Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices in Soups & Stews
Why do we use herbs and spices when we cook? For flavor, right? Yes, they are flavorful, but they also have numerous health benefits. Examples of beneficial properties include improved digestion, decreased inflammation, improved circulation, decreased cholesterol, and relief of migraines. I have summarized health-enhancing properties of herbs and spices commonly used in soups and stews.
Herbs and spices presented in this article:
Benefits of Herbs and Spices Commonly Used in Soups & Stews
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Cardamom, native to India, is in the same family as ginger. Cardamom was recognized for its healing properties by the Romans and Greeks, and has been used in Ayurveda thousands of years. Cardamom aids digestion and treats cramping, gas, and indigestion. While it can be used to stimulate appetite, it also boosts metabolism. Cardamom helps with respiratory inflammation, and combats urinary tract and yeast infections. It may also be effective in boosting the spirit.
Coriander seeds are the seeds of the cilantro plant. They hold an important place in the history of many cultures, dating as far back as the 10th century. The Egyptians included coriander in their burial offerings. The Greeks used coriander as an aphrodisiac, and the Chinese believed it promoted immortality. Coriander stimulates appetite and improves digestion, and relieves spasms and gas. Coriander is said to “contribute energy on a psychic level”, support the expression of thoughts and emotions, and relieve migraines.
Rosemary, an evergreen plant, was used by ancient Greeks as an offering to their goddess of love, Aphrodite. Greek students wore rosemary around their necks to promote memory. In the Middle Ages, rosemary was valued for both memory and fidelity. Brides used it in wreaths to fortify loyalty in their mates. Hospitals in the early 1900s burned rosemary in hospitals to purify the air. Today we use rosemary to facilitate circulation and menstruation. Rosemary aids in the treatment of colds, headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Used as a compress, rosemary eases achy muscles, arthritis pain, and skin irritations.
Turmeric root is a member of the ginger family, and has been valued by Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for centuries. Turmeric was used for the treatment of gallbladder, liver, and kidney problems. We now recognize these benefits, as well as other important healing properties. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, increases insulin efficiency, combats fungal infections, and eases digestive problems. It lowers cholesterol and inhibits undesired blood clotting, which may help prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Video on Turmeric Root
Tarragon’s flavor resembles a mild licorice flavor. It was used in the Middle Ages for poisonous snakebites. It is a folk remedy for toothache because chewing on the leaves numbs the mouth. Tarragon stimulates appetite and treats digestive problems. Tarragon may support menstruation, combat fatigue, and calm nerves. Use as a salt substitute to help lower blood pressure.
Marjoram is a cousin to oregano. It has been used for flavor and healing since ancient times. Marjoram was believed to be a favorite of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and thought to be an aphrodisiac. People in the Middle Ages used marjoram for the treatment of stomach ailments, abdominal cramps, headaches, and neuralgia. Today we recognize marjoram for stimulating appetite and promoting digestion. It loosens mucus. Marjoram induces diuresis and sweating. It has antispasmodic, analgesic, and sedative effects.
Cayenne pepper, or red pepper, as all peppers, belongs to the genus Capsicum. Their heritage as a healing herb is not as storied as some of the other herbs. When Columbus brought pepper to Europe, they enjoyed popularity- as ornamental plants! Not only was cayenne pepper, one of the hottest of the peppers, not appreciated for medicinal properties in the Old World, but medical providers cautioned against eating them! Cayenne was however applied externally to stimulate skin circulation, and ease the symptoms of rheumatism and sciatica. Today naturopaths use cayenne to promote digestion and stimulate circulation.
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Peppercorns come in black, green, red, and white. They are the berries of vines that grow in extremely hot climates. Pepper has been valued for thousands of years as currency, used for taxes, and as offerings to the gods. The quest for pepper spurred ancient explorers to discover new continents. Pepper was thought to help treat pain, rheumatism, poisonous bites, impotence, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal problems. Today pepper is recognized to have mild antibacterial and stimulating properties, which may relieve ailments such as loss of appetite, nausea, bloating, and constipation.
Cumin is from the seeds of a flowering herb in the parsley family. It has been used in food preparation for at least 5000 years. Cumin’s healing properties are valued today in Ayurvedic and natural medicine. It has antiseptic properties. Cumin is thought to stimulate pancreatic enzyme secretions, which helps the body absorb nutrients. Additionally, it fortifies the liver’s function of detoxifying the body. Cumin seeds have been shown to decrease the risks of liver and stomach tumors in lab animals.
In Case You're Wondering...
Chili powder is a blend of peppers and other herbs and spices. Alton Brown, of Food Network, posts a recipe with ancho, cascabel, and arbol chili peppers, cumin seeds, oregano, smoked paprika, and dried oregano. Chilies and cumin seeds are heated in a sauté pan for 5 minutes, then cooled and combined with the other ingredients in a blender.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers, and has many benefits. It is a prostate cancer fighter, pain reliever, fat burner, and heart protector. Capsaicin also relieves congestion, prevents sinusitis, relieves inflammation such as arthritis and psoriasis, and fights intestinal diseases such as irritable bowel.
Curry powder is also a blend of herbs and spices. Again I went to Alton Brown, whose recipe uses cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds, along with turmeric, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper.
Information is from The Complete Guide to Natural Healing by International Masters Publishing. It’s one of those sets where they send card sets in the mail every couple weeks. I thought it was going to be one binder full, but ultimately was 5! Here’s a Ripoff Report. This would be one of those situations where my mom says “you musta had more money than sense”. At any rate, the cards are very well done, and I like most everything about them except what I wound up paying for them.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You take full legal responsibility for whatever decisions you make regarding your own health care.
Not all physicians, nutritionists and pharmacists are expert at herbs, or with potential medication interactions. Consider consulting a herbalist for individualized evaluation and treatment strategies.
Planting an Herb Garden
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