as from cigarettes, campfires, etc.). The volatile oils also have antibacterial ability, by preventing overgrowth.
Dill is a good source of calcium, minerals manganese, iron and magnesium; and also fiber.
(Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
See also Fennel or Finnochio (About)
Fennel is a member of the parsley family, and is native to the coastal shores of the Mediterranean. Nutritionally fennel seeds are a good sources of calcium, choline, essential fatty acids, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and vitamins C and E (7).
Fennel seed contains anti-oxidant flavonoids: rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides (13). These antioxidants can help reverse damage to liver cells (28). Fennel also contains powerful anti-inflammatory, anethole, which may also prevent occuarance of cancer; however, the source (13) does not make it clear whether this is in the bulb or seed.
Medicinal uses (5, 7):
- They may help relieve intestinal gas by relaxing the intestines; either chew the seeds or drink a fennel tea (bruise the seeds, as with a mortar and pestle, then steep in hot water).
- For breast-feeding mothers, fennel tea made from the seeds helps to improve breast function and increase milk production.
- As an eye wash (boil the seeds in water to make the wash) to treat pink eye; research is ongoing on the use of the eye wash to treat glaucoma.
- As a diuretic, fennel may improve kidney function and lower blood pressure, but more research is needed.
- Powdered fennel seed can be used to keep fleas off your pets.
Swan Vally Herbs mugwort tea formula (for candida overgrowth) includes fennel seeds, which makes its flavor tolerable, in addition to reducing the gastric distress that results from candida die-off.
Culinary uses are many; fennel seed is mostly interchangeable with anise, as both are similar in taste and aroma. It is used to flavor Italian sausage, which I use in my lasagna recipe. Fennel seed is common in Indian, Pakistani, Persian and Middle-Eastern cuisine, and it is one of the ingredients in Chinese Five-Spice. (9)
Fenugreek is a member of the legume family, and is commonly found in curries. It has also been used to flavor artificial maple syrup and artificial vanilla.
It has many health benefits, the most documented of which is its ability to improve blood sugar control in both type-1 and type-2 diabetes. This ability has been demonstrated in many double-blind studies, and is attributed to the amount and type of fiber present in the seeds. Galactomannan is a specific type of soluble fiber that can slow the rate of postrandial (after meal) glucose absorption and promote satiety.
Other health benefits include (22, 23):
- lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides without lowering HDL cholesterol
- food preservation
- Mercola: on
- 10 top healing spices (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/08/21/top-ten-spices-that-defend-you-against-aging.aspx);
- Holiday spices (mercola.com/2003/dec/13/holiday_spices.htm);
- Healthful Herbs & Spices: articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices.aspxl;polp;
- more Mercola articles on specific herbs/spices below.
- Mercola on
- Anise (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/03/27/can-anise-cure-what-ails-you.aspx),
- Basil (foodfacts.mercola.com/basil.html),
- Cardamom (foodfacts.mercola.com/cardamom.html); cardamom pods for dental health: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2018/02/26/chew-cardamom-pods.aspx;
- Cinnamon articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/09/04/cinnamon-health-benefits.aspx
- Coriander: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/03/07/coriander-benefits.aspx,
- Dandelion (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/08/18/growing-dandelion-greens.aspx)
- Livestrong on allspice (livestrong.com/article/408917-what-are-the-health-benefits-of-allspice);
- (8) Livestrong on:
- Allspice (see previous)
- Star Anise (livestrong.com/article/399013-health-benefits-of-star-anise);
- Fennel (livestrong.com/article/360241-what-are-fennel-seeds-good-for, livestrong.com/article/175504-anise-seeds-vs-fennel-seeds, livestrong.com/article/75989-pros-cons-fennel-seeds, livestrong.com/article/122851-properties-fennel-seeds, livestrong.com/article/111817-fennel-seeds-side-effects, and livestrong.com/article/264074-what-are-the-benefits-of-fennel-seed-tea)
- Cooking with allspice (cooks.ndtv.com/article/show/how-to-cook-with-allspice-storecupboard-challenge-504753)
- Savory Spice Shop: (savoryspiceshop.com/content/mercury_modules/cart/items/2/6/9/2696/anise-seeds-1.jpg)
- Wikpedia on cardamom (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardamom); on fennel (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fennel); on chervil (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chervil)
- The Epicenter on Cassia (theepicentre.com/Spices/cassia.htm)
- homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/cinnamonhistory.htm and homecooking.about.com/od/foodhealthinformation/a/cinnamonhealth.htm
- Life Enhancement.com on blood sugar and cholesterol-lowering effects of cinnamon (life-enhancement.com/article_template.asp?ID=914)
- WH Foods: on
- Basil (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85);
- Cinnamon (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=68);
- Cassia vs Cinnamon (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=newtip&dbid=31)
- Cumin (whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=91);
- Dill (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=71);
- Fennel (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=23)
- Health Compendium on cinnamon toxicity (health-compendium.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=30&Itemid=9)
- Diabetes Health on cinnamon (diabeteshealth.com/read/2004/11/01/4013/cinnamon)
- Alternative Medicine on cinnamon tea (altmedicine.about.com/od/cinnamon/r/cinnamontea.htm)
- Organic Facts, on clove (organicfacts.net/organic-oils/natural-essential-oils/health-benefits-of-clove-oil.html)
- Health Recipes.com on coriander (healthrecipes.com/coriander.htm) and on cumin (healthrecipes.com/cumin.htm)
- (8) aroracreations.com/recipes/healthbenefits.htm
- (11) shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/cayenne.htm
- (12) healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/cayenne.htm
- AlternativeZ on Chervil (alternativz.co/knowledge-article/chervil-herb-benefits-and-uses-overview)
- Antioxidant and anticarcinogenic effects of methanolic extract and volatile oil of fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare) (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21812646)