The Healing Powers of 5 Everyday Spices

Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves do more than flavor some of your favorite foods. These and other "sweet" spices have medicinal properties and are most effective as healers when used on a regular basis. Here's how to get more of them into your diet.

In addition to treating stomach and intestinal problems such as bloating, gas, and spasms, cinnamon has been found to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol levels. When you think of cinnamon as a seasoning, you probably think about foods like cookies, pies, pastries, baked apples, and cinnamon-sugar on toast, but this sweet spice also adds fabulous flavor to savory foods such as chili, baked winter squash, barbeque sauce for ribs, and ethnic stews made with chicken, pork, and lamb. Look up Asian, Mexican, and Moroccan recipes that use cinnamon in delicious ways that may be new to you.

Oil of clove has antioxidant, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties and may help fight some strains of staph bacteria that lead to infection. Like cinnamon, cloves are most often associated with baked goods and fruit desserts. But whole and ground cloves can also be used to season beef stews, pork roasts, a simple steak, and just about any other red meat dish.

Ginger helps relieve nausea and vomiting in some people who suffer from morning sickness or motion sickness, and after chemotherapy and other medical procedures. A review study published in a 2007 issue of American Family Physician found that ginger may also help relieve symptoms of arthritis.

Add ginger juice to soups and beverages. To make ginger juice, grated a knob of fresh ginger over a double layer of paper towel or paper napkin. Gather the shreds into a bundle and firmly but gently squeeze out as much juice as possible. The fresher the root, the more juice you will get. Ginger juice is a flavorful addition to lemonade, apple, or orange juice, puréed carrot soup and fruit smoothies.

A little nutmeg goes a long way toward treating diarrhea that results from medical treatments. Use only in amounts normally called for in cooking and baking, however, because nutmeg contains substances that are toxic when used in excess.

Sprinkle a little nutmeg into a fruit smoothie, creamed or sautéed spinach, and other greens, corn pudding, oatmeal and other hot cereals, and puréed soups made with pumpkin or winter squash.

Of all the healing spices, turmeric is perhaps the most well-known and one of the most researched. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral activity and according to researchers at the University of Texas, may also have anti-cancer potential. In addition to classic Indian-spiced dishes, turmeric can be used to add color and subtle flavor to rice, couscous, quinoa, bulgur, breads, savory pie crust, and other grain-based dishes.

Don't overlook seasoning mixes when you are trying to incorporate more healng spices into your diet. Chinese five-spice powder is a fragrant blend of several healing spices, including ginger and cloves. Use it to flavor chicken soup, stir-fries, tofu dishes, and meat stews. Curry powder is a blend of turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, and other potent spices such as chilies and mustard seed, that are known to have medicinal properties. Likewise, classic pumpkin pie spice blends several healing spices into one powerful mixture that can also be used to flavor cakes, cookies, stewed and baked fruits, puddings, and roasted winter squash.

Chai tea is another example of a seasoning blend that incorporates several healing herbs. In addition to cinnamon, ginger and cloves, the blend often contains fennel and/or cardamom, which can help calm your digestive tract. Try making your own "instant" blend with 1 tablespoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons each of ground cloves and cardamom, mixed with 2 cups of nonfat dry milk powder or soy milk powder, and 1 1/2 cups of black or green tea. Store the mixture in a covered container. Fill a tea ball with this mixture to brew one cup of tea, and sweeten to taste. After tasting the first brew, you can adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste. Some chai tea mixtures contain peppercorns, allspice berries, bits of vanilla bean, and other cracked whole spices instead of ground. You can also omit the powdered milk and add fresh milk or liquid soy milk after brewing the tea and spices, along with your choice of sweetener.


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