Herbs and spices have been used in medicine for thousands of years, treating a range of different ailments. As the cold weather continues to hang around and the cold and flu season lingers, here is a list of 7 winter herbs and spices that may keep the aches and sniffles at bay:
Historically, ginger has been used to relieve various gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and motion sickness, including dizziness, vomiting, and cold sweating. The root has been mentioned in ancient Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern writings, and has been praised for years for its culinary and medicinal properties. Recently it has even been used to help sickness associated with chemotherapy and in reducing pain in osteoarthritis due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
In a double-blind study, it was found that ginger root significantly reduced nausea and vomiting in 19 out of 27 women in early pregnancy, and unlike anti-vomiting medicines, which may cause birth defects, ginger is safe and only a small amount is required.
In 2 other studies, it was found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling after consuming ginger. It is thought that these effects are due to the anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols.
Cinnamon has been around since medieval times, with doctors using the spice to treat conditions such as arthritis, sore throats, and coughing. Today, studies have shown that it reduces cholesterol, is effective against bacteria, reduces pain linked to arthritis, is a natural preservative, helps with PMS and menstrual pains, and regulates blood sugar levels! It has also been thought that substances in cinnamon could help fight fungal and bacterial infections and protect against Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.
One particular study showed that the insulin needed to stabilize blood sugar after a meal was reduced after consuming 3g of cinnamon. A further study found that taking 1–3g reduced levels of harmful cholesterol.
Nutmeg was used in Ancient times as a brain tonic and has been thought to protect against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. It can also help stress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. The properties in nutmeg can combat a whole host of pain related issues including digestive problems and muscle aches, and due to its antibacterial properties, the spice can additionally treat halitosis and bad breath by eliminating bacteria from the mouth. Enjoying a warm drink with nutmeg in the evening has also been found to aid sleep. However, some scientific studies have found that the major compound in nutmeg, mystiricin, can cause hallucinations and convulsions, so be careful not to eat too much!
Cloves were used thousands of years ago as breath fresheners, and traditionally the oil has been rubbed on gums to treat toothache. A study recently has even found clove oil to be as effective as pharmaceutical gel for dental relief. The active component in cloves is called eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and can enhance sexual health, improve digestion due to the relaxation of the gastrointestinal tract, and even treat bruises and scrapes. In Ayurveda, clove tea is used to prevent colds and to attack germs linked with sore throats.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranian, with students in Ancient Greece putting sprigs in their hair for stimulating and strengthening memory. Today, rosemary is still used for these memory qualities and studies have shown that sniffing rosemary helps students to feel less stressed during exams, even reducing their heart rate. Rosemary contains substances that increase blood flow to the head, stimulate the immune system, and improve digestion. Anti-inflammatory properties also reduce symptoms of asthma, and antioxidant properties protect the arteries from fat build up, reducing the risk of a heart attack.
Garlic is so beneficial in health that whole books have been written about this particular herb. It is the sulphur-containing compounds that provide garlic with its benefits, including detoxification, strengthening the immune system, decreasing impotency, reducing cardiovascular disease, and alleviating fungal and bacterial infections. Garlic has also been implicated in reducing the risk of cancer, and one study found that after a year of taking garlic extract, people with colon polyps had a reduction in the number and size of pre-cancerous growths.
Turmeric is a powerful medicine that has been used as an anti-inflammatory for years, treating a range of conditions from jaundice to toothaches, bruises, chest pain, menstrual difficulties, and digestive issues. Lately it’s even been getting attention as a potential cancer fighter. Curcumin is the substance responsible for the golden colour and has anti-cancer properties, reducing inflammation that contributes to tumour growth and helping to detox the body from toxic substances before DNA is damaged (see article on detoxification).
Using herbs and spices in cooking is not just for flavor; there are so many benefits to enhance the quality of your life. So next time you feel like cooking, grab the little pots and get creative!