The Healing Benefits of 5 Popular Herbs and Spices

January 24, 2015 Updated: January 25, 2015

By Derek Henry, Holistic Health Coach for Healing the Body

These aromatic and delicious additions to beverages, baking, and other treats are irresistible when we enter this time of year where it cools down. The good news is there are many benefits to clean and fresh holiday spices, as long as you don’t drown them in dairy, gluten, refined sugar, and hydrogenated fats.

Ginger

Ginger is a very popular ingredient in holiday fare and can be found in everything from cookies to beer. It is an especially important spice during the holidays and cool winter months due to its ability to aid digestion and warm the body.

Ginger is composed of several volatile oils that are powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic agents. Ginger has plenty of other benefits, including improving digestive function and reducing gastrointestinal distress, reducing fever related to nausea, decreasing inflammation, and boosting the immune system.

When using ginger for health benefits, use fresh root or grounds and think hot drinks and fresh vegetable dishes.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is another loved spice that is used in many baked dishes and hot beverages. It is also a welcome addition to many types of fruits and can even be used for meat dishes.

The most powerful effect of cinnamon is in its ability to manage blood sugar levels. Richard Anderson, PhD, a scientist at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who has conducted several studies on cinnamon and diabetes, theorizes that the spice mimics the action of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

Cinnamon may also help prevent and treat cholesterol problems, food poisoning, heart disease, insulin resistance, strokes, and ulcers.

Try using cinnamon in soups, smoothies, teas, oatmeal, and on apples and bananas.

Peppermint

That crisp and cooling effect of peppermint makes our taste buds dance in anticipation. It is mostly found in teas, chocolate, gum, and candy, but can be used in smoothies and baking as well.

Peppermint is very antimicrobial, antiviral, and high in antioxidants. It is primarily used for alleviating digestive disorders, but has also been proven effective to reduce pain, improve respiratory disorders, combat allergies, and even reduce tumors.

Use peppermint tea to improve digestion and help eliminate gas after large meals, and in hot baths to improve symptoms related to the respiratory system. If you like smoothies, check out our chocolate peppermint smoothie!

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is one spice where a little goes a long way. Whether you use it in a soup, sauce, or put a dash in your oatmeal, be careful to not overuse it as it can cause palpitations, sweating, and hallucinations if too much is used.

However, when used appropriately, nutmeg has many benefits aside from its wonderful taste and aroma, including aiding in sleep, clearing up digestive problems, boosting your brain function, and increasing blood circulation. You can also use topically for muscular and joint pain, as well as skin issues like scars and acne.

Nutmeg is wonderful in many baked goods and can also be used in making a spiced tea.

Vanilla

Vanilla is one spice that has a variety of uses and is a staple in the baker’s pantry to add all kinds of mellow tones to baked goods. The very scent can put people into a calming, happy, and sensual mood, almost immediately.

Vanilla contains over 200 phytonutrients, which are bioactive plant compounds that have healing properties for many conditions. Vanilla is commonly used for depression, nerve problems, loss of libido, inflammation, hyperactivity, and cancer.

Vanilla is great in hot and cool beverages, smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, and granola.

 *Image of “spices” via Shutterstock