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Herbs and Spices

   

 

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Herbs

As with spices there are too many herbs to give a full list of all their benefits. These are the more common ones used for cooking and easily available in the supermarket (or to grow yourself)

Basil – the classic accompaniment to all tomato dishes. It is also a natural tranquilliser and a tonic to calm the nervous system. May aid digestion and ease stomach cramps. Basil tea may relieve nausea.

Bay - is used to stimulate and aid digestion.

Chives – help to enliven dishes with a delicate onion taste. Chives can stimulate the appetite and aid digestion.

Coriander – fresh leaves can be eaten as a tonic for the stomach and heart. The seeds and leaves are used for treating urinary tract infections.

Dill - has proved itself to be effective in the relief of gripes and flatulence (gripe water).

Fennel – fresh leaves have a mild aniseed flavour and are used, along with the seeds; to aid digestion, prevent excessive wind, insomnia, nausea and vomiting.

Feverfew – although not commonly used in cooking, I included this one as it makes a good alternative to pills to combat a headache. Eat 3-5 fresh leaves every day between slices of bread to reduce the frequency of migraines and to aid restful sleep. Do not eat raw leaves as they can produce mouth ulcers

Mint – used mainly in cooking, mint also aids digestion and hot mint tea can help at the start of a cold.

Parsley – a widely used herb for garnishing, it contains vitamin C and iron. Fresh parsley leaves also make a good breath freshener when chewed after eating garlic.

Rosemary – used extensively throughout the Mediterranean, it is said to act as a stimulant to both the nervous and circulatory systems, and may help to soothe the digestive system, relieving indigestion and flatulence. Drinking a weak infusion may also help to relieve a nervous headache, neuralgia and colds. Rosemary also makes a good antiseptic gargle.

Sage – aids in the digestion of rich or heavy foods (hence its affinity with goose and venison). Sage tea can also be used for indigestion, anxiety, excessive sweating and as a gargle to ease a sore throat.

Thyme – has strong medicinal qualities. Take as a tea for a digestive tonic and a cure for hangovers. Sweeten the infusion with honey for convulsive coughs, colds and sore throats. Apply diluted thyme oil as a massage for headaches and use the essential oil in a burner as an antiseptic room freshener. It may also relieve insomnia, poor circulation and muscular pain.


Spices

There are too many spices to list all of their properties, so I have chosen the most readily available ones.

Black pepper – Stimulates digestion, eases flatulence, relieves constipation and improves circulation.

Caraway seeds – said to relieve flatulence, colic and bronchitis. They also stimulate the appetite, can be used to ease menstrual pain and increase milk flow in nursing mothers.

Cardamom – is an excellent digestive tonic and is also used to treat some kidney disorders. The seeds contain oils, including borneol, camphor and pinene. Chewing on them directly release these components and gives a comforting, but not to fiery, warmth that eases indigestion, flatulence and colic. It can also be used in the treatment of colds coughs and bronchitis.

Cayenne pepper – a spice claimed to act as a tonic to the digestive and circulatory systems. It can be used to treat indigestion and has been found to be helpful in the treatment of chilblains.

Chillies – chilli peppers are a fruit and they provide three times more vitamin C than oranges. Moderate amounts of fresh or dried chillies will induce the body to sweat – a cooling mechanism which could explain the popularity of chillies in hot climates. The heat comes from a component called capsaicin, which is concentrated in the white ribs and seeds. Capsaicin can relive nerve pain and is used in a medicinally prescribed cream to ease the pain of shingles. Herbalists advocate the consumption of chillies to warm the body, improve circulation and stimulate the metabolism. Do not use if suffering from conditions that cause abnormal facial flushing.

Cinnamon – research indicates that cinnamon can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including E. coli (NOT mutant strain) when added to foods. It has been used by herbalists as an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral substance for many years. It can treat stomach upsets and vomiting, reduce cold and ‘flu symptoms. Adding a dash to a honey and lemon drink can aid a sore throat. It is also an anti-spasmodic and thus ideal to ease menstrual cramps if taken as cinnamon tea.

Cloves – the oil, applied directly, has long been used to ease toothache (or try clamping a whole clove between your teeth). It is also an effective insect repellent.

Coriander seeds – help to stimulate the digestive system. It has also been prescribed in the treatment of diarrhoea, cystitis and other urinary tract infections.

Cumin seeds – in the past these seeds have been used to cure flatulence and colic.

Fenugreek – is high in ingredients that soothe and heal. Freshly ground fenugreek can be used in cooking or as an infusion (1oz seeds to 1 pint of boiling water) to ease inflammatory conditions of the stomach and intestines. Alternatively they can be sprouted and the green parts eaten when 2-3 inches high (together with the seeds). It should not be used during pregnancy.

Ginger – aids digestion, circulation and is a popular remedy for nausea, especially travel and morning sickness. It is also used to protect against respiratory and digestive infections and to ease flatulence and griping pains. It can also be chewed to relieve toothache. At the first sign of a cold or ‘flu, hot ginger tea may help to clear a blocked nose and stimulate the liver to remove toxins from the bloodstream, (1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, juice of half a lemon and 1 teaspoon of honey, topped up with boiling water). Ginger’s warming effects have also been held to reduce rheumatic aches and pains.

Horseradish – when eaten with rich meat or oily fish is an aid to digestion. Taken as an infusion (1oz fresh root, 1/2 oz crushed mustard seeds in 1 pint of boiling water. Take 2-3 tablespoons 2-3 times a day) will increase urinary flow and can disperse excess fluid to reduce water retention.

Juniper berries – since they have antiseptic properties, these berries have been used to treat infections of the urinary tract. They are a kidney irritant so do not use if suffering from any type of kidney infection or disease. They will also cause the uterus to contract so do not use during pregnancy.

Mustard seeds – the black seeds are hotter than the white. Hot water poured onto crushed seeds and used as a footbath is said to ward off ‘flu and relieve headaches.

Nutmeg – and mace (the outer covering) both contain myristicin, a substance that can cause drowsiness, (warm milk and grated nutmeg at bedtime will promote sleep). When taken in moderation they may alleviate nausea, vomiting, flatulence and diarrhoea, but taken in large quantities they become toxic.

Saffron – one of the most expensive spices in the world, saffron is used to treat a variety of ailments. It is said to relieve menstrual pain (and problems), depression, chronic diarrhoea and neuralgic pain.

Turmeric – contains compounds that herbalists use to treat and prevent conditions of the liver such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and jaundice. It calms the digestive system and stimulates the gall bladder to release bile (aiding the breakdown of fats). Added to beans and pulses it can help to reduce gas and bloating. Curcumin, an active component, is thought to have anti-tumour effects, and a recent study suggests that curcumin causes breast cancer cells to self-destruct. (University of Miami School of Medicine).

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