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
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.
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
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).