Modern science is beginning to uncover the ultimate power of spices and herbs, as weapons against illnesses from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. We’re now starting to see a scientific basis for why people have been using spices medicinally for thousands of years.
Pairs well with: squashes, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and walnuts May help: Preserve memory, soothe sore throats. Today’s herbalists recommend sipping sage tea for upset stomachs and sore throats. One study found that spraying a sore throat with a sage solution gives effective pain relief. Whoever gave the herb the wisdom-connoting “sage” moniker may have been onto something: preliminary research suggests the herb may improve some symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease by preventing a key enzyme from destroying acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in memory and learning. In another study, college students who took the sage extract in capsule form performed significantly better on memory tests, and as well their moods improved.
Pairs well with: potatoes, citrus, honey, garlic, onions, and chili peppers May help: Enhance mental focus and fight food borne bacteria. In ancient Greece, scholars wore rosemary garlands to help them study and one recent study found that people performed better on memory and alertness tests when mists of aromatic rosemary oil were piped into their study cubicles. Rosemary is often used in marinades for meats and poultry, and there’s scientific wisdom behind that tradition: rosmarinic acid and other antioxidant compounds in the herb fight bacteria and prevent meat from spoiling and may even make cooked meats healthier. Kansas State University researchers report that adding rosemary extracts to ground beef helps prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs),cancer causing compounds, produced when meats are grilled, broiled or fried.
Pairs well with: ginger, chocolate, beans, and beef May help: Boost metabolism Chilies, which creates sensation of heat, from mild to fiery, are especially prized in hot climates since, ironically, the spice helps trigger the body’s natural cooling system. Studies show that capsaicin, a pungent compound in hot chilies revs up the body’s metabolism and may boost fat burning, but the jury is still out on whether that translates to long-term weight loss. Recent research found that capsinoids, similar but gentler chemicals found in milder chili hybrids, have the same effects—so even tamer sweet paprika packs a healthy punch. Capsaicin may also lower risk of ulcers by boosting the ability of stomach cells to resist infection by ulcer-causing bacteria and help the heart by keeping “bad” LDL cholesterol from turning into a more lethal, artery-clogging form.
Pairs well with: soy sauce, citrus, chili peppers, and garlic May help: Soothe an upset stomach and fight arthritis pain. Traditionally used to relieve colds and stomach troubles, ginger is rich in inflammation-fighting compounds, such as gingerols, which some experts believe may hold promise in fighting some cancers and reducing arthritis pain. In a recent study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days reported 25 percent less muscle pain when they performed exercises designed to strain their muscles. Another study found that ginger extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee. Ginger’s reputation as a stomach soother seems deserved: studies show ginger extracts can help reduce nausea caused by morning sickness or following surgery or chemotherapy, though it’s less effective for motion sickness.
Pairs well with: cloves, nutmeg, allspice, chocolate, fruit, and nuts May help: Stabilize blood sugar. Cinnamon was prized by King Solomon and used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to boost appetite and relieve indigestion. A few studies suggest that adding cinnamon to food, up to a teaspoon a day usually given in capsule form, might help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar, by lowering post-meal blood-sugar spikes.
Pairs well with:shellfish, rice, tomatoes, garlic, and onion May help: Boost one's mood and relieve symptoms of PMS Saffron has long been used in traditional Persian medicine as a mood lifter, usually steeped into a medicinal tea or used to prepare rice. Research from Iran’s Roozbeh Psychiatric Hospital at Tehran University of Medical Sciences has found that saffron may help to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and depression.
Pairs well with:lemon zest, mint, garlic, capers, fish, and beef May help: Prevent cancer University of Missouri scientists found that this herb can actually inhibit breast cancer-cell growth. In the study, animals were given apigenin, a compound abundant in parsley (and in celery), that boosted their resistance to developing cancerous tumors. Experts recommend adding a couple pinches of minced fresh parsley to your dishes daily.