The spice of life

Root ginger

Spices are good for you, and they have many health benefits.    Turmeric is a wonderful spice with so many properties, especially in the fight against osteoarthritis (see below).  Spices are also used to preserve food and make it taste good.

At the end of this post there are lots of spicy supplements and products you can buy at using the promotion code: HSoul1.

Most spices have similar health benefits because they warm the system. In Chinese Herbal Medicine (see Therapies) an imbalance in the energy flow is considered to be due to heat, coolness, damp, or dryness in the system in the way that old women complain about the cold getting into their bones.

The warming properties of spices help to relieve damp and cold and have many other health benefits:


Babies have been reared on gripe water for over a century and many of them love it. Commercially made with dill, it can equally be concocted at home using caraway seeds.

Rosalind Blackwell, naturopath and herbalist, claims that caraway is very safe for anyone’s stomach and can ease gripey pains and other stomach problems.


Its pungent taste makes cardamom a popular spice with curry eaters, who sometimes eat it whole in their food. Chewing a cardamom pod can help to relieve indigestion and stomach pain, but the spice has many medicinal purposes too. It has been known to relieve asthma, bloating and travel sickness, boost circulation and alleviate symptoms of colds and flu.

Make a tea using crushed pods, or follow Deepak Chopra’s recommendation in his book, The Chopra Centre Herbal Handbook, of adding a pinch of cardamom powder to hot milk for a good sleep.

Cayenne pepper and chilli

The capsicum family encompasses peppers of all kinds – hot and mild. Cayenne is the ground spice from a hot chilli, which is rich in Vitamin C, and it can certainly induce sweating!

It is so pungent and hot that TCM practitioners use it for:

•warming the spleen and stomach
•eliminating damp and cold
•promoting appetite
•soothing digestive problems and vomiting
As a gel its warming effect eases rheumatic and muscular aches and the nerve pain of shingles.

Rosalind Blackwell claims, ‘I use the tincture of cayenne as a circulatory stimulant as it has a very warming effect.’


Many British cooks use cinnamon regularly for its recognisable flavour in apple pies, mulled wine and curries. A particularly warming spice, it makes a good blend with turmeric and coriander for many types of ailment.

According to Rosalind Blackwell, ‘Cinnamon gets rid of all kinds of bugs, particularly in the gut and eases muscle spasms, but its properties are much stronger as an essential oil.’

Commonly used in a hot toddy to ease cold and flu symptoms, it has also been proven to fight E-coli and has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. A dash of cinnamon in a honey and lemon drink can ease a sore throat, or made into a tea with boiling water it can relieve period pain and muscle spasms.


Any grandmother will tell you that oil of cloves soothes toothache by numbing the gum – just put some oil on a piece of cotton wool and place it near the tooth, but if it touches your lip it will really sting! Chewing a raw clove has the same effect if there is no oil in the house. Traditionally used to preserve meat, as a component of mulled wine and to flavour apple pies cloves can usually be found in the kitchen cupboard.

Essential oil of cloves also:

•Soothes insect bites;
•Is a good cold and flu fighter due to its antiseptic properties;
•Eases nausea.
Rosalind Blackwell suggests making an infusion of cloves in hot water or combining it with cinnamon and ginger in a tea to ease nausea and stomach problems, and relieve colds.


These seeds of an umbrella-shaped plant are used in cooking whole or ground and they can be liberally added to food to give it a delicious curry flavour. The black variety was said by Mohammed to heal every disease ‘except death’.

Particularly it is known for:

•alleviating wind
•preventing blood platelets sticking together
•preventing clotting
•fighting bacteria
•protecting the heart
•relieving heartburn, indigestion and bloating.


Often used in pickles, curries and garnishes, fenugreek has been recognised in medicine since Hippocrates’ time, particularly for its beneficial effect on blood glucose levels.

Deepak Chopra recommends a couple of teaspoons in the diet every day for anyone with diabetes or high cholesterol levels;
•Chinese herbal medicine practitioners use it to supporting the kidney function;
•The seeds can be ground or crushed in a cup of hot water to be drunk or used as a gargle for sore throats.


Apart from its versatility in cooking, ginger can be kept in the fridge simply for its therapeutic benefits. Make a tea by chopping up about one inch of the root and infusing it in boiling water either in a pan over the heat or in a teapot.

•Drink it to relieve colds – adding garlic if you can bear it – or stomach problems;
•Ginger is anti-inflammatory, helps to improve circulation. Massage arthritic fingers with some warmed ginger oil in a base oil.
•In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is particularly used to fuel the system and warm it up, when there is too much cold and damp;
•For nausea or travel sickness a child can be given a ginger biscuit, cake, crystallised ginger or ginger ale as they all ease the symptoms.

Juniper berries

Most known as an ingredient of gin, juniper berries have been used in cooking and for medicinal benefits since ancient Egyptian times.

According to Rosalind Blackwell, ‘Juniper berries have traditionally been used to disinfect the urinary tract, particularly in cases of cystitis. It can irritate the kidney if used for a long time an infusion of berries in water should only be taken as long as the discomfort lasts.’


It may be an old wive’s tale but you can’t beat a hot mustard footbath for easing the symptoms of colds such as blocked nose – just put some mustard powder into a bowl of hot water, put both feet in and relax! ‘It is particularly good for clearing phlegm too,’ Rosalind Blackwell explains.

‘I only suggest this to people who like it because it is an acquired taste, but a regular sandwich with mustard and meat could be helpful’. The Indian mustard plant (Brassicaceae) is believed to act as a magnet for essential minerals and metals in the soil, which we don’t get enough in our food these days.


Its bright yellow colouring has made turmeric useful for adding colour to rice, potatoes, mustard and sauces, and in primitive civilisations for dying clothes. A member of the ginger family, turmeric is familiar to us as a ground up powder, but it is now available in tablet form for medicinal purposes.

To extract the essential ingredient – curcumin – you need either alcohol or cooking in oil. The golden paste which is so good for arthritis in dogs and people involves heating up turmeric powder in water, and then adding coconut oil, and pepper – which is a vital ingredient to help the absorption in the body.

It has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antifungal properties, and is an anti-oxidant which means it fights damaging free radicals.   It is especially good for arthritis, general aches and pains, a healthy digestive system, and an all round boost to the immune system.

Deepak Chopra advises sprinkling it into organic honey and licking the teaspoon every two hours to ease sore throats, or for colds and flu making a tea of one half-teaspoonful of turmeric and some honey to sweeten works well!

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Rosemary key to long life in Italy

RosemaryA small village on the Cilentan coast, Acciaroli is home to a large community of centenarians – one in ten residents is over one hundred years old, and standards of health are excellent.

So what is the key? Conversely, they aren’t especially health-conscious either. Tobacco use is commonplace and so is alcohol consumption. They deny themselves no earthly pleasure: they’re not just living longer lives – they’re living what some might call the good life.

They found that, while the residents enjoy the benefits of a classical Mediterranean diet, they also consume large quantities of rosemary. Scientists and researchers investigating the longevity of Acciaroli’s elderly residents found that rosmarinic acid, the plant’s active ingredient, include:

• antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and memory-boosting qualities;View More:
• naturally forming glucosamine, which has been found to have joint-reinforcing qualities.

So David Spencer Percival gave up his day job as the boss of a recruitment company and developed No. 1 Rosemary Water a drink containing rosemary that provides all the health properties of the rosemary herb.

Aromatherapy oils

Many people know aromatherapy as a relaxing massage with oils. But it’s much more than that. You can use essential oils in a variety of ways:  in an oil burner, in massage oil, in the bath, in a spray bottle.  They can form part of your first aid kit when travelling.

See the wide range of aromatherapy oils at  Neals Yard by clicking here. 

Lavender oil – there’s so much you can do with it, especially on holiday. You can apply it to stings and bites to ease itching and soreness. You can put a few drops in the bath to relax before bed, or if you can’t sleep you can put some on a tissue and leave it close to your face. The soothing vapours help you to sleep, or you can use it in a spray bottle as air freshener or burn to create a relaxing and soothing atmosphere.

Tea tree is the other must-have oil  in my bag. It’s antiseptic and has a strong pungent ‘clean’ smell so it’s great for cleaning – put a few drops in water and clean up your phone, your computer and other surfaces or even your kitchen. Put a few drops in the bucket when you clean your floor or use it in the bathroom to dispel other odours. Tea tree is also antifungal and can be used diluted in water or in oil on athlete’s foot, or a few drops in a bidet or shallow bath are good for thrush. Both lavender and tea tree oils can be inhaled in steam when you have a cold, cough or flu. Boil the kettle and put the steaming water in a bowl with a few drops.

Essential oils can be inhaled in steam, used in a compress or poultice, massaged in, put in the bath, burned in an oil burner, put in a spray bottle, or used in water to clean. They are very strong and should not be taken internally. They should be dispersed with the hand in the bath and some people suggest mixing them in milk before adding to the bath.

Basil oil – just sniffing the bottle can switch your brain on

Bergamot made from the peel of bitter orange fruit and is a delightful smell. It is helpful for anyone feeling depressed or tired and irritable. It is antiseptic and can kill germs in the home

Chamomile is calming and can be used in an oil burner or on a tissue for a fraught young child

Citronella keeps flying insects away so burn a few drops in an oil burner with water and place on the table

Clary sage oil is great for period pains – mix in oil and massage on your stomach. It also eases depression – put on a tissue and breathe in the pungent aroma.

Clove oil is well known for easing severe toothache,but be careful to apply to the tooth because it’s very strong and stings the mouth

Cypress oil in water stems blood from haemorrhoids, particularly after having a baby

Eucalyptus oil is excellent for clearing blocked noses and can equally be put in the bath to steam.

Frankincense oil  is known for being uplifting, soothing stress and anxiety, and for its rejuvenating properties on the skin.

Geranium oil is calming and is a great oil to burn or disperse in the bath

Ginger oil helps to stave off travel sickness – just sniffing the bottle will do. It also helps to warm the muscles if you massage it in, and is great for circulation. Dilute very well.

Grapefruit oil is great for jet lag. Disperse a few drops in the bath

Jasmine oil is expensive but very uplifting and relaxing

Juniper oil has a reputation for slimming as it is a natural diuretic. A few drops in the bath can soothe a hangover or in massage oil it can ease aches and pains.

Peppermint  oil is an excellent oil for many conditions, but it is incredibly strong so be careful with it. It is excellent for nausea, but most experts do not advise taking internally. Maggie Tisserand in her book Aromatherapy for Women suggests putting two drops in a spoonful of honey and add hot water. You could also put a few drops in an oil burner and breathe in the vapours. Dispersed in water or lotions peppermint soothes and cools hot, red, and sore feet or athlete’s foot.

Mandarin oil in carrier oil helps to prevent stretchmarks and scars.

Rose oil is made from the petals of the flower, and has the most beautiful aroma.  It is an expensive oil but it is antiseptic and healing. It is also known to be uplifting and helpful for depression, stress or insomnia. Used diluted in a carrier oil it is particularly effective for the skin, smoothing out wrinkles and puffiness, and moisturising dry or sunburnt skin.

Rosemary oil wakes you up so the best way to use it is to have a bath and breathe in the vapours. It is also good for tired legs – so mix in a carrier oil and massage in.  Recent research has shown that rosemary oil enhances cognitive memory.

Thyme helps to ease a cough and can be sprayed in water to the back of the throat • •

Ylang ylang can ease depression, so keep some on a tissue tucked into your clothes so that you can breathe it in, or put a few drops in a bath.

Neals Yard Aromatherapy Oils. 

Top ten herbal remedies

Arnica, courtesy of A. Vogel (Bioforce)
Arnica, courtesy of A. Vogel (Bioforce)

The top ten herbal remedies are the ones most popular with the public. They provide a more natural alternative to drugs, and are often worth trying (but if you are on medication, check first with your doctor or a medical herbalist that you can take them).

Arnica:  the Arnica flower is native to the Alps but its qualities for healing bruises have been recognised for many years. It cannot be taken as a herb internally but is available as a homeopathic tablet. Arnica Gel or cream is excellent for healing bruises and also for soothing stiff joints, aching muscles and osteoarthritis.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum): found in the Kalahari desert the natives have traditionally used this herb for digestive complaints. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is therefore very suitable for arthritis, rheumatism and sports injuries. Fears that the herb would become extinct have been alleviated by schemes to grow it sustainably in southern Africa.

Echinacea, courtesy of A. Vogel (Bioforce)

Echinacea: taken as a tincture or tablets it boosts the immune system. The native Indians have used it for thousands of years to put on snake bites and other wounds. More often used now to help resistance to colds, flu and other infections, but has been proven in trials to be effective against respiratory infections.

Ginkgo biloba: from one of the oldest trees in the world the Ginkgo tree was one of the first prehistoric plants on the earth over 150 million years ago. Best known for enhancing circulation and thereby improving the memory it has other uses too. The leaves are used to make tinctures to improve circulation and the function of the brain as well as asthma. The seeds are used by Chinese doctors for urinary problems and wheezing. Read more in Boost Your Memory.

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus): good old conkers that so many children enjoy collecting have another use – they have excellent properties as an astringent to help to prevent and soothe varicose veins. It can be taken as a tincture or the gel can be rubbed into the legs.

St John’s Wort: has become a popular choice for depression but people have to be careful about taking it in conjunction with other medication or even with light boxes (that are used for Seasonal Affective Disorder – see Features, SAD). Also known as Hypericum which is used as a cream to heal wounds. is widely available through health food stores, chemists and at Nutricentre (see the Nutricentre ad). If you are taking medication you should always check with a registered medical herbalist or your doctor before taking herbs to ensure that they do not contraindicate.

Milk Thistle: protects the liver from toxic chemicals and is often useful around Christmas when over-indulgence is the norm. It is sometimes used when people have liver disease but can’t be used as a cure-all for heavy drinkers! It was called Milk Thistle because it was taken by nursing mums to help encourage the flow of milk.

Sage: is particularly recognised as being helpful for hot flushes. You can gather some leaves from the garden, put them in a teapot and sip them if you are going through the menopause or purchase a tincture or tablets. It is also helpful as a gargle for sore throats.

Saw Palmetto: originating in North America saw palmetto has been used by native Americans for thousands of years to help ease chronic congestion. Recent research has shown it to be effective for prostate problems in men without the side-effects of prescription drugs.

Valerian-Hops: 19th century poets and other creative types were known to use Valerian. Combined with unpollenated hops which are renowned for their calming qualities it is a useful herb for helping you sleep or for generally calming down without making you feel dopey in the day.

Source: A. Vogel

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The magic of propolis


For 45 million years bees have protected their hives from infection and invasion with a sticky, resinous substance known as propolis – which can be translated from Greek as ‘defender of the city’.  Now propolis is becoming known again for its healing properties.  As an antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic substance it is now widely used as a herbal medicine to treat colds, flu, sore throats and generally boost the immune system.

The elder bees within the hive gather the propolis from the bark and leaf buds of certain trees and plants – particularly poplar and horse chestnut. The propolis is brought back to the hive, mixed with wax and saliva to creating a greenish brown rubbery substance with which to seal, polish and coat the interior of the hive.   This provides the queen with a sterile environment in which to hatch her eggs, and ensures that wind, rain, pollution, bugs and parasites are kept out, as well as bacteria. As they enter the hive the bees pass over the sticky substance preventing them from spreading infection to the other 45,000 to 50,000 inhabitants.

If a rodent makes an unwelcome visit, they sting it to death and then embalm the body with propolis and bees wax so it will not rot in the hive!

Healing properties

The health benefits of propolis have been known to humans for thousands of years with the renowned Greek physician, Hippocrates, prescribing honey containing propolis for patients with ulcers way back in 400 B.C. In the first century AD the Roman scholar, Pliny, described its use in health, while Roman mythology tells the tale of Melissa who was turned into a bee by Jupiter so that she could make the substance for healing.

Health benefits

As life goes full circle more and more people are beginning to reap the benefits of propolis once again. Containing 55 per cent resin and balm, 30 per cent wax, 10 per cent essential oil, and 5 per cent pollen and a number of natural chemicals, many of its health-giving properties come from bioflavonoids.

Bioflavonoids block the formation of prostaglandins which cause pain and fever, and gum disease. They also stimulate white blood cells to produce interferon which is resistant to infection and has been recognised as a vital component in treating cancer.

Propolis is also a prime source of histamine and serotonin and the bioflavins act to prevent and cure allergies by blocking the acids which break into cells and cause allergic reactions.

It helps:

• arthritis
• respiratory problems
• sore throats
• colds
• tonsillitis
• ME
• fever
• mouth and digestive ulcers
• eczema and acne
• coughs
• bruises
• cuts
• stings and insect bites
• burns
• arthritis
• nasal congestion
• and it also controls runaway cell breakdown which is a symptom of cancer.

Used as a preventive medicine propolis enhances the immune system and enables the body to fight illness much more efficiently. It works in much the same way as it does in the hive by sealing up the infectious agent and preventing it from spreading and causing illness.

There are several ways of taking propolis – as a tincture it can be gargled or ingested, while tablets, capsules, granules and powder can be taken internally. Propolis salve or cream can be rubbed on the skin and lozenges can be sucked for sore throats, mouth ulcers and gum disease, and it is also included in lipsalves to fight cold sores, shampoos, and toothpastes.

The proof of the pudding

Research has been carried out into the properties and effectiveness of propolis and clinical trials continue all the time. One study carried out at the Department of Biochemistry at Oxford University on the anti-inflammatory properties have shown that propolis inhibits the over-production of chemicals after injury.

Other trials were carried out in Yugoslavia on people suffering liver damage due to irradiation, others with heart disease and arteriosclerosis, and groups of people with shingles, and gastric and duodenal ulcers. Locally applied as a salve it has healed vaginal inflammation, cervical erosion, and painful menstruation.

Case study

Tom, 78, has prided himself on being active, playing bowls and going for lots of walks. When he was 72 he banged his knee on a chair and a few days later he could not put his foot down on the ground and was completely unable to walk. ‘I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom, or get up in the morning and I had to walk with a stick.’

He and his wife went to see the doctor who suggested a knee replacement and prescribed Ibuprofen tablets for Tom, but his wife Mary was worried about the long-term side-effects of taking the drug because she knew they would irritate his gut.

After Tom had X-rays taken at hospital he was diagnosed with gout, but Mary, a retired nursing sister had read about propolis and decided to get some for him.

She insists, ‘It is very slow acting and you have to take sufficient. People take a little for a short time and say it doesn’t work. You have to keep at it and if possible catch the ailment early.’

Tom started out taking 3,000 mg a day and after two or three months he was back walking with his wife and doing the garden. The following summer he started bowling again and now he claims, ‘I have two new knees.’

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