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.
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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
•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;
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:
•preventing blood platelets sticking together
•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.
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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