Chances are you’ve got a collection of spices in your kitchen and a few of the ones on this list may be kicking around. Maybe you use them daily, maybe they’ve been hiding in the back of some drawer… Spices and herbs add much more than just flavour to dishes.
Herbs and spices are some of the oldest medicines on the planet. They can help reduce and prevent symptoms from many diseases and ailments, and promote health in a multitude of different ways. Check out 10 of my favourites below, and learn how to incorporate them into your day!
[I am not a doctor and do not dispense medical advice or dismiss the use of modern medicine when necessary. Read my full disclaimer here]
Turmeric: Turmeric has received a lot of attention in the past few years, mostly for its anti-inflammatory benefits. It is even available in supplement form; I do, however, much prefer consuming things as fresh as possible and do not generally like supplements. Stay tuned for a future post on this.
Turmeric is very soothing to the digestive system and acts as an anti-inflammatory, easing the pain of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. It has a strong, distinctive taste, and is awesome in curries, on roasted chickpeas, or even used as a soothing warm beverage.
Nutmeg: nutmeg often goes unnoticed for its health benefits, and is commonly used in desserts (think pumpkin spice everything). It has some detoxifying properties, and helps with liver and kidney support. Despite being a bit spicy, it is soothing to the digestive system.
Nutmeg is also believed to act as a pain reliever, relieve insomnia, and to improve cognitive function. Use nutmeg in cookies, muffins, warm milky beverages, smoothies, or in savoury dishes.
Ginger: ginger has been known to help with ailments of the female body, such as menstrual pain and pregnancy-related nausea. It can help with motion sickness and general nausea when taken as a tea, or smelling a fresh cut piece.
Ginger is also said to support the cardiovascular system and protect against heart attack and stroke. It can help with bacterial infections, aids in nutrient absorption by helping to calm the digestive system, and is even suggested to have anti-cancer properties.
Use fresh ginger as a tea, in juices, salad dressings (goes great with orange flavour), soups, or [fermented] into homemade ginger ale.
Cinnamon: cinnamon is fantastic for balancing blood sugar, especially for people with diabetes. Like most of the spices mentioned above, it has anti-inflammatory properties. It is rich in antioxidants and high in fibre. Chewing a softened cinnamon stick is said to help relieve tooth pain.
I mainly like to use cinnamon in warm drinks, on oatmeal, in energy balls, or in desserts.
Garlic: Garlic is one of my favourite flavours, and luckily there are a ton of health benefits associated with this tasty bulb. It is well documented in its role as an antimicrobial, and is listed as having anti-inflammatory properties. Dr. Elson Haas implies that garlic may help those with inflammatory bowel disease, but there has been much conflicting research in this area. My opinion on the matter (for now!) is that the garlic itself may not cause digestive distress, but the food it is served with may. You can’t expect to feel amazing after eating a basket of honey garlic wings.
Garlic is also said to be a mild stimulant, helps with blood flow, and may protect against cardiovascular disease. I won’t go into how to use garlic as most people are familiar with this spice, but to sum it up I’ll state that if your digestive system tolerates it, use it in every meal. Yum!
Aloe vera: Yup, you can eat it! Many of us have heard of aloe as being nice and cooling on burns, which it totally is. It also has antibacterial and antioxidant properties, and relieves constipation.
Aloe vera can be juiced or taken as a capsule. I recommend starting with a very low dose until you see how your system tolerates it. For topical use, go to town. It feels great to slather aloe gel on a sunburn!
Basil: Basil is pretty underrated in its medicinal value, I think. It is an awesome source of vitamin A and K, plus a whole slew of minerals like iron, potassium, copper, and magnesium. Basil tea is said to relieve nausea.
My favourite ways to use basil mostly include sauces. Spaghetti sauce and dairy-free pesto are awesome ways to get an abundance of this tasty herb. I also like basil in simple tomato and cucumber salads, and my wife makes amazing salad rolls with basil and green apple. It is also fairly easy to grow in your own kitchen.
Mint: I love mint, and have a few pots growing on my window sill. Mint activates the salivary glands, easing digestion and cleansing the palate, which is why it is often used in appetizers. It can treat headaches and nausea, reduces fatigue, prevents memory loss, and is often used in oral care.
Mint is fun to play around with an can be use a multitude of ways. I like putting fresh mint into my juices as it cuts some of the bitterness from the other greens. It is also great in salads and desserts.
Lemon balm: this herb is amazingly easy to grow; keep it in a pot as it will take over as much space as it can! It has a citrusy tang and is wonderfully calming. It can help promote good sleep, supports the liver, and helps to regulate blood sugar.
I enjoy drinking it in a tea or adding it to my juices and smoothies.
Cilantro: Also known as coriander, and is a real love/hate herb. Some people find that it tastes like soap (I am NOT one of those people). It is high in B vitamins and vitamin K, and helps to cleanse the body of toxic metals like mercury. It promotes fungal balance in the body, can be used to enhance mood, and supports restful sleep.
I like using cilantro in tacos or burritos, in juices, and paired with spicy food.
So, there you have it! Do you have any of these herbs kicking around in your cupboards or gardens?
What are your favourite ways to use them? Let me know in the comments, share your pictures on [Instagram] with the #newpinehealth hashtag!
Until next time,
Fermented foods have been around for centuries, but have started to be highlighted in Western cultures as an important aspect of health that we need to be consuming regularly. This is mainly due to the probiotic content and their effect on our gut bacteria. Most people have heard of the benefits of fermented dairy products such as yogurt (I do not recommend eating dairy products; read why here), and drinks like kombucha and kefir are now readily available in most supermarkets.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods have been through the process of lactofermentation, which is where bacteria feed on sugar and starches, creating lactic acid, B vitamins, beneficial enzymes, probiotics, and omega 3 fatty acids. Fermentation preserves nutrients, and can improve the bioavailability and digestibility of many nutrients.
Some fermented foods that are simple to make at home include:
Kombucha, kefir, and rejuvelac
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, salsa
Tempeh and sourdough bread*
*while these foods involve the fermentation of beans and grains, some benefits are lost in the cooking process. However, many beans and grains are better tolerated if they have been fermented.
Why eat fermented foods?
There are so many benefits of fermented foods! I’ll highlight a few here, but just know that this is just a snapshot of how ferments can benefit your life.
The link between ferments and mental health:
At a basic level, the gut has large amounts of nerve endings that communicate with the brain. THIS ARTICLE by Hopkins Medicine calls this link the “brain-gut connection”, and talks about the link between the enteric nervous system (ENS) and the central nervous system (CNS). These two systems communicate with each other both directly and indirectly, through neural pathways, as well as the amplification and improved absorption of nutrients that affect the brain.
Healthy gut flora also helps to balance hormones, which can affect mental health as well. Balanced hormones help to regulate menstrual and sleep cycles, keeping us on track and feeling clear-headed and energetic.
Let’s talk sugar, for a second. We’ve all head of a “sugar high”, or the link between sugar and hyperactivity both in children and in adults. While this issue has a multitude of causes that are likely tightly intertwined, studies linking the brain and the cut may offer a new perspective. I am interested in looking into the possibility that the carbohydrate spike of sugar isn’t necessarily the cause of hyperactivity, but perhaps the inflammatory and negative effect of sugar on our gut flora may lead to unbalance and affects our behaviour in that way. I’ll keep you updated on any findings!
THIS ARTICLE by Selhub et. al. (2014) discusses the link between fermentation and modern psychiatry, suggesting that inflammation and oxidative stress can be controlled, to a degree, by healthy gut flora. He does discuss briefly the effect of sugar on our microbiome.
My favourite ferments
It took me a while to be okay with the idea of fermented food. I used to be terrified of food going bad and making me ill, and was even pretty iffy on eating leftovers. Ferments can have a bit of a tangy taste at first which I wasn’t so sure about, but now I love it!
I suggest adding ferments into your diet slowly, maybe ¼ cup per day to start out, then increasing your “dose” after about a week, or once you notice that your system can tolerate larger amounts. It is totally normal to experience gas and loose stools while your body adjusts and cleans itself out.
My FAVE ferment is kombucha. It is a fermented tea beverage, and can be flavoured so many different ways. It’s nice and bubbly like soda, and feels like a treat. I brew it myself, and try to consume ½ cup every morning. Water kefir is similar to kombucha, and can be flavoured many ways as well. I also make homemade ginger ale with fermented ginger, and am currently experimenting with “orangina”-like soda.
Sauerkraut is another great choice and is easy to make or find in the grocery store. Make sure you’re buying raw unpasteurized kraut; the ingredients should only be cabbage and salt, and it will need to be refrigerated. Wine sauerkraut is tasty but does not offer the same health benefits.
What about probiotic supplements?
I’ve had people ask me why I bother going through the trouble of making multiple types of ferments if I could just be taking a probiotic supplement. I’m a huge fan of food over pills, and don’t like the idea of popping a processed (and often heavily packaged in plastic) pill when I could make and consume something at home. Home ferments and ferments in food form have a great variety in good bacteria, and eating multiple sources of fermented foods gives our body exposure to different strains of probiotics. If you do decide to use a probiotic supplement, look for one with multiple strains of LIVE bacteria, and always keep them in the fridge.