Besides providing taste, color, and aroma, many herbs and spices can also be good for our health. We know there are medicinal herbs in the form of herbal supplements that can be helpful for what ails us, but we often overlook the simple ways we achieve health benefits from herbs in our everyday cooking.
Herbs and spices have been traded throughout history. Combining these special flavors used to be big business and was the motive for Christopher Columbus’ travels across the ocean. Today, we are fortunate enough to have these special flavors available at our fingertips. We can travel around the world with our food seasonings in one swift trip to the grocery store.
We often think of herbs and spices as the same thing, but there are some differences between the two. Spices grow in tropical areas and come from bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds, or stems of plants. Examples of spices include ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric. Herbs, on the other hand, typically grow in temperate climates and are made up from the fragrant leaves of plants. This includes basil, oregano, and cilantro.
The health promoting aspect of spices and herbs comes from phytochemicals found in the plants. Phytochemicals are substances that plants produce to protect themselves against viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even insects. They also provide color and aroma. Only a few hundred have been identified and studied, and these have been shown to protect us against ailments such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease -- all the more reason to eat a diet high in plant based foods.
Here are a few examples of simple herbs and spices that can improve your health:
Turmeric is also called curcumin and may help protect against cancer of the rostate, colon, skin, and oral cavity. It also may provide protection from heart disease, Alzheimers, and cataracts. Turmeric is often used in Indian dishes and also works great as yellow food coloring.
Rosemary contains a compound called carnosol, which provides antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic agents. This fragrant herb is also a beautiful plant which you can grow in a pot right in your kitchen window. Rosemary has a strong flavor and goes great with vegetable and poultry dishes.
Oregano is a popular herb that contains quercetin, which has been shown to protect against breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. It also has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that oregano offers the most antioxidant activities of all herbs examined. Plus it is the key ingredient for a great spaghetti sauce!
Ginger contains substances that are believed to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It has been shown to alleviate gastrointestinal distress and can even be used as an effective strategy to decrease morning sickness during pregnancy.