7 spices that heal

Besides imparting complex flavours into food, some spices also have medicinal properties. Here are 7 spices that can be used to minimize symptoms and even treat some basic health problems.

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Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices- it was used for embalming in Egypt 2500 years ago. Most spices are the seed of a plant, but cinnamon is the inner layer of bark from a tree, which is dried and rolled.

Traditionally, cinnamon is regarded as a warming expectorant, used to gently reduce congestion and phlegm in the lungs, and dry up runny noses.

Adding a cinnamon stick to your ginger tea will increase its potency. Ground cinnamon can be used to flavour porridge and muesli.

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Cloves are native to eastern Indonesia and were probably the first breath fresheners. In China, during the Han dynasty, courtiers would chew on cloves to sweeten their breath before addressing the emperor.

Among more than a thousand foods studied at the University of Oslo, cloves contained the most antioxidants per gram, with as little as 1g (about ½ teaspoon) of cloves containing about the same antioxidants as ½ cup of berries.

Cloves are still a useful addition to your spice medicine chest. They can be used to calm bloating and flatulence-fruit stewed with a pinch of cloves not only tastes good, but is also a digestion-calming dessert.

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The paprika plant is from the same family as chilli. Originally found in Mexico, Christopher Columbus took the plants back to Spain, where they were powdered and became a staple in Spanish cooking.

Paprika comes in several varieties: sweet, hot, mild and smoked, and they each have their own distinctive flavour. Be careful when buying “smoked” paprika that you get the genuine article, as some manufacturers just add smoke flavour and MSG to sweet paprika.

Like chilli, paprika is high in antioxidants, including betacarotene, capsanthin, quercetin and luteolin.

To make an easy seasoning blend, miix together:
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Rub this into fish or lamb before cooking

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India has one of the lowest rates of bowel cancer in the world and that’s believed to be partly due to turmeric. Recent years have seen an explosion of research into curcumin, an antioxidant found in turmeric. Studies have shown it has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anticancer activities.

Turmeric has been used in traditional Indian, Thai and Chinese medicines for a huge variety of health problems. Closer to home, it’s worth including more turmeric in your diet for its antioxidants.

You can up your turmeric intake by adding some to rice: use ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric to 1 cup of rice and 1½ cups water. Bring to boil, then simmer until the water has disappeared.

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Chilli and cayenne pepper

Chilli and cayenne pepper

In the history of herbalism, chilli is associated with some of the more heroic treatments. In the early 1800s it was used in massive doses to heat up the body and purge it of disease. We take a more gentle approach now, using much lower quantities to improve the circulation, and help clear out mucous and phlegm from the sinuses and nasal passages.

Capsaicin is the substance that makes chillies hot and this is currently being researched for a range of health benefits, including possible anticancer effects. Cayenne pepper is a blend of hot chillies mixed together to give a consistent heat. It’s a hot powder, so use it sparingly in soup or mixed with burgers. Alternatively, sprinkle a pinch of cayenne over rice or poached eggs.

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In ancient Rome, at the end of an indulgent feast, people would serve cakes made with anise to calm digestion and freshen the breath. In the 1930s, Margaret Grieve-in her highly influential book A Modern Herbal – said the “stimulant and carminative properties of anise make it useful in flatulency and colic”.

Like ginger, anise has several uses. It’s still used as an aromatic digestive, a group of remedies that calms digestive problems, and reduces nausea, gas and bloating. Anise can also be used as an expectorant and can be used for coughs and colds.

Anise works well in vegetable soups: add seeds or whole star anise when sautéing onion and garlic. You can also make a tea by pouring boiling water ofer slightly crushed seeds. Drink a cup of this after dinner, or anytime you are feeling a bloated or gassy.

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Medicinally ginger is a multitasker, used to combat nausea and digestive complaints, yet also useful against mild coughs and colds.

At the first sign of a stuffy nose:
• Thinly slice about 1cm fresh ginger
• Place in a cup or small teapot and cover with boiling water
• Leave to steep for 5 minutes before drinking. Add lemon and honey if desired.

• 5 tips for buying and storing spices
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