Eight Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices

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:

Anti-inflammatory herbs, Healthy Herbs & Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Basil leaves
Credit: wikimedia, used under Creative Commons License:

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: Anti-Inflammatory

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.

Anti-inflammatory herbs, Healthy Herbs & Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Cayenne pepper.
Credit: wikimedia, used under Creative Commons License:

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).

Anti-inflammatory herbs, Healthy Herbs & Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Cinnamon

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.

Anti-inflammatory herbs, Healthy Herbs & Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Garlic clove.
Credit: wikimedia, used under Creative Commons License:

Garlic: Reduce Cholesterol, Reduce Inflammation

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

Anti-inflammatory herbs, Healthy Herbs & Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Chemical structure of zingerone, powerful anti-inflammatory.

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.

Anti-inflammatory herbs, 8 Healthy Herbs and Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Ginger Rhizome
Credit: wikimedia, used under Creative Commons License: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:YosriHaliaMuda.jpg

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: Anti-Inflammatory

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

Anti-inflammatory herbs, Healthy Herbs & Spices, integrative medicine, holistic health, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory

Image: Tumeric rhizomes.
Credit: wikimedia, used under Creative Commons License:

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 anti-inflammatory herbs and spices are YOU using for both their health benefits and great flavors?

Leave a comment so we can all learn!

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.

Russell Faust, PhD, MD boogordoctor / organic foods, healthy foods

Dr. Faust and friend

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  1. Saba Laeeq says:

    Hey Dr. Faust,

    The information mentioned above is useful for everybody in general. I tried to look for a “share” on my facebook but all I see is “pin” … Do you plan to have your articles share on other sites? :) thx Saba

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Saba,
      Thank you for your kind comments, and your attempts to socially share!
      Please look just above the title of the post: there should be a line of social-share buttons, including Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, and plain old email.
      And please let me know if they are not showing up on your browser – if not, plz let me know which browser.

  2. To: Dr. Faust,
    Everything is true, but most important thing is what about the quantities and how to use the ingredients? In general, we all know that it may be beneficiary but how one should use it?
    Thanks, Jenny

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Jenny,
      GREAT question!!
      I guess the answer is, “It depends.”
      Dosing depends on your gender, age, diet, mix of other therapies – including pharmaceuticals and alternatives – and your particular mix of ailments.
      In other words, the best way to approach adding anti-inflammatory nutrients to your diet is (1) to simply begin adding them in a casual, natural way: start cooking with them (basil, oregano, garlic); add green tea to your life; etc., and (2) for a more structured, customized approach: visit with a clinician who practices an integrative, holistic approach, and get their help. My own personal solution? I visit my Naturopath (ND) for a customized supplement- and dietary-regimen.
      Thanks so much for visiting, and for taking the time to comment.

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  7. www.f-s.us says:

    thyme….this stuff is potent. I have tried everything under the sun for autoimmune disorders that i have and IBS/leaky gut/intestinal issues that have plagued me for years, but recently started taking thyme , dried leaves not oil, and its definitely helped me. I eat a 100% whole foods diet, so I can single out what has a positive or negative impact on my body and thyme has definitely helped.

  8. Wonderful site with very useful info. I place 2 or 3 pieces of cinnamon bark, together with 2 bay leaves in a pot, cover with 2 cups of water and simmer for about 20 minutes. I allow to cool — apparently cinnamon releases its healthy benefits when liquid has cooled. I drain liquid, pour into a coffee mug and drink. I then repeat process using the same bark and bay leaves but I do not use more than twice. I use BIG THYME leaves to help with breathing. I tear up 4 or 5 leaves, place in bowl and pour boiling water over. I put a towel over my head and I inhale the steam. When it cools, I strain and drink the warm tea. As my circulation is bad, I also put leaves in a plastic dishpan, cover with warm water and soak my feet. Although not popular, twice each week I eat a raw garlic sandwich. I slice garlic thin, place between two slices of buttered whole grain bread and enjoy my lunch. I take a 1 inch piece of ginger, chop well and pour 1 cup of boiling water and let steep. When cooled, I strain, place liquid in a tall glass, add some soda water and I have homemade instant ginger ale great for gas.

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