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Spice up your Life

27 Feb 2016   Shanti Gowans

Cooking with herbs and spices is part of an ancient tradition of using food as medicine. These everyday plants, often thought of as weeds by the uninitiated, are wonderfully nutrient dense and have powerful healing properties. Each herb on your kitchen spice shelf has medicinal uses that go far beyond the soup pot, and can range from reducing headaches, to treating colds and flus, to relieving stress and anxiety, to rejuvenation.

Most culinary herbs and spices taste pungent, whereas medicinal herbs are can be bitter, pungent, astringent or all. Examples of pungent herbs can include black pepper, cumin, ginger, raw garlic, turmeric, and as well as basil, mint, oregano, sage and thyme. 

These common culinary herbs are “carminative”. They increase circulation to the digestive tract, stimulate digestion, help to improve absorption of nutrients and relieve and prevent many common digestive discomforts.

Sour and bitter tasting herbs and foods stimulate the entire digestive process, starting with an increase in saliva production in the mouth. Just tasting something bitter on your tongue stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes and acids in the stomach, bile from the liver and gall bladder, and bicarbonate from the pancreas. This helps with the breakdown of nutrients, including the digestion of fats and oils. The bitter flavor also stimulates peristalsis and encourages elimination. Consider eating a small salad of bitter greens such as radicchio, frisee, or bitter lettuces, with or before meals.

The aromatic qualities of certain herbs and spices, such as black pepper, cinnamon bark, coriander, or fennel seeds; lavender flowers; or the leaves of mint, sage, or thyme is because of the presence of volatile oils in the plant. Aromatic herbs are used in cooking for their unique and dynamic flavors, and their oils are anti-bacterial.  Aromatic oils also help relieve tension throughout the body, including in the GI tract. They also offer aromatherapy for the body and mind: When you cook with herbs, take a minute to enjoy their scent, which can help lift your spirits and impart a sense of calm.

The accessibility of culinary herbs and spices makes learning about their medicinal applications particularly fun and inspiring. Understanding what herbs and spices offer reminds us of the ways that food can be (and in many cases already is) medicinal. We don’t have to go serching or chasing the latest superfood to be healthy, we can continue to enjoy coriander, basil, mint and oregano from a pot on our windowsill. If we learn how to apply the medicinal uses of these herbs in teas and other preparations, we can expand our cooking forays into an herbal home pharmacy.

The kitchen is a place with great potential to foster well-being, not only because we create healing food and medicine there, but also because, in the moments of chopping, stirring, and creating, we can connect with ourselves and with the greater power of healing that exists in such simple acts of being and doing. Read the acticle on growing a kitchen herb garden here:



Unlike herbs that come from the leaves of plants, spices derive from the plant's roots, berries, seeds and bark. They add a kick of flavour as well as a host of health benefits to a meal thanks to their intense concentration of phytochemicals (plant chemicals), disease-preventing nutrients and other anti-microbial properties.

However not all spices were created equal, and they all offer different health benefits. Here are a few to start with:
Ashwagandha has a reputation in Ayurveda for its ability to energise and allieviate stress. It is used for its tonic and rejuvenative effects in conditions of nerve and muscle weakness. With its beneficial influence on the nervous system it's commonly prescribed for people who complain of fatigue, difficulty concentrating and a general sense un-groundedness. Mixed with warm milk and taken before bed, ashwagandha is useful for people with insomnia and anxiety. Ashwagandha as a rejuvenative is also used for men and women who are having trouble with fertility. In Sanskrit, the name ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse” implying that this aromatic herb provides the strength of a stallion. 
Cayenne Pepper, like chili, Cayenne peppers healing qualities derive from the capsaicin it contains. Please see the benefits listed under Chili.
Chilli contains capsaicin, a naturally occurring substance that give it its heat. Capsaicin is now recognised to:
Treat osteoarthritis pain.
Psoriasis pain.
Reduce LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Reduce blood sugar levels.
Reduce platelet aggregation.
Increase the body's ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance required for blood clot formation.
Lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
Protect blood fats from damage by free radicals.
Clear congestion by stimulating the production of secretions used to clear mucous from the lungs, throat and nose.
Boosts overall general immunity.
Protects against some cancers including prostate cancer.
Assists in weight loss.
Lowers the risk of Type II Diabetes.
Cinnamon has a direct, positive effect on blood sugar, imperative to those with diabetes.
It is used to treat yeast infections that are resistant to common medications.
It reduces the proliferation of Leukemia and lymphoma cells.
Reduces pain associated with arthritis.
Acts as a natural food preservative as it inhibits the growth of natural food bacteria.
Improves memory and cognitive function.
Cinnamon is also an excellent source of iron, calcium and manganese.
Cloves contain a significant amount of the active substance eugenol, which has been shown in many health studies to:
Protect against toxicity from environmental pollutants such as Carbon tetrachloride
Relive joint inflammation
Act as a natural anesthetic and anti-bacterial agent in dentistry work.
Cloves are also an excellent source of manganese, calcium, Vitamin C, fibre, Omega 3 fatty acid and magnesium.
Cumin provides a substantial amount of Iron that support energy metabolism, increases general immunity and protects against conditions such as anemia.
Aids digestion by stimulating pancreatic enzyme secretion that in turn assists in the breakdown of food.
Carries anti-carcinogenic properties that may protect from some cancers.
Fennel relieves indigestion, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea.
It has a high Iron content which helps resolves anemia.
It relieves colic.
It clears congestion and therefore be useful to respiratory disorders such as smokers cough or bronchitis.
Used to regulate menstruation by regulating hormonal activity in the body.
Protects eyes from inflammation, macular degeneration and general irritation.
Acts as a diuretic helping the body eliminate toxic substances.
Ginger relieves gastrointestinal problems such as motion sickness, nausea, vomiting.
Relieves dizziness and cold sweats.
Natural anti-inflammatory.
Arthritis pain relief.
Osteoarthritis pain relief.
May protect against colorectal and Ovarian cancer.
Boosts immunity.
Guggulu is one of Ayurveda’s most important purifying herbs. It is used for purification and cellular detox, and cleanses unhealthy tissues, increases the white blood cell count and rejuvenates the skin. It has traditionally been considered the consummate blood detoxifier useful in any condition characterized by congestion or stagnation. In the original texts from over two thousand years ago, Guggulu was recommended to clear the sinuses of congestion, relieve chronic skin disorders, treat obesity, shrink swollen glands and cool inflamed joints.
Mustard seeds are protective against some cancers such as colorectal and gastrointestinal tract cancer.
Reduces severity of asthma.
Relives symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
May lower blood pressure.
Encourages healthy sleep patterns.
Reduce frequency of migraine attacks.
Mustard seeds are also a very good source of Omega-3, Magnesium, Selenium, protein, niacin, zinc, calcium, iron and dietary fibre.
Nutmeg relieves stomach cramps and aches.
Eliminates flatulence.
Encourages appetite.
Lowers blood pressure.
Stops diarrhea
Detoxifies the body, particularly the liver.
Enhances cognitive ability and stimulates dreams.
Relieves joint and muscle pain and swelling.
Helps respiratory conditions such as coughs and asthma.
Encourages good blood circulation.
Helps dissolve kidney stones as well as relieve kidney infections.
Turmeric is a yellow spice used traditionally in the Ayurvedic tradition.
It acts as a natural anti-inflammatory
Treats skin conditions and pigmentation
Strengthens bones
Moisturises the body
Repairs stretch marks and scar tissue
Stops diarrhea
Increases general immunity…
Turmeric is also a very powerful antioxidant. It can help prevent diseases such as cancer and slow the aging process by combating the free radicals, which cause damage to healthy cells in the body.


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Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography

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