The use of herbs and spices has been incredibly important throughout history. Many were celebrated for their medicinal properties, well before culinary use.
Modern science has now shown that many of them do indeed carry remarkable health benefits.
Here are 10 of the world's healthiest herbs and spices, supported by research.
1. Garlic Can Combat Sickness and Improve Heart Health
Throughout ancient history, the main use of garlic was for its medicinal properties.
We now know that most of these health effects are due to a compound called allicin, which is also responsible for garlic's distinct smell.
Garlic supplementation is well known for combatting sickness, including the common cold.
If you often get colds, then adding more garlic to your diet could be incredibly helpful.
There is also convincing evidence for beneficial effects on heart health.
For those with high cholesterol, garlic supplementation appears to reduce total and/or LDL cholesterol by about 10-15%.
Human studies have also found garlic supplementation to cause significant reductions in blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
In one study, it was just as effective as a blood pressure lowering drug.
You can increase the health benefits you receive from garlic by letting it sit after you've chopped it or crushed it. If you give your chopped/crushed garlic time to sit before changing its temperature (through cooking) or its pH (through the addition of acidic food like lemon juice), it will give the alliinase enzymes in garlic an opportunity to work on behalf of your health.
Covering all the incredible health benefits of garlic is beyond the scope of this article, but you can read about them here.
2. Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar Levels and Has a Powerful Anti-Diabetic Effect
Cinnamon is a popular spice, found in all sorts of recipes and baked goods.
It contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which is responsible for cinnamon's medicinal properties.
Cinnamon has potent antioxidant activity, helps fight inflammation and has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
But where cinnamon really shines is in its effects on blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon can lower blood sugar by several mechanisms, including by slowing the breakdown of carbs in the digestive tract and improving insulin sensitivity.
Studies have shown that cinnamon can lower fasting blood sugars by 10-29% in diabetic patients, which is a significant amount.
The effective dose is typically 0.5-2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day, or 1-6 grams.
Bottom Line: Cinnamon has numerous health benefits, and is particularly effective at lowering blood sugar levels.
3. Sage Can Improve Brain Function and Memory
Sage gets its name from the Latin word Salvere, which means "to save."
It had a strong reputation for its healing properties during the middle ages, and was even used to help prevent the plague.
Current research indicates that sage may be able to improve brain function and memory, especially in people with Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is accompanied by a drop in the level of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain. Sage inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine.
In a 4-month study of 42 individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, sage extract was shown to produce significant improvements in brain function.
Other studies have also shown that sage can improve memory function in healthy people, both young and old.
Bottom Line: There is promising evidence that sage extract can improve brain and memory function, especially in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
4. Peppermint Relieves IBS Pain and May Reduce Nausea
Peppermint has a long history of use in folk medicine and aromatherapy.
As is the case with many herbs, it is the oily component that contains the agents responsible for the health effects.
Many studies have shown that peppermint oil can improve pain management in irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
It appears to work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the colon, which relieves pain experienced during bowel movements. It also helps to reduce abdominal bloating, which is a common digestive symptom.
There are also some studies showing that peppermint in aromatherapy can help fight nausea.
In a study of over 1,100 women in labor, peppermint aromatherapy caused significant reductions in nausea. It has also been shown to reduce nausea after surgery and C-section births
Bottom Line: The natural oil in peppermint provides pain relief for those with IBS. It also has potent anti-nausea effects when used in aromatherapy.
5. Turmeric Contains Curcumin, a Substance With Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color.
It contains several compounds with medicinal properties, the most important of which is curcumin.
Curcumin is a remarkably powerful antioxidant, helping to fight oxidative damage and boosting the body's own antioxidant enzymes.
This is important, because oxidative damage is believed to be one of the key mechanisms behind ageing and many diseases.
Curcumin is also strongly anti-inflammatory, to the point where it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs.
Given that long-term, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic Western disease, it is not suprising to see that curcumin is linked to a variety of health benefits.
Studies suggest that it can improve brain function, fight Alzheimer's, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and relieve arthritis, to name a few.
Bottom Line: Studies have shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has major benefits for many aspects of health.
The content of this blog should not be substituted for medical advice to treat or manage any health condition.