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Kitchen herbalism: Heal yourself with the power of your spice rack

Kitchen herbalism: Heal yourself with the power of your spice rack

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Friday, July 13, 2018 | 2 a.m.

Consult the professionals

Herbs and spices have been used for millennia as medicine, but as with everything, using herbalism as part of your approach to health and wellness isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice. If you are going to use herbalism or pair it with pharmaceutical treatment, it is important to understand that food, just like medicine, won’t work the same way with everyone. Consult a trusted herbalist or your doctor for any contraindications, especially if you have major health concerns, are pregnant, or are nursing.

Natural wellness is a hot topic—and a lucrative one. There are scores of teas, essential oils, tinctures and supplements that contain powerful properties to help heal and keep your body in tune. But for those with a DIY spirit, taking a “farm-aceutical” approach to your health can begin right in your own kitchen.

Fresh herbs and spices not only make dishes taste livelier, they can have a profound effect on your life. Explore these spice rack basics to see how you can get the most out of your pantry apothecary.

Spices

• Cayenne (Capsicum annuum): This chile is a one-two punch of flavor and health benefits. Even if you don’t like spicy food, keep a jar of cayenne powder to use as a topical pain reliever and hemostatic. Capsaicin, a compound in cayenne chiles, blocks a neuropeptide that relays pain sensations in the body.

Great for: Stimulating circulation, speeding up metabolisms, boosting libido, maintaining insulin levels, treating colds, supporting a healthy heart, stopping bleeding and reducing pain when used externally

• Turmeric (Curcuma longa): This radical rhizome yields a bright yellow powder when ground and is one of the spices that gives curry its color.

Great for: Reducing inflammation, supporting digestive health, improving liver function, relieving pain, promoting heart health

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum): It’s not a typical “staple” spice in most American households, but two of our remedy recipes use cardamom, so you may want to shake up your spice rack with something new. One of the defining flavors of chai, cardamom’s sweet-spicy flavor will remind you of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Great for: Calms the stomach, reduces flatulence and indigestion, eases nausea, makes pancakes extra special

• Coffee (Coffea arabica): While not what we would consider an herb, coffee is a medicinal plant, so it’s nice to have around even if you don’t consider yourself a “coffee drinker.” Use in moderation. Ease up if you find yourself jittery, developing poor sleeping patterns or severe heartburn.

Great for: Easing constipation, reducing fatigue, stimulating digestion, improving cognition, managing migraine symptoms

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia): Ah, cinnamon—the bark we eat. Cinnamon has been used as far back as 2700 B.C. It was once more valuable than silver and was the subject of a violent, centuries-long battle for control over cinnamon plantations.

Great for: Supporting metabolic function, soothing toothaches, calming diarrhea, easing indigestion, promoting gum health and improving glucose/cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes

• Black Pepper (Piper nigrum): It’s easy to forget that even most basic spices can pack powerful properties. Use a grinder with whole peppercorns for a more robust flavor.

Great for: Enhancing the efficacy of other herbs, stimulating circulation, controlling mucus congestion, aiding digestion

Fresh herbs

• Garlic (Allium sativum): The “stinking rose” is an antimicrobial and antifungal. Enjoy one or two garlic cloves a day for maximum benefits. You may want to chew on parsley or mint after to freshen your breath.

Great for: Fighting infections, alleviating cold and flu symptoms, bolstering heart health, supporting the immune system, improving digestion

• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Those little green flecks on your plate may not look like much, but parsley is high in nutrients like vitamin K1, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Use large amounts in salads or pesto.

Great for: Using as a diuretic, freshening breath, improving digestion, decreasing oxidative stress, treating urinary tract infections

• Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Ginger root has been used for centuries to treat numerous ailments. Make sure your ginger ale is made with real ginger—or better yet, make your own tea.

Great for: Decreasing inflammation, addressing scores of stomach problems, fighting cold and flu, easing migraine symptoms, clearing sinuses

Remedy staples

If you plan to create home health remedies, you need a few staples.

• Honey: Find it locally and preferably raw. Honey from locally pollinated flowers and trees can help reduce the severity of seasonal allergies when consumed regularly. Bonus? Honey is antibacterial and antifungal, among other positive properties. (Note: Do not give honey to children less than 2 years old.)

• Lemon: Stick to fresh lemons or 100 percent organic lemon juice. Sources of vitamin C, lemons also contain citric acid, both of which help the body absorb iron.

Remedy recipes

Quick hints: Herbal remedies can be as complicated as making salves and as simple as cooking with herbs and spices. Here are some easy solutions to get you started on your kitchen apothecary, adapted from recipes in Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Forêt.

• Kick-a-cold tea: Mix a spritz of lemon juice and a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger into your favorite mug. Top off with hot water. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes, then strain. Stir in one tablespoon of honey and add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Drink.

Cinnamon tooth powder: There’s a reason cinnamon gum and toothpaste exist. It’s been long used to promote healthy gums. Heap a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon on a wet toothbrush, then brush and rinse as usual.

• Garlic honey: Surprisingly tasty (especially compared to cough syrup), garlic honey can help sore throats. Mince 1/2 cup garlic and place in an 8-ounce jar. Fill halfway with honey, stir, then top off and stir again. Let sit for 24 hours. Take one teaspoon every one to two hours to soothe throat.

• Garam masala: One of the best ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet is through this Indian spice blend. Combine 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 2 tablespoons ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom. Use liberally on vegetables and meats.

• Spiced cold brew coffee concentrate: Cold brew coffee is less bitter and easier on the stomach than a hot-brewed cup of joe. In a one-quart jar, place 1 cup coarsely ground coffee beans, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, then top off with water and stir. Place in fridge for 12 hours. Strain. To drink, mix 1/4 cup brew with 1/2 cup water, milk or cream.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.