Herbs and spices not only add delicious flavour to foods it is said that they can also help protect you from diseases, clear toxins from your body and provide you with vitamins and minerals. Adding herbs and spices to everyday diet you can strengthen the immune system and they should be an integral part of your cuisine. Herbs and spices are as old as time itself and have been used for thousands of years to help preserve foods and protect from contamination. They are some of the top antioxidant foods containing a wide variety of antioxidants.

Allspice
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Called pimento in Jamaica and known across the world by many names such as Jamaican Pepper, Myrtle and Clove Pepper this is a spice which packs a punch with it’s powerful antioxidant properties. Allspice derives its name from the fact that it carries the flavour of many other spices like cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg , juniper, ginger and black-pepper.  In addition to seasoning food it can also be added to herbal teas. I use it in my chocolate tea recipe. Allspice isn’t to be confused with mixed spice which is, as the name implies, a mixture of different spices.  Nutrionists note that the benefits of allspice are many, including acting as a digestive aid to relieve gas and bloating, with anti-inflammatory, calming and soothing properties.  Allspice is used to treat a myriad of illnesses like bacterial and fungal infections as well as coughs, chills, bronchitis and depression.  This spice contains minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium and magnesium. Further more it contains good amounts beta-carotene, vitamins A, B1, B2, niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and Vitamin C manganese and selenium. A couple of whole or ground seeds can be added to soups, gravies and teas.

Nutmeg/Mace
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Nutmeg has been cultivated for thousands of years in South East Asia. It’s my favourite of all spices for it’s beautiful aroma and taste.  Apart from its culinary uses nutmeg has many health properties. Nutmeg is a good anti-inflammatory herb helping with abdominal pain and when used externally as an oil may aid with aching joints, muscle pain and arthritis.  Nutmeg has very powerful antioxidant, anti-fungal and carminative properties and is said to be able to remove toxins from the liver and kidneys. Nutmeg is rich in B complex vitamins and is also a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, manganese, zinc and iron.  This powerful spice is best when used in small doses as medical research has shown that large doses can cause palpitations, sweating, lack of concentration, and possibly delirium and hallucinations.

Mace is the outer part of the nutmeg and has similar benefits to the nutmeg itself. It is used in cooking to spice up foods and add colour and can be used as an aid to a good night’s sleep.

Cinnamon
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Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices recorded as being used since 2000 BCE. It is said to be particularly high in antioxidants and that one teaspoonful of cinnamon has as much antioxidant capacity as a full cup of pomegranate juice or half a cup of blueberries. Cinnamon is also rich in natural compounds called polyphenols which appear to mimic the action of insulin in your body and thought to help to regulate blood sugar levels.  Half a teaspoonful a day, taken in any form, either in tea, coffee or with porridge is regarded as sufficient to help with the removal of fats from the cells of your body, so that they can be better energized by insulin.  Cinnamon is also said to be a great source of manganese, fibre, iron and calcium.

Black Pepper
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One of the essential ingredients for almost any Caribbean dish, Black Pepper has substantial health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants, full of iron helping to keep blood cells healthy, and also has vitamins A and C and carotenes which work to help the body fight diseases. Black pepper also reportedly supports the digestive process. This spice contains Piperine which helps the body to increase the ability to absorb other nutrients such as vitamin B and beta-carotene (good for improving circulation).  Black pepper also contains vitamins A and K. Vitamin A, calcium and magnesium. A note of caution is highlighted that pregnant women should take precautions and consult a specialist before consuming large quantities.

Scotch Bonnet, Bird Pepper, Cayenne
Scotch Bonnet
Cayenne pepper is said to increases metabolism and have a very positive effect on the circulatory system. It is also said to reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol, assist with the assimilation of foods and nutrients and the elimination of waste matter. One of the most important benefits of cayenne pepper has to do with heart health. Apparently a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a glass of water, taken daily, has an extremely positive effect on the heart. Recent research suggests that cayenne may also boost the immune system and help reduce varicose veins. Capsaicin, the main compound in cayenne pepper is also reputedly very effective in the treatment of tonsillitis, paralysis, dyspepsia and sea sickness.

Thyme

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Thyme is another ancient herb with culinary uses. Medicinally, thyme contains at least a dozen blood thinners and nine diuretics. It has a positive effect on bronchitis and upper respiratory conditions. The compound found in thyme, thymol, is regarded by some as the third most powerful antiseptic after garlic and clove. It is particularly good for colds and coughs and can be taken as a tea in this regard. It relieves bloating and gas and aids in digestion. It is also full of vitamin K and iron and more recently has been associated with helping relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. There are different varieties of thymes and another one with which some of us are familiar, is broad leaf thyme, which goes by many other names. It has a stronger aroma than the common garden thyme but with very much the same medicinal benefits. Broad leaf thyme is a tropical herb and in temperate climates it should be grown indoors in a warm place, as it cannot stand cold weather.

Garlic
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Garlic is a very popular culinary herb worldwide. It contains a very powerful antioxidant, allicin, which prevents cells from taking up cholesterol and reduces cholesterol production in the liver. Sulphur compounds formed from the breakdown of allicin react with red blood cells to produce a substance which relaxes blood vessels, thins the blood and helps keep blood flowing freely, thus improving circulation and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Garlic also has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. Brave souls eat garlic raw which is the best way to consume this herb, however the residual odour on breath can be off putting. If you do take garlic raw then taking parsley can help to suppress the smell. Cloves can also help and this herb is also a powerful antioxidant. Some also take garlic for colds, try it with honey if it’s a little too much on it’s own for you.  Finally, cinnamon is said to also help reduce the scent. Like onion, garlic is a member of the allum family of sulphurous herbs and should form part of any natural detox programme.

Ginger
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Ginger is a very old herb and is part of the same family as turmeric, cardamon and galangal. It reportedly shares many of the same health benefits. Ginger is a warming herb and can stimulate circulation and has blood thinning properties. It is used commonly to treat nausea and is said to help with arthritis. It combines well with other herbs and like turmeric it has anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger tea strengthens the lungs and kidneys and helps with the proper digestion of food. Acid reflux can be overcome by drinking warm ginger tea after a meal. A teaspoon of ginger has similar antioxidant levels as one cup of spinach and ground ginger can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Oregano

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This Mediterranean herb has long been known for it’s health benefits and disease preventing properties. Hippocrates used it as an antiseptic and for respiratory problems. Today it is still used to treat sore throats, and some use it to treat flu’s and colds. Oregano has one of the highest anti-oxidant properties and contains Vitamin A, Vitamin K, magnesium, iron, carotene, Vitamin E, tryptophan and calcium.

Turmeric

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Turmeric is said to be one of nature’s most pow­er­ful heal­ers and has been around for about 2500 years. Turmeric, a close cousin of gin­ger, has been put under the micro­scope and its med­i­c­i­nal prop­er­ties have been com­ing to light, caus­ing it to be regarded as the won­der herb. It is considered as a nat­ural treat­ment for arthri­tis and a nat­ural liver detox­i­fier. Other attrib­utes include the speed­ing up of wound heal­ing and the treat­ment of pso­ri­a­sis. Turmeric is also said to be shown to have a ben­e­fi­cial effect on lung and liver dis­eases, neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases, meta­bolic dis­eases, autoim­mune dis­or­ders and car­dio­vas­cu­lar diseases.

If you would like to learn more about Caribbean herbs and spices take a look at the London based nutritionist Black Health. Their website is really impressive.

Growing your own herbs where possible is ideal as it ensure they are organic. If you would like to learn how to grow some of these herbs on your windowsill or garden check out the post How To Grow Your Own Herbs.

Resources

You can find organic herbs and spices at your local organic food shop, Whole Foods, Planet Organic. I would recommend to also have a look at Steenbergs, a UK company that sells ethical and fair trade spices where you can order online.

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