Healing Herbs and Spices: From Thyme to Tumeric

Many herbs and spices have potent healing powers and health benefits. However, most bottled spices found at the grocery store have been irradiated, which nullifies the health benefits (and, in many cases, the flavor and aroma.) To enjoy the health benefits of herbs and spices, it is best to either grow them at home or buy them organic and fresh from a natural grocery store. Herbs and spices are a healthier alternative for flavoring food than salt. Refined (“table”) salt makes one prone to high blood pressure, kidney problems and heart disease. It accumulates in body tissues, tearing out kidney fibers, damaging arteries, hardening the urinary tract, promoting headaches, pain and tightness. If salt must be used, only use sea salt or kelp.

The medicinal use of ginger dates back to ancient times, according to early medical texts in India, China, Greece, Rome and the Middle East. Traditionally, ginger is used for treating flatulent colic and indigestion. The German Commission E recognizes ginger as a treatment for dyspepsia and motion sickness preventative. The British Herbal Compendium also recognizes ginger for these purposes, as well as for the treatment of morning sickness during pregnancy, stimulating the appetite in anorexia and as a treatment for bronchitis and rheumatic discomforts. In clinical trials, ginger was found effective for the prevention of seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Onion is beneficial for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, lowering blood clot risk, cleansing the blood and lungs.

Parsley has a mild flavor that is good for soups, stews, salads and as a garnish. Bright green parsley, which is a rich source of chlorophyll, is recommended as a powerful breath freshener. Medicinally, it is good for indigestion, measles, lungs, liver and spleen, and helps fight infections of the kidney, bladder and urinary tract. Parsley is a superior medicinal food, containing high levels of fiber, carotenoids, vitamin C, folate and other antioxidants. The leaves and stocks also contain generous amounts of calcium and boron, helpful for preventing osteoporosis. Parsley also contains substances similar to those found in broccoli that act as a cancer preventative.

Rosemary is from the mint family and used to flavor stews, potatoes, soups, vegetables and lamb dishes. It has a preservative effect when mixed with food that spoils easily. Medicinally, it helps to prevent food poisoning, fight infection, and ward off headaches. According to Dr. James Duke, author of “The Green Pharmacy,” rosemary leaf contains dozens of powerful antioxidant compounds and several compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain, which may be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s disease. Rosemary is also recommended for preventing and fighting cataracts, as the herb is known to contain at least four anti-cataract compounds. The antioxidant benefits of rosemary may also improve vascular disorders, and can be obtained by regularly drinking the tea or using generous amounts of rosemary in cooking.

Sage has a warm, bitter flavor that is good for salads, pickles and cheeses. Medicinally, it is good for canker sores, bleeding gums, sore throat, lungs, diabetes and wounds. Sage contains a volatile oil, tannin and resin. Sage leaves contain ursolic acid, which has bactericidal properties. Herbalists use sage for tonsillitis, mouth ulcers, throat problems, and as a gargle.

One teaspoon thyme in one cup of water, sweetened with one tablespoon of honey taken three to four times daily is said to be good for infectious bronchitis, diarrhea and cancer.

Turmeric belongs to the same plant family as ginger, and was commonly used in traditional Oriental remedies as a stomach tonic and blood purifier. Turmeric has been successfully used to treat digestive disorders, cardiovascular conditions and cancer. In addition, the turmeric plant contains numerous volatile oils known to exhibit strong antibiotic properties. For this reason, turmeric is often used topically for certain skin conditions and minor injuries as a means of preventing bacterial infection. The active constituent in turmeric is curcumin, which has the following medicinal and therapeutic properties:

– acts as anti-inflammatory by lowering histamine levels, offering relief of arthritis pain
– acts as an antioxidant, protecting the liver from certain toxins
– promotes healthy circulation by inhibiting blood platelets from sticking together
– induces the flow of bile, which breaks down fats.

Note: Individuals with stomach or gallbladder conditions should not take turmeric in supplement form. Pregnant women should also avoid taking large amounts as it may pose a risk of miscarriage. Supplemental use is not recommended while breast-feeding.

Prescription for Dietary Wellness; Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, M.D.; 1998.

Anti-aging Manual: The Encyclopedia of Natural Health (3rd ed.); Joseph B. Marion; 2005.

The Green Pharmacy: Herbal Remedies for Common Diseases and Conditions from the World’s Foremost Authority on Healing Herbs; James A. Duke, Ph.D.; 2003.