Spices and herbs are often relegated to bit players when it comes to healthy eating, but many deserve more recognition for the nutrients they provide. While small in size they pack more antioxidants and other healthy substances than meets the eye.
If you’re looking to round out your healthy lifestyle, you’ll want to stock up on the following herbs and spices and use them generously in your cooking, or use them on their own to enhance the absorption and benefits received.
When buying spices and herbs organic is best, as it means you’ll be avoiding pesticides and herbicides that find their way into conventionally grown products.
Turmeric provides anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it can be helpful with a long list of conditions and disorders brought about by excessive inflammation. Turmeric can be used as an all-natural way to treat the symptoms of arthritis, and to sooth the digestive system.
But perhaps the most pressing reason to take turmeric is its anti-cancer benefits, backed by promising research that shows turmeric can help you avoid cancer, or stop its progression if you already have it.
Turmeric is most often seen in curries and chutney, and can be seen paired with other spices when more of a blended flavor is desired.
Tastes like: Turmeric has a distinctive flavor to it, and is the primary spice used in many Indian-style curries. On its own it has a tart taste to it, which is why you’ll often see it used with cumin, cardamom, and other spices to help round out the flavor.
Rosemary is a boon to the immune system, helping to keep it healthy and functioning properly. Your immune system not only helps you fight short-term dangers like the flu or the common cold, but long-term risks like cancer and other debilitating diseases. It’s vital to provide your body with what it needs to keep the immune system going strong.
Rosemary can also help to improve the circulation of the body, which can help with heart health and the cardiovascular system in general, as well as improving brain function by getting more blood to the brain which requires a good flow of blood to carry on its advanced functions.
If you’ve had some stomach trouble, you may also try using rosemary as a way to help calm down your digestive system.
Tastes like: Rosemary may have you thinking of pine trees, as this is what it most resembles in both aroma and flavor. It has a minty flavor to it behind all of the pine scent. You’ll often see rosemary used to enhance the flavor of chicken and potatoes because it does a good job of permeating the entire dish.
Basil may not be on your health radar because of its classification as an herb and use as an ancillary ingredient, but it’s time to start upping your intake of it. That’s because it is loaded with benefits like shoring up your DNA, calming inflammation, and boosting your cardiovascular health.
It’s odd to think that something as inconspicuous as basil can help protect your body at the cellular level, but that’s what it does.
As if that wasn’t enough, basil acts as an antibacterial agent in the body, removing harmful bacteria, but allowing helpful bacteria to thrive. Consider growing your own basil so you can use it as fresh as can be, and know how it was grown.
Tastes like: The peppery taste of fresh basil is tough to match in the world of herbs and spices. The number one dish that showcases basil’s amazing flavor is pesto, as basil is the primary ingredient. Pesto is a great way to add the goodness of basil to a wide variety of meals.
Ground cumin deserves a place on your spice shelf not only because of the flavor it provides, but also its health benefits. Among these are digestive benefits, helping to avoid diabetes, and providing much-needed nutrients.
Diabetics should familiarize themselves with cumin because it has been shown to help with several conditions that affect those with diabetes. Of course, you’ll always want to check with your doctor before increasing any food or spice, and ask them what is the best diet to follow for your specific situation.
Cumin can help your digestion as well, and provides essential minerals like phosphorus, thiamine, and potassium, which your body needs each day in order to fire on all cylinders.
Tastes like: Most people associate cumin to tacos, because it’s the main ingredient in most taco seasoning packets. Try it on roasted potatoes or any other dish that you want to add a savory flavor to.
You most likely already have nutmeg if you like to bake or make desserts. It’s a spice that shows up on most commonly used spices lists, but few know that it actually provides benefits to the body.
Nutmeg has detoxifying properties, which is why it is used as an ingredient in many detox beverages and cleansing programs. It can spur the liver to expel toxins and helps expunge the kidneys of impurities.
It can also be used to help you fall asleep, and as a natural remedy for many everyday digestive problems that typically get treated with an over-the-counter medication.
Tastes like: The nuttiness of nutmeg is what is most commonly used to describe the way it tastes. But there isn’t a spice out there that tastes exactly like nutmeg. It’s the spice used in eggnog to make it taste the way it does.
Most of the benefits of saffron are seen when using a saffron extract, and not the saffron you see in stores with seasonings and spices. However, it may be worth taking because of what it may be able to do for you.
For instance, it has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, as well as menstrual cramping. Clinical depression is a serious condition, so you’d want to explore options with your doctor. PMS symptoms vary from woman to woman, and your doctor is best suited to help you ease menstrual pain and other symptoms.
It has even been shown to help with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and has been likened to prescription drugs in terms of its effectiveness. Remember that this is saffron extract, and not the seasoning.
Tastes like: Saffron has a taste that’s hard to pin down, but in most dishes it will add a slight honey-like flavor to the meal. Careful you don’t use too much of it, as this can make things go from sweet to bitter tasting.
Ginseng is viewed as a miracle herb in many parts throughout Asia, and there is clinical research to back up this perception in many instances. The most-researched benefit it provides is its ability to bolster the immune system.
A healthy immune system generally means a healthy person overall, all else being equal. It will help you stay healthy while others around you are getting sick, and could help you avoid other diseases and conditions later in life. If you do get sick, your immune system plays a big part in how long you stay sick.
Ginseng may even be able to help you keep your mental focus and improve your concentration, as well as simply helping you to feel better.
Tastes like: Ginseng is often consumed directly for its health benefits, and isn’t renowned for its ability to make a dish taste better. You’ll often find it sold in supplement form or in single-serving packets that you consume daily to get enough of it.
Perhaps the biggest reason to start using more cardamom is because of the way it helps with digestion. It can help with symptoms like indigestion, upset stomach, and heartburn, which is great news for those looking for non-medicinal ways to treat common problems like these.
Cardamom has antioxidant properties that help your body battle some of the free radical damage that takes place due to the daily influx of toxins from the food we eat, the beverages we drink, and even the air we breath.
Cardamom can also help you lower your blood pressure as part of a comprehensive approach. That’s because it’s fiber-rich and a diuretic, two factors that contribute to lower blood pressure levels.
Tastes like: There’s nothing else that tastes quite like cardamom, and if you’re a fan of Indian food you’re probably a fan of cardamom. It’s somewhat spicy, but not overly so, and will not be ignored no matter which dish you add it to.
It may be surprising to learn that curry isn’t just a tasty spice mix, it’s also a source of many healthy benefits, and worth adding to your regular spice line-up. Choose your favorite blend, you really can’t go wrong as almost all curry powder is made up of healthy spices.
The reason curry is so beneficial is because it is a conglomeration of many different spices, many of which are featured separately on our list of healthiest spices. In this respect, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Curry powder has been credited with anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as anti-cancer properties.
You don’t have to use curry powder just to make a curry, you can experiment with it and use it in a number of different dishes. Try sprinkling it on a side of vegetables for an instant flavor upgrade as well as nutrition boost.
Tastes like: Curry the dish gets its name from curry the spice, and there are many different ways to create it, with various spices used, and therefore a different resulting flavor. Turmeric is often used, which is why the two spices share so many benefits.
It may not seem like you’re doing much by adding thyme to your dishes, but you could be adding time to your lifespan with this herb. The antioxidant value of thyme is impressive, and it can provide the same sort of benefits as those foods high in antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables.
It’s important to take in a good amount of antioxidants each day from a variety of foods, as it can help with everything from cancer prevention to heart disease, and adding more thyme to your diet can help protect the cells of your body from damage from free radicals.
Thyme also has anti-microbial properties, which helps to keep the body free of bacteria and harmful fungi that can be a detriment to your overall wellbeing.
Tastes like: Thyme adds an earthy flavor to foods, without stealing all of the attention from the main attraction. Many meatloaf recipes call for thyme, and you’ll see it used in soups, chowders, and as part of a dry rub for meats.
11. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is used in many recipes because of its ability to add instant heat and a peppery flavor. But it’s also has a long list of benefits, and you may have noticed some of these already, but didn’t realize it was the cayenne pepper that deserved the credit.
Cayenne pepper has a cleansing effect on the body, helping to eradicate fungi in the body that just don’t belong. It also has the ability to calm the digestion, even though it is spicy and it seems counterintuitive that it acts as a soothing agent.
You’ll often see cayenne pepper used in detoxification programs thanks to its cleansing properties. The Lemonade Diet is one such cleanse that makes use of cayenne pepper as one of its main components.
Tastes like: Cayenne pepper brings the heat to many dishes listed as “Spicy”. The powdered spice form has a hot pepper taste to it because that’s what it’s made from, and it contains capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their heat.
12. Licorice Root
If you’re not a fan of black licorice candy, you may not be a fan of licorice root, but it has so many benefits to it that you may need to learn to like it. The biggest of which is its ability to help calm the body down and avoid feelings of stress and anxiety.
There is also some evidence that licorice root can help in a range of areas, everything from cardiovascular health to the relief of menopausal problems.
A popular way to use licorice root is to make a tea out of it. This simply involves boiling water with the licorice root in it, and then sipping it as you would any other tea. It’s a fast and effective way to help calm down and change your mood when things get overwhelming.
Tastes like: Licorice root is what black licorice candy was originally made from, and the two have similar flavors. When used in a meal it will add a savoriness to the dish, but be careful not to use too much or you might muscle out the other flavors.
Oregano may be one of the easier herbs to start using more of, because it goes so well with a vast number of food items. The amount of vitamins it contains is pretty impressive, and with it comes a good supply of antioxidants.
There are also minerals, fiber, and even omega-3 in oregano, but to get the most benefit from it you’ll want to go fresh. It’s recommended to start your own herb garden and include oregano as one of the seeds.
You shouldn’t rely on a spice like oregano to meet all of your antioxidant needs. But it can easily be added to a side of vegetables that contain their own vitamins and minerals, and then you’re getting a more complete spectrum of nutrients.
Tastes like: There are many versions of oregano. Some have more of a bitter taste to them, while others may be more on the minty side. The Italian version of oregano is perhaps the most popular, and is often used in sauces and pasta dishes, as well as pizza sauce and even baked into the crust in some cases.
Most chefs use cilantro because of its amazing flavor and the way it enhances a simple dish into something more. But you can use cilantro not just because it tastes amazing, but because it has other fantastic properties as well.
Perhaps the most important of these is its ability to help the body rid itself of toxicity from heavy metals. Cilantro acts as an effective and natural way to cleanse to body of these built up toxins. To get these benefits you’ll want to use it as part of a larger approach at cleansing your body of heavy metals, and not rely on cilantro alone.
It’s also effective at keeping you calm, and can improve your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Try using more cilantro before resorting to medicinal ways to fall asleep.
Tastes like: Fresh cilantro finds its way into many salsa recipes, and is the reason they get that “salsa” flavor to them. It is also commonly used in sauces and as a garnish because of the way it adds flavor without being overwhelming.
Lavender isn’t just a pretty color, this flower needs to be on your radar thanks to its many healthy features. Perhaps you already knew that it provides a calming effect, often used in aromatherapy to relax the mind and alter your mood, but there’s more to behold.
Spinach often gets cited for its phytonutrient content, but don’t let an herb like lavender go unappreciated any longer. It also contains phytonutrients, and it’s as easy as sprinkling dried lavender spice on any meal you think will taste better with it.
If you can’t come up with ways to add lavender to your cooking, it’s easy enough to drink it as a tea. You can even buy ready-made lavender tea bags that make it very easy to steep a cup of tea to get it’s healing benefits.
Tastes like: Lavender has a floral flavor to it, which you’d expect seeing that it’s a flower. It’s also been described as having a sweetness to it, that can become bitter if used in excess.
Sage is very similar to rosemary, as they both come from the same plant family. You’ll get many of the benefits, including the good things that happen when you take in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are one of those substances that provide good things for the body, but that you may not feel “working” when you get them. They often don’t provide an instant effect, and in order to realize what they’re doing it’s necessary to notice how you feel when you don’t get them for extended periods of time.
What you may notice right away is the anti-inflammatory effects of sage, which can provide relief from conditions like arthritis, or anything else brought on by excessive inflammation in the body.
Tastes like: Sage has a bitter, astringent flavor to it, and is often used to season stuffing at Thanksgiving, or pork chops. It has an unmistakable aroma to it when cooking, and its flavor can push aside others when vying for attention on your palate.
Ginger has become increasingly popular over the years, and now you can find it in more recipes than ever. This is a good thing because of the cleansing properties it contains. These properties are what allow ginger to be discussed as an effective anti-cancer food.
What is most intriguing is that ginger root can be used to help treat cancer, not just avoid it. It’s incredible to think that a food can help in the battle of cancer, but main substance in ginger has been shown to stop the growth of cancer cells, and even kill them off in certain cases.
Consider adding ginger to soups and stews, or adding ginger powder to chicken and fish to improve their flavor and get the benefits it provides. Seek out organic ginger to get the full benefit.
Tastes like: Ginger can be quite spicy when consumed directly and on its own. When used in conjunction with other foods while cooking it will generally add a bit of bitterness to the meal, and even a little sweetness.
Cinnamon is most often used in baking and making desserts, but it’s quickly becoming known that it also has several health benefits.
You can use cinnamon for its antiseptic properties which help cleanse the body of bacterias that shouldn’t be there, or as a way to improve your cholesterol levels. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and may be one way to help prevent cancer when taken in more concentrated doses as an extract.
Cinnamon has seen a rising trend in its use as a weight loss catalyst. It can help you regulate your blood sugar levels, as well as boost your metabolism, a combination that will aid in weight loss, all else being equal.
Tastes like: Cinnamon tastes like cinnamon, there’s nothing else that’s like it, and no way to describe it other than it tastes the way it tastes. You’ll often find cinnamon as a standalone component to dishes like cinnamon rolls, or its own version of applesauce.
You may be encouraged to eat parsley rather than just admire it on your plate, once you see all the good it can do. It’s a source of antioxidants that unfortunately has gone underappreciated over the years. It contains an impressive amount of both Vitamin K and Vitamin C.
The Vitamin C alone will help to bolster your immune system, as well as help sooth pain caused by inflammatory conditions. When seeking to keep yourself topped up on Vitamin C, don’t rely on one fruit or food by itself, but think about it as a group effort and use a combination of foods to get there. Avoid taking Vitamin C supplements, it’s easy enough to meet your needs with whole foods.
Parsley can also help with your heart health, providing you with B Vitamins that your cardiovascular system needs in order to do its job.
Tastes like: Parsley has a fresh, tart taste, and even though it is usually used as a garnish for a plate it can help freshen your breath after a meal. Used in a dish its flavor will take a back burner to the others used in the meal.
Fennel is an herb that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with if you don’t currently use it regularly. That’s because it contains a combination of nutrients that are exclusive to fennel, and can help counteract some of the damage done by eating a Standard American Diet.
The antioxidant benefits are what we’re most interested in when it comes to fennel. These will help protect the body from free radical damage. There’s also a generous amount of Vitamin C, which helps the body not only with the immune system but also heart disease and diseases of the eye.
The beauty of fennel is that you can buy a big bulb of it from the store and use it in multiple ways. The top of the fennel is where you’ll find the herb to flavor up other foods. You can use the stalks and the bulb in things like soups, stews, and casseroles.
Tastes like: Fennel reminds many of the way black licorice or licorice root tastes. However, fennel has a certain softness to its flavor that makes it a subtle addition to any meal, making it easy to get the benefits of fennel without affecting the taste of the dish.