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 are not complete, or have not yet been added to this post.
- Includes: Ginger, Licorice Root, Mint, Mustard, Nettles, Nutmeg & Mace, Onion, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Sumac, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric
- See also: 1. Herbs & Spices (About); 2. Individual Herbs & Spices, A – F; 3. Ancient Medicine; 4. Curries & Blends; 5. Anti-inflammatory Herbs & Spices and How to Use Them; Other sites: 1. Mercola: several articles on herbs & spices (1)
- (Green Med Info): 5 Most Powerful HealthcBenefits of Ginger (40a);
- pdf of research abstracts on its health benefits (40b); saved copy: CATSFORK > PDF Files / Ginger-HealthBenefits_GreenMedInfo.pdf; 2.9 MB), but more info has been added since I saved the pdf.
Ginger is from the rhizome (root) of the ginger plant, and is a relative of turmeric. Its most well known health benefit is that of soothing digestive distress, especially during recovery from parasitic infections. In double-blind studies, it has been shown to be more effective than Dramamine in relieving motion sickness.
Ginger is great for warming the body and flavor of foods. It has been used as a food preservative. It is high in the minerals: potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese; and in vitamins B6s: choline & folate. (1, 2) Eating a bite of ginger (or sipping on ginger tea) between bites of food will help increase the saliva in your mouth, which in turn improves your digestion.
The 5 Most Powerful HealthcBenefits of Ginger (40a); see the article for more detail:
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Diarrheal diseases
Medicinally, it (1, 2, 3, and as noted):
- soothes nausea, motion sickness and other stomach upset, including during pregnancy
- relieves morning sickness
- is an anti-emetic (anti-vomiting)
- relieves migraines; see Food Revolution (37) on how to take it
- relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract, including the elimination of intestinal gas
- encourages bile flow, to promote proper digestion of fats
- boosts the immune system
- has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties
- has anti-inflammatory properties (from the gingerols) as documented in a placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study.
- promotes cardiovascular health
- protection against colorectal cancer; induces cell death in ovarian cancer
- treatment for ovarian cancer
See also Mercola’s article on Ginger that focuses on its ability to help people with metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance) and obesity, but also addresses other benefits of ginger. It also includes a recipe for “Fire Tea,” a concoction made with ginger and cinnamon. (1d). See also my recipe for Golden Milk using turmeric and ginger.
You can use the fresh root – grated, minced or chopped – in some recipes, or as a ground powder in other recipes. To make your own powder from the fresh root, you first need to dehydrate it before grinding. ‘See Fresh Bite’s Daily blog (31) or Mom with a Prep blog (32) for details.
This is adapted from The Spruce (36), and makes 1 mug of ginger tea.
- about 2 inches of fresh, raw ginger root (or to taste)
- 1½ – 2 cups filtered water
- fresh lime or lemon, for juice (optional)
- honey or pure grade B maple syrup (optional)
- Peel ginger root, then slice thinly to maximize surface area for the best flavor in your tea. Add it to water in a saucepan; bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes or more. For a stronger tea, use more sliced ginger and boil 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add a squeeze of fresh lime juice and honey if desired
Ginger tea has many health benefits, including the following form Dr. Jockers (38):
- Ovarian cancer treatment
- Colon cancer prevention
- Morning sickness relief
- Motion sichres remedy
- Reduces pain and inflammation
- Heartburn relief
- Prevention of diabetic “nephropathy”
- Migraine relief
- Menstrual cramp relief
- Cold and flu prevention
How to dry ginger root (34)
Wash pieces well, peel (potato peeler works great), and slice about ⅛” thick crosswise, then cut each slice into cubes. Place on a baking sheet to dry in a warm room or in the sun for several days (check daily), or on a drying rack to dry in a dehydrator, 1 – 3 hours at 95°F. I use a framed screen placed in my natural gas pilot-warmed oven.
Testing 12/3/16: Used 2 small pieces, totaling about 3″ long, and about the size of a quarter in diameter. The fresh ginger weighed 1.3 oz before peeling and 1.1 oz after peeling. Sliced thinly lengthwise with a mandoline (I tried a grater but it quickly became a tangle of threads). After drying it weight 0.1 oz, for a fresh-to-dried oz ratio of 11:1. Store dried ginger root in an airtight container in a dry, cool and dark place, as is; or grind to a powder in a coffee grinder or food processor. After testing it in Immune Chai recipe, I conclude should slice crosswise with sharp knife, then into cubes, to be easier to handle and measure (updated instructions accordingly)
(Photo, left, from Love To Know (15))
Licorice root is a sweetener, flavoring agent, and has medicinal properties. It’s flavor is similar to fennel or anise seeds; you probably have had it as black licorice candy, for which it provides both the sweetening and flavor. Its flavor and sweetening ability, as well as some of its medicinal properties result from glycyrrhizin (a triterpenoid) in the root.
Licorice is best known for treating gastric issues such as ulcers, diverticulitis, leaky gut, and constipation. It has an “antispasmodic aspect … that aids in reducing symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.” (15). It is useful in treating inflammation in the gut, and also in helping to heal the gut lining. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (also known as Dgl) is available with the glycyrrhizin removed, for treatment of gastric issues, if you wish to avoid its side effects.
Licorice tea is soothing for a sore throat, bronchitis and other respiratory symptoms. It is a natural cough suppressant. Although Dgl licorice can also be used for treatment of respiratory issues, whole licorice is preferred.
Licorice root is also an adaptogen used to treat adrenal fatigue. You need the whole root (best taken as a tea) for this use, as the glycyrrhizin is the active agent. 1.75 – 5.25 g (0.06 – 0.19 ounces or 1 – 2 tsp) per day is recommended dosage of the whole root. (16) However, beware of side effects from extended use of whole root (see Caution below). Unfortunately Dgl licorice is not helpful for adrenal fatigue.
See Holistic Primary Care (16) for other herbs useful in treating adrenal exhaustion. Delicious Living (18) and Dr. Axe (17) are also good references
Licorice root tea
The easiest way to take the whole root is as a tea. Place 1 – 2 tsp of the chopped root in a sauce pan; add 3 – 4 cups filtered water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Strain and take in ½ – 1 cup increments.
Glycyrrhizin in licorice root has important side effects. It can raise blood pressure, and cause heart arrhythmia. It is best not to take it more than 2 weeks at a time, and monitor your blood pressure before starting and daily while taking it.
Perhaps one of the oldest known spices, mustard is mentioned many times in the Bible and has a long history for use in medicine. A member of the brassica (cabbage) family, it is a very rich source of the minerals selenium, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium (2 tsp provides more than 5% of minimum daily value), and a rich source of iron, calcium and zinc. It also provides protein, especially including the amino acid tryptophan; omega-3 fatty acid, fiber, and vitamin B3 (2).
When using dry (powdered) mustard, which does not have a strong flavor, you can enhance its pungency and heat by mixing it with water to initiate an enzymatic process that releases mustard oil. Adding hot water or an acidic substance, such as vinegar, stops the enzymatic process (2).
If you have thyroid problems, especially hypothyroidism, you might want to avoid mustard (as well as other cruciferous vegetables, especially when raw), because of the goitrogens common to this family. Goitrogens suppress thyroid activity by inhibiting the incorporation of iodine into the thyroid hormones; however, cooking them diminishes goitrogenic activity (2).
Health benefits of mustard include (2, 3):
- food preservative
- relief of respiratory complaints
(Image, right, from Wikimedia Commons); NOTE: I’m working on an update to address health benefits in more detail.
Also called ‘stinging nettles’ because they do sting a lot (and can give you a rash) if you touch them raw without gloves or other protection. Despite the sting, they are very nourishing and also have many healing qualities including: (26)
[support] “women’s and men’s reproductive health, to restore energy levels, detoxify the body (by supporting elimination organs), relieve allergies, and strengthen bones, hair, nails and teeth…”
“a notable source of calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin K, carotenoids, and protein”
They resemble the mint family in look, but mint varieties do not sting and are more aromatic than nettles. Harvest while young, before they flower; ‘always leave a few leaves below the cutting so that plant will continue to grow’ (26).
Blanching them (2 minutes in boiling water, then drain) neutralizes the stinging aspect of the plant. Save the blanching water to use as a veggie broth for soups, or to drink as nettle tea. Nettles can also be dried and reconstituted for use in recipes, but the stems may be a bit tough.
If you do get stung from nettle, Wikipedia offers some natural relief, “Calamine lotion may be helpful. Many folk remedies exist for treating the itching, including dandelion, horsetail (Equisetopsida spp.), leaf of dock (Rumex spp.), greater plantain, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida), the underside of a fern (the spores), mud, saliva, or baking soda, oil and onions, lemon juice, and topical use of milk of magnesia” (28)
See interesting recipe: Earth Shake: Nettle Smoothie (Learning Herbs recipe (26))
Nutmeg & Mace
Nutmeg and mace are both from the seed of the fruit of the nutmeg tree. Nutmeg is from the kernel of the seed and mace is the covering of the seed. They can be used interchangeably as they have similar flavors, but that of mace is less intense and lends a light saffron color; both have similar constituents in their oils (but differ in amounts of the constituents. (21)
Nutmeg is commonly associated with sweet treats sweet treats like cookies and spice cakes, as a sprinkling on egg custard or egg nog. But it is also commonly used in many savory main dishes as well; for example, my recipe for Moussaka (Greek Lamb & Eggplant Casserole) (4).
One whole nutmeg, grated, is equal to 2 – 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg (5).
It is rich in the mineral magnesium, which is important for relaxing muscles. Its antioxidants myristicin and elemicin fight inflammation and pain. it may also be useful for slowing down certain aspects of aging by slowing the deterioration or neural pathways int he brain. slow down the deterioration of neural pathways in the brain.
Nutmeg has been used to treat various complaints (but should be used in moderation – just a pinch at a time) (1, 4, 5, 19):
- antibiotic, especially against cavities in the mouth
- insomnia (beware: nutmeg can induce drowsiness, so do not use when driving)
- calming muscle spasms
- nausea and vomiting
- indigestion, gas
- joint pain and gout
- respiratory complaints including cough, asthma
- lowering blood pressure
- menstrual cramps
- male infertility and impotence
- improving circulation
- lowering blood cholesterol
- liver tonic–helps to remove toxins from the liver
- kidney infections and kidney diseases; helps to dissolve kidney stones
- toothaches and bad breath (antiseptic quality of nutmeg oil)
- heart tonic, due to presence of eugenol in nutmeg
- brain tonic
- Alzheimer’s progression
Other health related benefits of nutmeg:
- food preservative 8
Culinary uses of nutmeg (5):
- enhance the flavors of creamy sweet treats (cream pies, puddings, custards, ice cream and soufflés), as well as cookies, cakes and pastries.
- topping beverages like eggnog, cappuccino foam, milkshakes; also wine and punch.
- savory dishes including cheese sauces, soups, gravies; vegetables such as cabbage family and other greens, onions, eggplant, green beans, potatoes, and winter squash.
- meats, especially chicken
This herb is closely related to marjoram; they can be substituted for each other in most recipes.
One of my favorite herbs, oregano has a “warm, pronounced flavor, with sweet and aromatic undertones.” (14) I grow it in my garden to use mainly in Greek, Italian and other Mediterranean recipes, but it is also popular in Mexican cuisine. It can be added during cooking, rather than at the last moment before serving as many other herbs, although it is still best to add it toward the end of the cooking period. You can chop the leaves, or use the whole sprig, then remove and discard the stem before serving.
If you use olive oil for dipping breads, etc., try infusing your oil with oregano.
It is rich in vitamin K, manganese, iron and calcium. The volatile oils in oregano oil are powerful antimicrobials, are very effective at keeping candida in control, and inhibiting the growth bacteria such as strep, and the giardia amoeba. it also is a potent antioxidant, more powerful than apples (2)
Paprika is from a red pepper grown in areas around the Mediterranean, but the best is grown in Hungary. Paprika varies in color from a light golden orange to a deep rusty red, and releases its color and flavor only when heated. It is a moderately warm spice; the orange colored paprika carries more heat than the dark red varieties. It deteriorates quickly; buy in small quantities and store in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months.
In cooking, it tends to lose color and flavor the longer it is heated, so it is best to add it near the end of the cooking process. Simply sprinkling it on foods as a garnish does not impart its flavor. To flavor foods, mix it with a bit of oil or heat it with the food.
Like all peppers, paprika is rich in vitamin C. Paprika has 5 – 6 times more vitamin C than oranges, lemons or tomatoes. Sun-dried paprika has a higher vitamin content than commercially dried versions, because the vitamins are heat-sensitive. Red peppers such as paprika are also rich in vitamin-A (beta-carotene) which promotes cell growth and recovery, which in turn supports anti-aging. Vitamin E is another important vitamin that together with vitamin A fight free-radical damage.
It is used as an antibacterial agent and stimulant. It can help normalize blood pressure, improve circulation and increase production of saliva and stomach acids to aid digestion (6).
Like many peppers, paprika is delicious when smoked, and comes to us from “Spain’s La Vera region, farmers harvest and dry the chiles over wood fires, creating smoked paprika or pimentón de La Vera. Smoked paprika should be used in paella and dishes where you want a deep, woodsy flavor.” (25)
This section not yet completed.
This wonderful herb is more than a green accent on your dinner plate; it has amazing health benefits (see below), many of which are due to the abundance of chlorophyl in the leaves and stems.
There are two types of parsley you will find in the produce section: flat-leaf (also called Italian) parsley that has a strong, robust flavor and is the better variety for cooking; and curly-leaf parsley used mainly as a garnish, but I also add it to my morning smoothies. (14)
It is rich in many minerals, and also vitamins A. C and K, with lesser amounts of B1 and B3. It is well-known as a source of anti-oxidants. (2)
I recently watched The Truth About Cancer (TTAC) docu-series online, and learned that parsley is an amazing ability to reduce your risk of cancer − including breast, colon, and lung cancer; from the TTAC blog (35):
Studies reveal that the effects of parsley leaf and its stem extracts significantly reduce the ability of cancer cells to migrate and metastasize. When compared to 47 other fresh plants with cancer prevention properties, parsley was one of the top four herbs revealed to have the highest inhibitory effects on cancer-inducing inflammatory compounds (such as nitric oxide).
If you do veggie-juicing or make a protein smoothie, try adding parsley leaves and stems to your daily beverage.
Other benefits include: (2, 35)
- Liver support (by lowering levels of uric acid)
- Detox (as a rich source of chlorophyll)
- Inhibiting heavy metal toxicity
- Carminative properties (reduces flatulence)
See also ” Thyme & Rosemary” below.
Rosemary & Thyme: Fabulous for Desserts, Cookies
Betty Hallock and Donna Deane, authors of an October 2007 article in my local newspaper, the Daily InterLake (originally from the Los Angeles Times (13)), write:
“Rosemary and thyme…work just as fabulously in desserts [as in roasted meats and sauces]: creamy custards, buttery cookies, pies, crisps and cobblers made with fall fruit such as apples and pears.
Like lemon zest or ginger used in baking, rosemary and thyme focus the elements in fruit that aren’t sweet while tempering the sugars. But the two herbs add their own pungent, piney nuances.”
“For a creamy, luxurious flan, bruised sprigs of the herbs (with leaves and stems) are infused in a milk and cream mixture for one hour. [In this case, the rosemary oils can overpower the thyme], so use more thyme than rosemary in the recipe.”
In my experience, these herbs work wonderfully with goodies that contain lemon juice and/or zest.
references 2, 14
This is one of my favorite herbs, and I grow it in my garden (the French Tarragon variety, which has the most flavor). It has a bit of licorice flavor (like anise or fennel) that lends a wonderful flavor to sauces like hollandaise or mayonnaise. It is a member of the artemisia genus (same as absinthe, infamous for absinthe liquor, vermouth wine, and wormwood), and is an essential herb in French cuisine. Along with parsley, chervil and chives, it is a component of fines herbs.
It is at its best in chicken, fish and egg dishes. Fresh tarragon leaves and stems can be dried for storage (its best to cut up the stems into short segments). Another way to preserve its flavor is to steep it in vinegar (22): use 1 cup of bruised, fresh tarragon sprigs to 2 cups white wine vinegar; cover and store in a cool dark place for 2 – 3 weeks before using.
- A rich source of vitamins C, A, and B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, etc.
- Like most green leafy vegetables, it is an excellent source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, and zinc. To get maximum benefit of these minerals, the tarragon should be cooked with oil, such as in sauces that include butter or olive oil, or in vinaigrette salad dressings.
It has many health benefits and is used in folk remedies (23, 24).
- Most varieties of tarragon have anti-oxidant properties in its oil. Chewing tarragon can numb the mouth and is thus useful for toothaches; it contains the same eugenol component found in clove oil – another home remedy for toothache.
- It is useful as a digestive tonic (to relieve upset stomach, irritable bowels and dyspepsia) because it aids in the production of bile by the liver. Like most members of the artemisia family of herbs (including wormwood), it is useful for treatment of intestinal worms.
- It may also help with anxiety and stress, and promoting a good night’s sleep.
Thyme, a woody and aromatic herb, is the most-oft used herb in my kitchen; I grow it in my garden, but it is also a great ground cover that survives being stepped on, and is used between stones in a walking path. It is used throughout the Mediterranean, where it originated.
It has been used for centuries in aromatherapy to treat illness, and is a powerful antimicrobial treatment. It is a powerful detox agent for the liver. (20)
Historically, crushed thyme was placed on bandages to promote wound healing and ward off infection; it is still useful in this way. (20)
Thyme oil is especially useful for mouth and respiratory issues. It has a relaxing effect on muscles in the bronchi and helps to relive asthma, whooping cough, laryngitis, bronchitis and dry coughs. Mouth and gum infections can be treated with a solution made from as little as .1 percent thyme oil.(20)
Thyme encourages supports your immune system by increasing white blood cell formation. Next time you feel a chill coming on, add it to a hot soup or any savory dish to reap the immune-boosting benefits of this herb. (19)
See also Mercola’s article on Thyme (1g).
However, it isn’t just used in savory foods, but also sweet treats (see also “Rosemary & Thyme,” above).
Turmeric is in the same family as ginger, and like ginger, it is the rhizome (root) that is used in cooking and medicinally. The best source of turmeric is from fresh root. It resembles ginger, but has a warmer, golden-orange color.
- My article: Turmeric (About)
- Dr. Mercola’s excellent article on turmeric: How this spice can potentially improve your health (1e). He also has an article about turmeric’s major component, curcumin, with cautions to take to have better absorption of turmeric’s major component – especially recommends sustained release supplements (1f).
- Green Med Info: A Guide to Using Turmeric (pdf); I saved a copy of the pdf: HEALTH-NUTRITION > HERBS > GREEN MED INFO / Turmeric-GuideToUsing-GMI_2.0; 5.2 MB)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
I have an intestinal parasite – large roundworm or ascaris – that I can’t seem to get rid of. I’ve tried both prescription meds and herbal remedies. The most common herbal remedy I take for this parasite is a tincture that contains black walnut, woodfern and bracken fern. Sometimes I have wormwood added (it’s not good to take it long-term, so I use it for 7 – 10 days, then go back to the tincture without the wormwood for 30-60 days).
The tincture works well agains the adult worms in my small intestine, but the eggs manage to find their way (as larvae) to my lungs where they surround themselves with a thick biofilm so my immune system cannot find them. When they are ready to become adults, they move up my bronchials to the back of my throat, and make me swallow them. Sometimes, I cough them up, instead (that’s better because I spit it out0.
Our local herbalist (Swan Valley Herbs) suggested I breathe wormwood steam (add 1/4 cup dried wormwood leaves to enough water to fill a large mixing bowl; bring the mix to a boil; remove from heat, drape a towel over my head and the bowl and breathe the steam). Do this twice a day for a couple weeks.
See also Mercola’s article on wormwood tea (1H)
- 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.aspx);
- Ginger (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/06/05/ginger-fights-obesity.aspx);
- Curcumin supplements https://products.mercola.com/curcumin-supplement
- Thyme: articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/turmeric.aspx
- Wormwood tea: articles.mercola.com/teas/wormwood-tea.aspx
- WH Foods on various herbs/spices:
- Ginger (whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=72 and whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=nutrientprofile&dbid=108);
- Mustard (whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=106);
- Oregano (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=73);
- Parsley (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=100);
- Sage (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=76);
- Turmeric (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78)
- Better Nutrition magazine, Sept 2014: 9 Essential Herbs for Every Kitchen (betternutrition.com/cooking-with-herbs
- Love to Know on licorice root, including photo: herbs.lovetoknow.com/Benefits_of_Licorice_Root
- Dr Axe: draxe.com/licorice-root
- Delicious living: deliciousliving.com/conditions/fight-exhaustion-adrenal-support-supplements
- learningherbs.com/newsletter/green-smoothie-recipe; Copyright © 2016 LearningHerbs and recipe: learningherbs.com/newsletter/green-smoothie-recipe
- Learning Herbs and K. P. Khalsa’s Culinary Herbalism class (culinaryherbalism.com)
- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica (Wikipedia on nettle)
- NIH study: “Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders,” (sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443914003779)
- Food Revolution (foodrevolution.org/blog/turmeric-may-boost-vegetarian-brains-omega-3-dha-levels-nih-research-reveals)
- Fresh Bites Daily (making ginger powder): freshbitesdaily.com/ginger-powder
- Mom with a Prep blog (making ginger powder): momwithaprep.com/dehydrate-ginger-root-make-ginger-powder
- Mercola on Turmeric: links moved to reference 1e, above
- How to Dry Ginger Root: livestrong.com/article/232697-how-to-dry-ginger-root, leaf.tv/articles/how-to-dry-ginger-root; youtube.com/watch?v=6-7qiplF9tM (video)
- TTAC on parsley: thetruthaboutcancer.com/health-benefits-of-parsley
- TheSpruce, Ginger Tea recipe: thespruce.com/homemade-ginger-tea-3377239
- Food Revolution, on migraines:foodrevolution.org/blog/ginger-migraines
- Dr Jockers: drjockers.com/sore-throat/
- Green Med Info: