Health Benefits of Spices and Herbs | Love That Spice

Turmeric Root and Other Healing Spices

Adding a variety of super nutrient dense and vitamin rich spices, spice blends and fresh herbs to our diet ensures that we’re getting the laundry list of vitamins and minerals that the body needs for optimal health.
Since herbs and spices can reduce joint pain and inflammation, you may want to get an idea of what spices to use and their potential health benefits. Of course natural remedies work slower than western medicine, however, the side effects are few if any. Turmeric, for instance, has been a major player in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) medicine for centuries, as well as a host of other great spices and herbs.
Consider adding spices that you haven’t yet added to your spice rack along with some ideas about how to put them to work in your favorite recipes.
Let's take a look at some great healing spices and herbs!



  • Anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal properties,
  • Clinical studies show ginger is an effective pain reliever for muscle aches and arthritis
  • Inhibits the growth of human colorectal cancer cells
  • More effective than a placebo for sea sickness, morning sickness and nausea due to chemotherapy
  • Stimulates circulation and has natural blood thinning properties
  • Relieves symptoms of the common cold, soothes throat, stimulates the secretion of mucus

Ceylon "True" Cinnamon

  • Anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal properties
  • Greatly reduces pain associated with joints and encourages mobility
  • Can help control cholesterol levels
  • One of the most powerful healing spices, cinnamon has become famous for its ability to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. Some of its natural compounds improve insulin function, significantly, lowering blood sugar with as little as 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons a day.
  • Like many other spices, cinnamon has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols.
  • Cinnamon also contains lots of fiber.


  • Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant rich
  • Rich in an array anti-oxidant polyphenolic flavonoids (vitamin P), including quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin and epigenin
  • Lowers the body’s chance of developing cancer
  • Eating cilantro is like taking a multi-vitamin; Vitamin C, folic acid, Vitamin K, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin A and beta-carotene
  • Mineral rich; iron, manganese, calcium, potassium
  • Natural detoxifier that can leech metals from the body
  • Known to minimize rheumatoid arthritis
  • Prevents Chron’s disease and many other immune disorders
  • Contains large amounts of Borneol, an organic alcohol capable of destroying viruses and germs that causes colds and flu

Bay leaves

  • Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory
  • Parthenolides contain in the bay leaf can be used to treat headaches and has been proven useful in treating migraines
  • Normalizes blood sugar by aiding the body in processing insulin efficiently
  • Soothes the stomach and relieves flatulence
  • Can also act as a mild sedative
  • Good source of Vitamin C, folic acid, Vitamin A, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, cooper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium


  • Anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory
  • Basil’s essential oils inhibits bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas and Enterococcus that have built up a resistance to being treated with antibiotics
  • Contains anti-inflammatory oils such as eugenol, citronellol, limonene and terpineol; engenol is thought to help alleviate inflammation due to arthritis and inflammatory bowel condition
  • Basil tea can help to relax you as well as alleviate painful menstrual cramps
  • Excellent source of Vitamin K and also contains iron, calcium, Vitamin A, manganese, magnesium, Vitamin C and potassium


  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial
  • The oils of the nut have the most beneficial healing properties
  • Used to treat joint problems
  • Used to treat asthma by way of anti-inflammatory
  • Helps the stomach and acts as a good liver and kidney tonic to aid in removing toxins from the body, dissolving kidney stones as well as relieving kidney infections
  • Nutmeg contains a myristicin which is shown to improve memory as well as inhibit an enzyme that contributes to Alzheimer's disease.
  • Relaxing properties and can be used as a sleep aid


  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antibacterial
  • Helps to reduce cholesterol and may even reduce the risk of cancer
  • Contains compound that destroy osteoclasts which break down bone; beneficial to women at risk for osteoporosis
  • Vitamins and minerals; Vitamin C, B6, biotin, chromium, dietary fiber, calcium, folic acid, Vitamin B1 and K
  • Good source of quercitin which is a powerful anti-oxidant that has been linked to inhibiting stomach cancer; quercitin also lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol and thins the blood
  • Contains amino acids that are said to be good at detoxifying the body from heavy metals and can leech mercury, cadmium lead out of the body
  • Strong anti-bacterial can kill off many disease causing pathogens including salmonella and E. coli


  • Powerful antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory
  • Loaded with Vitamin C. It has 9 times more Vitamin C as a tomato and 7 times as much Vitamin C as an orange
  • Rich in carotenoids, which can help protect against cancer, heart disease and protecting the eyes
  • The high amount of Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron
  • Contains capsaicin which gives it its anti-inflammatory properties and makes it a good topical treatment for inflammation dues to strains, bruises and even arthritis
  • Increases circulation and normalizes blood pressure


  • One of the strongest carminative herbs (helps alleviate gastrointestinal problems) and is used for relief of gas, intestinal pain and even bowel spasms
  • Effective in ridding the body of internal parasites like hookworm
  • The seeds are loaded with fiber – 38 grams for each 100 grams of seeds. The increased bulk that is added with this fiber allows foods to move quickly through your intestines and also binds to toxins which help protect the colon
  • Alleviates bad breath; just chew on a few seeds.
  • Lots of minerals and vitamins including Vitamin A, Vitamin E, B complex vitamins, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, copper, selenium, zinc, magnesium and manganese


  • Powerful anti-inflammatory, rich in anti-oxidants
  • Traditionally used for digestion and kidney problems; treats kidney stones and gallstones and reduce urine retention as it is a powerful diuretic
  • High levels of Vitamin B9 help to lower homocysteine levels which can lessen the risk of clogged arteries, heart attack and stroke
  • Loaded with antioxidants being high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin B, manganese, copper, iodine, calcium, potassium and various flavonoids. It has twice as much iron as spinach and 2 tablespoons have 153% of the RDA of Vitamin K which is great for keeping a healthy immune system healthy


  • The chemical makeup of rosemary shows the herb contains tons of antioxidants, many that inhibit the action of free radicals believed to cause many diseases, including cancer.
  • Evidence also points to the herbs ability to prevent and suppress Alzheimer's disease.
  • In addition to its promise as an antioxidant, rosemary is traditionally used to calm nerves, offset muscle spasms fight inflammation and to gently stimulate the nervous system.

Sage - anti-inflammatory

Tamarind - anti-inflammatory

  • Turmeric, the spice that gives Indian curry it's color, is used in Ayurveda Medicine.
  • Massive attention as an anti-inflammatory and a strong cancer fighter.
  • The chemical responsible for turmeric's golden color, called circumin, is considered a top anti-cancer agent, helping to quell the inflammation that contributes to tumor growth.
  • Lab studies show turmeric helps stop the growth and spread of cancer cells that do form. Additionally, studies have linked turmeric to reduced inflammation in a number of conditions, including psoriasis.
  • In animal studies, circumin decreased the formation of amyloid, the stuff that makes up the brain deposits characteristic in people with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Cloves contain the anti-inflammatory chemical called eugenol, which inhibits COX-2, a protein that spurs inflammation (the same protein that COX-2 inhibitor drugs like Celebrex quash).
  • Cloves also rank high in antioxidants.
  • The combination of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties spells loads of health benefits from boosting protection from heart disease to helping to stave off cancer
  • Slows the cartilage and bone damage caused by arthritis.
  • Contains capsaicin, which is the active ingredient in many prescriptions and over the counter creams, ointments and patches for arthritis and muscle pain.
  • Over time, it short circuits pain by depleting nerve cells of a chemical called substance P which helps transmit pain signals along nerve endings to the brain.
  • Excellent anti inflammatory benefits.
  • Oregano is a powerhouse when it comes to fighting cholesterol.
  • Clinical studies show that consuming oregano after each meal for a total of 3 months can reduce cholesterol (LDL or bad) and increase HDL (good cholesterol) in people with high cholesterol.

Digestion issues? Try Fennel Seeds or Cardamom Pods as both pack a powerful punch when aiding in digestion.

Fennel seeds and powder both have significant

anti-inflammatory properties which is what is thought

to help relax the lining of the stomach and intestines

to aid in digestion. Fennel and coriander are thought

to be useful aids for Crohn's disease or Irritable Bowel

Syndrome. Fennel is often used in gripe water as

an effective ingredient to alleviate colic.

Incorporate fennel seeds into your everyday diet after meals for digestion. Here are 5 easy ways to get more fennel seeds:

  1. Steep 1/2 tsp of the seeds in boiling water for a digestive tea
  2. Make a seasoning rub of equal parts fennel seeds, cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, nigella seeds, lightly roast and grind for use on leaner proteins like pork or lamb
  3. Add 1/8 tsp of fennel powder to your tomato based pasta sauce
  4. Combine 1/8 tsp fennel powder with 1/4 tsp turmeric and paprika. Mix in a little heated butter and use as a spooning sauce over steamed fish
  5. Make an after dinner mint by rolling 1/4 tsp fennel seeds, 1/8 tsp ground cardamom seeds inside one fresh mint leaf and chewing on it after dinner.

Cardamom contains a volatile oil called cineole which, apart from being an antioxidant, is also thought to contain anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic agents which work together to provide digestive aid for a variety of complaints such as bloating, stomach cramps and gas.

Here are 5 easy ways to incorporate Cardamom more into your daily diet or after meals:

  1. Add 1/4 tsp of ground cardamom seeds to your morning smoothie, tea, granola
  2. Sprinkle a little over root vegetables before roasting
  3. Mix 1/4 tsp into some yogurt and fruit for a great after dinner dessert.
  4. Steep 1/8 tsp or a couple of whole pods in boiling water for a few minutes as an after dinner tea.
  5. Add a little to your cinnamon for a more exotic touch to your baking or other uses.


“Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) has many beneficial pharmacological effects which include, but are not limited to, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, anti-cancer, and protection against nervous system diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease,” says Debasish Bandyopadhyay, an assistant professor of research in the chemistry department at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas, and the author of a 2014 review paper on curcumin. Here’s a snapshot of the research-backed benefits of curcumin.


Osteoarthritis (OA), which results from wear and tear on joints, commonly accompanies advancing age. At least three studies show curcumin products (specially formulated to enhance bioavailability) taken for two to three months reduce pain, improve function and minimize reliance on pain medications. In two studies of knee OA, curcumin worked on par with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), the overuse of which can cause stomach upset and intestinal damage. Combining turmeric with other anti-inflammatory herbs, such as boswellia and ginger, also helps improve symptoms.

Curcumin also appears to ameliorate rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder. One study compared curcumin with the drug diclofenac (Voltaren) and found curcumin to be more effective.

Cardiovascular Disease

In lab studies, curcumin lowers blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats); discourages oxidation of LDL cholesterol (a chemical reaction that renders this cholesterol more harmful to the arteries); and inhibits platelets, thereby reducing the risk of clots forming within blood vessels. One study found that taking 4 grams of curcuminoids a day for several days before and after coronary artery bypass surgery reduced the risk of in-hospital heart attack.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Curcuminoids aren’t well absorbed from the intestinal tract, making them potentially useful against bowel inflammation and colon cancer. IBD includes ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory condition of the large intestine) and Crohn’s disease (which primarily affects the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine). When people with ulcerative colitis added curcumin to conventional medication, they extended their time to relapse. When a small group of children and teens 11 to 18 years old with IBD added curcumin to conventional medication, they all tolerated the combo well, and half of them improved significantly.

Indigestion & Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Turmeric reduced indigestion after meals and improved symptoms of IBS, a condition characterized by abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

Oral Health

Turmeric gels and mouthwashes have been recommended to maintain oral health and combat conditions such as gingivitis (gum inflammation). A mouthwash containing turmeric was as effective as a conventional mouthwash (chlorhexidine) at improving gingivitis and reducing bacterial levels in the mouth.


Curcumin acts in several ways to reduce blood glucose (sugar) levels. In one study, taking curcumin for three months reduced blood glucose in overweight and obese people with type 2 diabetes. In addition, curcumin supplements taken for nine months reduced the risk that people at high risk for type 2 diabetes actually developed the disease.


Turmeric is traditionally used to fight skin infections and dress wounds. Lab research shows a range of antimicrobial effects. In lab studies, curcumin inhibits a number of bacteria (including Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermidis, E. coli and Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera); viruses (influenza, parainfluenza, herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, respiratory syncytial virus, human papilloma virus, hepatitis B and C viruses); and fungi (Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida albicans and dermatophytes, a group of fungi that can infect the skin). Test-tube studies show that curcumin has activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and acts synergistically with several antibiotics. It may, however, interfere with the ability of ciprofloxacin (Cipro) to fight Salmonella infections.

Mastitis, or inflammation of the breast, plagues one-third of breastfeeding women. A topical curcumin cream applied every eight hours for three days significantly eased breast pain and redness in a group of Iranian women with moderately severe mastitis.



In a study of 21 people with moderate-to-severe psoriasis (a condition that causes patches of thickened, red skin with silvery scales), oral turmeric extract augmented visible light phototherapy. In another study, a 1 percent curcumin gel resolved the plaques of psoriasis faster than a conventional drug (calcipotriol).

Brain diseases

Compared with the U.S., the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is relatively low in India (specifically, 4 percent of people 80 years and older in a region of India versus almost 16 percent in northwestern Pennsylvania), where turmeric is a ubiquitous spice. In lab studies, curcumin inhibits the formation of beta-amyloid (a misshapen protein that gums up the spaces between brain cells in AD). Experiments also suggest that curcumin may help protect against Parkinson’s disease and inhibit the growth of brain tumors.

Human brain studies are scarce. In one of the few conducted, a group of people older than 60 with prediabetes ingested turmeric with breakfast and saw enhanced working memory. (Diabetes and prediabetes increase the risk of cognitive impairment, including reduced memory, problem-solving skills and ability to concentrate.) However, when 30 people with AD consumed 2 or 4 grams a day of curcumin for a year, they didn’t get better.

Anti-Cancer Effects

This area is a hotbed of curcumin research. “Curcumin possesses immense anti-cancer effects,” Bandyopadhyay says. “In a number of lab studies on various types of cancer, it prevents tumor formation, growth, invasion and metastasis [spread through blood and lymph].” It also inhibits the creation of new blood vessels that feed the tumor and stimulates cancer cells to die.

Plus, chemicals in turmeric (curcuminoids and turmerones) enhance immune system function. One of the immune system’s jobs, in addition to combating infectious organisms, is to destroy cancer cells.

Lab experiments show combining curcumin with some chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatment improves outcomes. In addition, curcumin may counteract the resistance cancer cells often develop to chemotherapy. Tempering these exciting research findings is the fact that most of the research involves cultures of cancer cells and animals with cancer.

A July 2015 study noted that 12 clinical trials were in progress, mainly in people with colon and pancreatic cancer. Here are highlights from already-published human trials.

  • A study of people at high risk for various cancers found that they tolerated up to 8 grams a day (at which point they started balking at swallowing more capsules). In a number of cases, precancerous lesions improved.
  • Supplemental curcumin enhanced quality of life and reduced inflammation in people with a variety of cancers.
  • In 160 people with several types of cancer, a relatively low dose of a product with improved bioavailability (Meriva) reduced side effects due to standard chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Curcumin supplements may help stabilize disease in people with colon cancer.
  • In smokers (a group at risk for cancer of the colon and other sites), 4 grams a day of curcumin significantly reduced precancerous lesions in the colon and rectum.
  • A preliminary study in women with advanced breast cancer found up to 6 grams a day of curcumin tolerable in combination with the chemotherapeutic drug docetaxel. Furthermore, the combo produced encouraging results.

In addition to the relative lack of human research, a few other cautions bear discussion. Lynne Howells, a researcher in the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, has published a dozen papers on curcumin and cancer. She sums up the research by saying, “Most of the laboratory-based evidence for curcumin does appear favorable, but we do have to be aware that there are limited reports of potential for adverse effects.” For instance, in one mouse study, curcumin promoted lung cancer. However, most other studies have shown the opposite. Howells adds, “As cancer is such a diverse and multifaceted disease, there are potentially some people who may benefit from interventions, and some who may not.” In addition, the ideal dosage isn’t known.

How to Use Turmeric

Topical Uses

For inflamed skin, apply the juice from the fresh rhizome (grate it, then bundle in cheesecloth and squeeze onto skin) or use powdered, dried turmeric to make pastes and oils by mixing it with aloe vera gel or a skin oil such as olive or jojoba oil. You can make a face mask by blending 2 tablespoons plain yogurt with 1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric powder. If you’re dark-skinned, topical turmeric creates an appealing glow. If you’re fair, turmeric might temporarily make you look sallow. You might want to try a test patch before using it.

Internal Uses

Fresh and dried turmeric are key ingredients in many Indian and Asian recipes. Dried, powdered turmeric has a mild taste and can be blended into many foods (even smoothies and—I tried this today—whole-grain pancakes).

For health challenges, Roehrig recommends encapsulated turmeric. Blend 10 parts turmeric powder with 1 part black pepper and pour into size 00 capsules. Start with 1 to 2 capsules a day (1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon). Build to 2 capsules at every meal.

Most commercial products concentrate curcumin. Take as directed. Because this compound is poorly absorbed from the intestinal tract and rapidly broken down, some manufacturers have devised methods to improve bioavailability. Formulations include combining curcumin with piperine (from black pepper) or a phospholipid (a compound composed of a fatty substance and phosphorus) or even making it tiny (curcumin nanoparticles). Another experimental product allows curcumin to be delivered into the lungs with an inhaler.


Used as a culinary spice, turmeric is safe. People in India and Asia have consumed it for hundreds of years. Because lab research shows that turmeric can stimulate uterine contractions, pregnant women are advised not to take medicinal doses (e.g., encapsulated turmeric and products that concentrate curcumin). Otherwise, studies lasting up to eight months in length indicate that supplemental turmeric and curcumin are safe. Doses up to 8 grams a day of curcumin cause only mild side effects, primarily stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea.

Check with your doctor before combining concentrated extracts with medications. Because curcumin can counteract high blood sugar, medicinal doses shouldn’t be combined with diabetes medications without medical supervision. Because curcumin inhibits platelets (cell fragments circulating in the blood that form clots), supplements are not recommended in combination with antiplatelet drugs (aspirin, Plavix and others) or anticoagulants (heparin, Coumadin). However, one study found that 2 to 4 grams a day did not alter bleeding times. Curcumin supplements may also affect the activity of liver enzymes that break down drugs, altering levels in the blood. Howells advises people with cancer to be particularly careful and to check with their doctor before combining curcumin extracts with chemotherapy.

How Can One Plant Protect Against So Many Illnesses?

Researchers suspect that turmeric’s potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are the key to its ability to protect against so many diseases. Anti-inflammatory agents reduce the inflammation that occurs as the immune system does its job. Antioxidants counter oxidation, a chemical reaction that generates tissue-damaging molecules called free radicals.

Oxidation promotes inflammation and vice versa. Both accelerate aging and underlie most chronic human diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Linda B. White, M.D., is a freelance writer and the coauthor of The Herbal Drugstore and 500 Time-Tested Home Remedies and the Science Behind Them. The second edition of her college text, Health Now: An Integrative Approach to Personal Health, will be published in January 2016.