Herbs and spices are for more than just making food taste good. They are natural painkillers, there for you on those days when life is a real pain.
Pain can range from barely noticeable to completely unbearable. We get paper cuts, have heart attacks, break bones, pull muscles, stretch tendons, endure root canals, spill hot coffee, and get cancer. Even things we love and enjoy can result in pain, like chipped teeth from soccer, sore muscles from trail running, or headaches from overindulging. Pain is a part of our lives, whether we want it or not, and it isn’t completely going away anytime soon. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from some form of pain across the world each day, both chronic and acute.
There are pharmaceuticals that help, but many of us don’t want to reach for a pill for mild or moderate pain. Luckily, painkillers are also abundantly found in nature. They come to us mainly in foods. Our bodies create some anti-inflammatories and painkillers too, like endorphins and a compound in our saliva that’s more powerful than morphine. The herbs and spices you use to flavor your recipes can add even more anti-inflammatory and painkilling power to your meals, and it seems the more mouthwatering you make your food, the better.
This pungent, yellow spice gives curry its distinctive color and flavor. Turmeric contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory that competes with commercial painkillers for effectiveness, but without the side effects. Curcumin is also very good at destroying some forms of cancer, lowering cholesterol, and killing bacteria too.
Ginger is related to turmeric and has inherited many of the same health boosting properties. Ginger has been shown in studies to be as effective as commercial painkillers, minus all the side effects like stomach bleeding, ulcers, heart damage, kidney problems, and high blood pressure. Ginger also relieves nausea, bloating, and cramping while improving circulation.
Nutmeg is a mild, sweetly pungent spice that goes well in both sweet and savory dishes. It also fights pain and inflammation, relieves indigestion, increases circulation, stimulates the brain, and acts as a mild sedative. It can also be used externally to alleviate joint pain. Just make a paste and apply it. Stick to pinches and dashes of this spice though when eating it. Large amounts cause more problems than they solve.
Capsaicin is the compound in peppers that gives them their spicy bite. This compound is an irritant that creates a sensation of burning on contact. This irritation results in a the nerve cells depleting their pain transmitting chemicals along with prompting a flood of the body’s natural painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and endorphins. This works well externally, capsaicin comprising a main component in over-the-counter arthritis creams. Internally, you get some of the same effects as it hits your mouth, but then you also get cancer-fighting abilities, improved circulation, ramped up metabolism, and reduced cholesterol.
This spicy, sweet spice contains anti-inflammatories effective in easing arthritis pain. Cinnamon does much more though. It is antibacterial, contains powerful antioxidants, lowers cholesterol, and improves insulin function. Sprinkle it over your sweet dishes or make yourself a warming, painkilling tea with a little ginger for good measure.
Clove has a similar flavor to cinnamon, and it shares some insulin improving and anti-inflammatory properties. Clove oil is a common home remedy for toothaches as it has a numbing effect and kills bacteria. Add some to your cinnamon and ginger tea.
Coriander, is the seed of cilantro, and is especially good at relieving stomach pain, but offers some relief for joint pain too. It helps with bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and gas while reducing cholesterol and acting as an antioxidant.
The sulfur compounds in garlic and onions tap into the some of the same pathways as capsaicin, depleting pain causing compounds while releasing endorphins and painkillers. Garlic also lowers cholesterol, controls blood pressure, and is antibacterial. A savory dish without a little garlic is missing out on a lot of health benefits.
Celery and celery seed lend a subtle salty flavor to foods along with anti-inflammatories. The seed is very easy to add to food, just sprinkle it in. It brings out subtle flavors in soups, stews, and sauces. Celery oil can be used externally on joints to reduce pain and swelling.
Mustard seeds, like cayenne and garlic, stimulate the depletion of pain causing substances in nerve cells and release endorphins to counteract the perceived pain. Mustard increases metabolism, stimulates appetite, inhibits cancer growth, and improves circulation. Mustard seeds can be used in much more ways than you might think. Stir fry, pickles, curries, marinades, dressings, soup, garnish, and much more.
Sage has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It reduces inflammation in the brain that may be associated with Alzheimer’s. Sage is also a very delicious herb that adds depth to many dishes.
This pungent herb stimulates brain function, improves memory, and relieves muscle and joint pain. The essential oil can be massaged into joints and sore muscles, but adding it to your pasta sauce will help too. Even just the scent is enough to clear away a headache and improve focus.
There are also several less traditionally eaten herbs to consider. Many of these more medicinal herbs are well worth investigating and putting to the test if you want to lessen the pain in your life.
St John’s Wort
This herb is generally taken for the antidepressant qualities it contains, but it also fights inflammation and pain.
This flower is used topically to speed healing in sprains, strains, and bruises.
Valerian root has a calming effect, relaxing muscles. The sedative effect is normally used to aid sleep, but it can help with aches and pains too, especially just before going to bed.
White Willow Bark
This is the original aspirin. It works almost exactly the same, just a little slower, but without as much stomach discomfort.
The essential oils of many of the herbs and spices mentioned can be used externally, along with many more not mentioned. Make sure to use a carrier oil and test them first as many of these oils can be irritants. Consider clove, rosemary, thyme, caraway, fennel, coriander, marjoram, sage, and peppermint to make your massage better, speed healing, reduce bruising, relax stiff muscles, calm tension, and relieve pain.