While you may think of herbs and spices as a means of flavoring your favorite dishes, they have a much longer history of medicinal use.
Herbs and spices have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Our ancestors knew that these plant-based substances could improve health in a variety of ways and they have survived as part of our food culture. Including these herbs and spices into your diet is a great way to improve health naturally, without medications or supplements.
In this article, you’ll learn the basics about the health benefits of fresh herbs and dried spices as well as some practical tips for including them in your daily diet. Try some of these fantastic, all-natural spices in your meals to improve the taste and nutritional value!
Why Bother with Herbs and Spices?
Herbs and spices are a great way to make healthy foods taste delicious – plain, unappealing chicken breast can become a fantastic and mouth-watering meal if you simply season it with herbs and spices. They also provide a great alternative to traditional, unhealthy sauces and seasonings. This means less salt, which can raise blood pressure and cause us to retain water, and less high-sugar sauces like ketchup. These simple swaps can improve your long-term health and body composition.
Beyond their culinary uses, herbs and spices have powerful health-promoting benefits of their own. You’ll receive an in-depth look at a dozen key herbs and spices, but the general benefits range from anti-aging to combatting serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease. One of the best things about these herbs and spices is that you don’t even need to make large changes to your diet to gain the fantastic benefits – simply add a few common seasonings to your food and drink to make a big difference to your health!
14 Healthy Spices & Herbs to Add to Your Diet
Cinnamon has a fantastic, intriguing flavor and has been used extensively in pastries and confectionery. However, the active ingredient Cinnamaldehyde also combats inflammation, infection and boosts the immune system, making it a great health food.
Ground cinnamon is a versatile spice and can be purchased inexpensively at most supermarkets, as well as health food stores. It is characterized by a warm, aromatic flavor and is well-suited to use in sweet and savory dishes. Try mixing it with oatmeal and topping with fruit for a great healthy breakfast.
Ginger is one of the best tubers – plant roots that can be ground or grated into foods and have amazing health benefits. Ginger is great for digestive health, calming stomach aches and improving the gut environment by combatting bad bacteria and stimulating good bacteria. You can also expect anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits from ginger, keeping your whole body healthy.
Ginger has a warm, distinct taste and is a great addition to most foods. It is best to buy a whole piece of ginger and grate it into curries, stir fries, or even blended into shakes and smoothies. Try adding ¼ to ½ an inch of ginger to your favorite smoothie or protein shake for a warm, comforting health boost.
Turmeric is another potent ingredient that is packed with health benefits. This spice is overlooked because it does not have the same warming taste of ginger or cinnamon, but its medical benefits are fantastic. Turmeric contains huge amounts of vitamins that you are likely to be deficient in, such as
- Heme Iron (the best kind)
These vitamins make it a great choice for improving blood health, bone health, and regulating the metabolism. Turmeric also contains curcumin, an ingredient that has been proven to combat cancer risks, keep the brain healthy as we age, keep the heart and arteries healthy, ease pain, and combat the risks and symptoms of diabetes.
If you have 10 minutes, you can make a nutritious and delicious ginger and turmeric tea!
As you might expect from the name, sage is an herb that can improve brain function and keep your mind sharp – both now and as you age. Sage has two major benefits: first, it improves memory and cognitive performance. It also combats the risk of Alzheimer’s disease to keep the brain healthy as you age.
Sage is sold as a dried herb which can be used on traditional roasts, especially for meat and vegetables. You can also add fresh sage to a variety of dishes in the same way that you might use spinach, such as omelets, sandwiches, and with pasta dishes.
5. Peppermint (In Moderation)
Peppermint is common in Western cooking, especially in sweet foods. The peppermint flavor is well-known, but the health effects are not. In the correct doses, peppermint can soothe the stomach and combat symptoms of IBS, nausea, and other digestive discomforts. Be sure to watch how much you consume, however, as peppermint oil can damage the digestive system if eaten in excess.
Peppermint tea is a great way of consuming peppermint: the combination of green tea with peppermint provides fantastic, comprehensive support and is a great way to relax and improve your sleep.
Cayenne peppers contain a large dose of Capsaicin – a chemical that has received a lot of attention recently for being a ‘fat-burner’. Cayenne peppers are also known for their anti-inflammatory qualities. They also fight cancer, though the science has yet to determine just how effective they may be.
Cayenne peppers are an easy and delicious way to impart any food with a boost of heat while providing great health benefits. Try using them in any hot dish to add some nutritious value and keep your body inflammation-free – you can also use cayenne powder in your favorite recipes.
Fenugreek is a bit different from a lot of other ingredients on this list: its most popular benefits are related to male sexual health. You may have heard of fenugreek in a discussion of erectile dysfunction, but you may not know that it also lowers blood sugar levels and has a modest effect on reducing appetite.
Fenugreek seeds, leaves, and powder can be purchased online or through health food stores. The seeds and leaves can be used in South-Asian curries, whereas the powder can be applied to vegetable dishes and hummus.
Garlic is probably the most common spice on this list. Garlic has been used extensively in European cooking and made its way to the U.S. where it is still used in many popular dishes. Aside from the distinctive taste, garlic offers a variety of health benefits: it improves blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, improves heart and artery health, combats common illnesses and has modest improvements on how quickly you can lose weight.
The popularity of garlic is partially due to how easy it is to buy and use. You can buy cloves and powder from most stores. Simply crush the garlic and fry it with steak, throw it into curries or stews, or eat it whole. Garlic powder is equally versatile and inexpensive, but avoid high-salt brands as this can contribute to health problems.
9. Holy Basil
Holy basil is a special form of basil found predominantly in South-Asian cooking, named after its medicinal properties. Holy basil is a potent anti-microbial agent, combatting bacteria, yeast and mold. Holy basil can also boost your immune system, helping your body combat illness and infection.
Basil has a distinct, peppery flavor that is a great addition to many meals – Pesto demonstrates this well, being mostly basil. This makes basil fantastic for pasta dishes, pies, salads, and even blended into shakes and smoothies.
Cloves are a strong, distinctive spice with equally noteworthy medical benefits. They are anti-microbial (they combat bacteria, fungi, and viruses), combat inflammation, and reduce the sensation of pain . Cloves are also a fantastic source of a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals: potassium, iron, manganese, vitamin K, omega-3 fats, calcium, and magnesium. Many people are deficient in these vitamins, so cloves are a delicious way to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients.
Cloves can be bought whole or as a powder, with a warm, sweet flavor that suits sweet and savory dishes. Cloves are a fantastic accompaniment to meats or baked goods, but are best used in a blend of spices to ensure that the taste isn’t overwhelming, and to get the best variety of health benefits. Try blending cloves with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and/or ginseng for new flavor combinations.
We all know that chocolate is bad for us, but cocoa can be a fantastic spice by itself. Cocoa contains a higher relative quantity of phenols than many teas (which are great for health already). Phytophenols are natural, plant-based compounds that have great health benefits. Because of these phytophenols, cocoa can lower blood pressure, combat cancer risk, and protect you from chronic, degenerative diseases.
Cocoa is a great addition to any of the deep, rich flavors we usually associate with French cooking. A cocoa-infused beef bourguignon or spinach salad with mustard and cocoa nibs will take on a new, tantalizing dimension. Cocoa is a popular ingredient in many desserts, whether they include chocolate or not. Cocoa nibs are a great choice for healthy bakes, like our delicious paleo brownies, or used to make healthy, low-sugar chocolate sauces.
12. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is one of the most underrated herbs, as it doesn’t feature in many common recipes. However, thistle contains the highest concentrations of silymarin of any common, edible plant. Silymarin can improve liver health – especially for those who have caused liver damage through the abuse of alcohol, recreational drugs, or anabolic steroids. Milk thistle supports liver function and combats cancers and diseases of the liver, making it one of the most important foods to include for those who are looking to remain healthy into old age.
Milk thistle hasn’t been featured in modern food, but it is possible to cook with any part of the plant. The buds, roots, leaves, and seeds are all available to be used in cooking with different flavors and benefits. Try using the leaves and roots as a filling vegetable in salads and pies, or the seeds and powder in curries and blended into soups, stews, shakes, and smoothies.
Rosemary is one of the most popular spices in traditional English dishes, being paired with chicken and other meats for its subtle, aromatic flavor. It is also fantastic for assisting the body in combating common illnesses like cold and flu, while its antioxidant effects combat the risk of chronic disease such as cancer and organ failure.
Rosemary is also great for the digestive system and has been used to calm a stomachache or IBS for centuries, with a high concentration of gut-supportive phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are also fantastic for regulating blood pressure and improving circulation, which makes it fantastic for overall health, as it keeps the brain and body well-supplied with oxygen and nutrients.
You’ve probably cooked with rosemary before, but it has a fantastic taste that combines the flavors of pine with gentle minty notes. Rosemary can be used in baking and roasting, especially to bring out the flavors of common roast ingredients such as chicken and potatoes. Rosemary is a fantastic ingredient in the searing of beef or lamb – a single sprig in smoking olive oil provides an infusion of fantastic flavors. It is also possible to use rosemary in soups, stews and broths to provide a warm, hearty, aromatic taste.
You probably didn’t expect to see the banana on this list, but it is technically an herb and it has some of the most important and under-used seasoning effects of any fruit. The banana is a delicious fruit by itself, but it is also a great favorite way to season desserts and other foods with a sweet, sugary taste without the same sugar concentrations of white sugar or honey.
Honey is the most common sugar replacement because of the fact that it is not as processed or refined as common table sugar, but the sugar content is still huge. Banana is a fantastic healthy substitute: dark yellow bananas are incredibly sweet but provide a far more fiber and less sugar than either honey or table sugar. You can blend bananas straight into a smoothie or try dehydrating bananas and blending them into a fine powder, which can be used as an alternative to powdered sugars or sweeteners!
Summary: Using Fresh Herbs and Spices
If you’re looking to improve your health and wellness, you can use these fantastic herbs and spices to give yourself a big boost without too much change in your lifestyle. There are no medications and all of these products are totally safe and healthy in the right quantities, as well as adding some great, versatile flavors to your meal. Use these foods to spice up your nutrition and keep yourself in peak condition!
Actionable Steps: Cooking with Healthy Spices & Herbs
- Keep track of your meals for a few days, making particular note of any condiments or sauces you use. Check the food label for each to see the nutritional value and the calorie content.
- Look for ways in which you can replace those store-bought sauces and condiments with homemade versions using fresh herbs and dried spices.
- Try cooking with only natural ingredients – that means using fresh herbs or spices to flavor meat and vegetable dishes instead of ordering take-out or warming up frozen dinners. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
The health benefits of fresh herbs and spices are myriad, and all you need to do in order to benefit from them is to include these foods in your daily diet! The beauty of herbs and spices is that they are easy to use and full of flavor, there are no downsides!
Luke is a freelance writer inspired by health, wellness and life!