Here are eight anti-inflammatory herbs and spices that most of us have on the shelf – with powerful anti-cancer and other health benefits that you may not know about:
There are all sorts of ways to optimize your health through better nutrition! After all: food is medicine. You can decrease inflammatory fats, and increase anti-inflammatory fats; you can replace hyper-processed foods with organic fruits and vegetables; you can increase free-radical scavengers and supplement your diet with antioxidant vitamins. Finally, without much effort on your part, you can spice up your life – and prolong it – by adding the following eight anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to your cuisine.
Basil is a leafy green herb. It contains volatile oils (meaning they evaporate into the air – they are aromatic). Not only do these aromatic oils give basil that wonderful spicy lemon scent, some of these oils have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. One example of a strong anti-inflammatory oil is eugenol. Similar to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen: Motrin and Advil), eugenol blocks the COX enzyme that mediates inflammation.
There are as many as 40 different varieties of basil. In the US, we are most familiar with the variety that has a lemony scent, but there are many others. Examples of other flavors and scents of basil varieties include lime, cinnamon, and anise (licorice-like). So for more anti-inflammatory kick in your diet, add pesto or fresh basil to soups, salads, sandwiches and stir-fries.
Cayenne: Pain Relief
Cayenne and red pepper get their kick from capsaicin. Medical studies suggest that capsaicin helps protect against some cancers. It is known that capsaicin stimulates pain receptors. Indeed, capsaicin is similar to the agent in tarantula venom that causes pain.
Paradoxically, capsaicin has been found to provide long-lasting pain relief. For example, a skin-patch that contains capsaicin, applied to the skin for only one hour, has been shown to provide effective pain relief for up to 12 weeks! This has led to a variety of capsaicin-containing applications to relieve various aches and pains, including a nasal spray to treat migraine headaches (affiliate link).
Cinnamon: Reduce Blood Sugar, Reduce Cholesterol
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several species from the genus Cinnamomum. Cinnamon has been with us from antiquity; it is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible several times. Cinnamon was imported into Egypt as early as 2000 BC, and has remained popular since.
Research has found that cinnamon can reduce blood sugar in people with diabetes. Cinnamon may also help reduce blood cholesterol levels. So pile it on. Use it in sweet and savory dishes. Sprinkle it on oatmeal, cereals, yogurt, applesauce – any place you like.
Garlic: Reduce Cholesterol, Anti-Inflammatory
Garlic has a similar ancient history of use, dating back thousands of years. Garlic has a long history of medicinal use, mentioned by Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder. Modern medical studies reveal that garlic can actually reduce cholesterol in aortic plaque deposits in animal models; NIH studies found similar results in humans: garlic was found to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, compared to placebo. Garlic is a strong anti-inflammatory, also.
For greatest benefit, don’t overheat garlic: that destroys the beneficial compounds. Crush or chop garlic and let it stand while you prepare the meal; add the garlic toward the end of cooking to add flavor and make the most of its health benefits.
Ginger: Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Microbial
Ginger is an underground stem, termed a rhizome. Jamaican ginger was the first Oriental spice to be grown in the New World and imported back to Europe. There are several compounds in ginger that bind to the human serotonin receptor. This effect may be the source of GI benefits of ginger: ginger is known to relieve “morning sickness” of pregnancy, seasickness, and nausea resulting from chemotherapy treatments.
Ginger has also been found to reduce muscle pain associated with vigorous exercise. Ginger is also known to reduce risk of some cancers, including GI cancers (example, colon cancer). These effects are likely due to the strong anti-inflammatory power of ginger. Thus, ginger is popular with those struggling with arthritis and other inflammatory disorders; anti-inflammatory agents are beneficial to all of us! Finally, ginger is known to have anti-bacterial activity.
Because ginger is an underground stem or root, it readily absorbs chemical in the soil. This is one of the herbs or spices that you should get organic to minimize the unhealthy effects of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Use fresh organic ginger to spice up soups and stir-fries; to make fresh ginger tea (tisane); and to bake with.
Oregano is a perennial herb. It is a staple of Italian-American dishes, but also used widely in Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, and Latin-American cuisines.
Similar to Thyme, Hippocrates used Oregano as an anti-septic. In addition, oregano contains a high concentration of polyphenols and flavonoids. These are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. Culinary uses are similar to thyme, as follows:
Thyme: Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Microbial
Thyme is another of our ancient herbs, having been used by ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Thyme is known to relieve bronchial inflammation. It is also a powerful anti-microbial. Thyme is a wonderful addition to soups and Italian or Mediterranean cooking.
Tumeric: Anti-Cancer, Anti-Inflammatory, Pain-Relief
Tumeric, like ginger, is a rhizome – an underground stem. Tumeric root contains a high concentration of phytochemicals, including curcumin. Ongoing research suggests that curcumin and the other curcuminoids in turmeric have strong anti-cancer benefits. In both humans and animal research models, these naturally-occurring phytochemicals help prevent a variety of cancers; they also help reduce existing cancers, and help reduce metastasis of cancers.
In addition to the anti-cancer benefits, turmeric contains also contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds. These are responsible for the pain-reducing benefits of turmeric for those with arthritis, and even those who simply participate in vigorous exercise and appreciate a little less discomfort from their workouts.
Tumeric makes a great addition to rice dishes, curries, and stir-fries. Curcumin is available as a supplement in capsule form. This is the curcumin supplement that I take (affiliate link).
What other herbs & spices are YOU using for both their health benefits and great flavors?
How to you prepare it? How do you use them? Where can we find them?
Leave a comment and let me know!
Hi, I’m Russell Faust, author of this medical education blog.
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