Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) contain a vast array of health promoting herbs, but what if you already had some of these herbs in your spice cabinet and could cook with them to benefit from all their healthy goodness?
I bet you would!
Not only do these 5 spices add flavor and life to your food, they just may help your digestion, reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and stabilize blood sugar.
Coriander, the dried seed of the cilantro plant, adds flavor to Indian, Moroccan, and central Asian dishes, and is commonly used in Ayurveda to balance the three Doshas.
Research suggests coriander can benefit digestion, including reducing pain and other digestive symptoms associated with IBS, that it may lower blood pressure, and help prevent metabolic syndrome, ulcers, as well as inflammatory skin conditions.
You can use coriander as a meat or fish rub; it can also be added to stews or Indian food or used in a pepper grinder to add a nutty flavor anywhere you use pepper.
2. Fennel Seeds
The liquorice-flavored seed, sometimes offered at the end of a meal in an Indian restaurant, is used in both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda primarily for its digestive properties.
TCM and more recent studies suggest that fennel relieves moderate to severe menstrual cramps. The most common use of fennel is to reduce abdominal pain and bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, and colic. Preliminary research suggest fennel may also prevent or treat: Alzheimer’s, dementia, colitis/IBD, cancer, and metabolic syndrome.
Fennel makes a great tisane by pouring boiling water over the crushed, dried seeds. Dishes ranging from Waldorf salad to Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Indian food all work well with fennel seeds. Or, simply chew on the dried seeds to freshen breath and relieve indigestion.
You may add it to your morning coffee, or taste it in desserts, and there’s a reason for that: not only does cinnamon offer a spicy, warming sensation, it can help stabilize blood sugar.
Cinnamon is used in TCM to increase blood flow, warm the body, treat cough with phlegm, and ease menstrual disorders. Scientific studies indicate that cinnamon balances blood sugar, reduces disposition to diabetes, and limits conversion of dietary sugars into abdominal fat.
In order to get these benefits, you’re going to need to use quality freshly ground cinnamon; the old jar sitting in your cabinet for 3 years isn’t going to do much. Besides using it in desserts, consider adding it to tea, yogurt, applesauce, or any high carb food.
Pungent, spicy, and oh-so-distinctive in taste, ginger has been used in both TCM and Ayurveda to increase digestive power, reduce nausea, and quell vomiting.
Besides being a digestive powerhouse, TCM and Ayurveda both use ginger to fight the common cold and flu, stop a cough, and warm cold limbs. Ginger has been shown to reduce motion sickness, nausea, and upset stomach. Preliminary research suggest ginger may also help arthritis sufferers, reduce asthma, and prevent metabolic syndrome and stroke.
Ginger adds spice and warmth to any Asian dishes, tenderizes meat, is great in teas or chopped up into homemade salad dressing, or mixed with squash, stews, or soups. Both the fresh ginger, and dried, powered spice can be used.
The bright yellow spice that gives curry dishes their color, turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant.
Traditional medicine uses turmeric to reduce pain associated with menstruation; in Ayurveda, it is thought to balance all three Doshas, and is used with lifestyle changes in the treatment of obesity. Modern research suggests it inhibits cancer cell proliferation, including that of breast cancer, offers pain relief, and reduces inflammation. Some early research suggests turmeric might also be useful for skin conditions like acne, as well as allergies, metabolic syndrome, indigestion, depression, and dementia.
Ground turmeric can be added to rice, or mixed with butter or olive oil to add more color and nutritional power to veggies. It also works great in stir-fry, curry, chilli, soup, lentils, or any Indian dish. If you’re using turmeric from your spice rack, make sure it’s not too old; if you prefer, some Asian grocers carry fresh.
With all of these spices, you don’t want them to be too old, as they begin losing their potency, as well as flavor. Make sure you’ve purchased the spice within the last 6 months to get the most health benefits from them.
These spices add color, flavor, complexity, and of course health-boosting properties to every dish. So, go get creative with your cooking and think about ways you can incorporate more of these herbs and spices into your meals!