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Common Kitchen Herbs for Health
Ginger. Cinnamon. Garlic. Turmeric.
This week on Wellody Blog, Alexis Durham, herbalist and instructor at Bastyr University, shares tips on using common kitchen herbs to improve health.
Alexis Durham is an herbalist and instructor at Bastyr University, and is currently the Program Director for the Certificate in Holistic Landscape Design. She teaches classes on herbs and food, herbal medicine making, and landscaping with medicinal and edible plants throughout the community. Her next public speaking engagement is at Bastyr University’s Herb and Food Fair on May 31.
Keep reading to learn the health benefits of ginger, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon and how to incorporate them into your everyday diet.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a powerful medicinal food.
This rhizome of the ginger plant may be white, yellow, or red and is found fresh and dried in most grocery stores. Known for its pungent, spicy flavor and warming qualities, ginger relieves gas and helps to soothe the gastrointestinal tract.
Also used for colds, fever, and flus, fresh ginger may be chopped and added to stir fries, marinades, salad dressings, soups and stews. Ginger tea is a classic nausea remedy, and can be made by adding add one or two ½-inch slices to hot water and steeping for 10-15 minutes.
Ginger also stimulates circulation and is used to alleviate joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as in cases of excess mucus, headache, and cough.
Dried ginger is considered more heating and drying than fresh, and ¼-1 tsp. of fresh dried powder can be added to soups, stews, curries and baked goods. It also makes a delicious addition to fresh lemonade and other beverages.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is another medicinal powerhouse.
Used historically as a condiment, the deep yellow-orange rhizome is most often found as a dried powder, although some grocery stores offer the fresh roots in their produce sections.
This valuable spice is particularly important in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (the Indian system of medicine), and is considered a valuable anti-inflammatory that also promotes liver health, improves complexion, prevents cancer, and balances blood sugar.
It also protects against neurodegenerative diseases, and is particularly effective in preventing and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Its yellow-orange pigment comes from curcumin, which has been found in studies to be comparable to over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory medications, and has the added benefit of no toxicity (unlike the medications, which may have some toxic effects).
With a pungent and bitter flavor, it’s a delicious and colorful addition to stocks, soups, stews, curries, lentils, scrambled eggs, and dips for fresh vegetables. Adding too much can affect the flavor of the dish, so start by adding about ½-1 tsp. to your foods. Fresh turmeric root may be grated and added to foods much like ginger, and also juices well.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is an incredible medicinal food with myriad health benefits that should be added to your meals daily.
Garlic cloves are rich in organosulfur compounds that provide the pungent odor as well as many health-promoting benefits. These compounds are found in the highest concentration in raw garlic that has been chopped and allowed to sit for a few minutes before adding to foods.
Garlic is cardioprotective and also lowers cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels; studies have shown that ½-1 clove daily can reduce total cholesterol by 9%. It is a powerful antimicrobial that can fight infection and strengthen the immune system.
Available in most any grocery store, you can also visit your local farmers market and find many interesting varieties of garlic with subtle variations in flavor and pungency. Use 1-2 cloves per serving as a dose for daily maintenance. If you can’t tolerate raw garlic, add chopped garlic to your dishes towards the end of the cooking process to help preserve its flavor and medicinal benefits.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum/Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is another delicious and effective herbal medicine with a pungent and sweet flavor.
It may be purchased as a powder or in sticks (also called quills), which are the rolled bark of the cinnamon tree, and may be used whole or powdered as needed. Cinnamon is high in essential oils that are not only flavorful, but incredibly medicinal as well. Cinnamon is antimicrobial and helps to fight infection, promote circulation, and enhance vitality. It is also an effective treatment for diarrhea and irritable bowel conditions. Studies have shown that ½ tsp. per day helped to reduce blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes, and also reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Cinnamon may be combined with ginger and other warming spices in a tea and consumed at the onset of a cold or flu, and is a common ingredient in chai tea blends. It can also be added to soups, stews, curries, baked goods, oatmeal and other grains.
Note that different types of cinnamon are available for purchase—the most common being Ceylon cinnamon and cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is considered the most medicinal and can be consumed safely in higher amounts. Cassia, often referred to as Saigon cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon, is actually from a different plant that is not medicinally equal to Ceylon cinnamon.
If the type of cinnamon isn’t specified on the label, it’s worth asking to be sure you are getting the highest quality product.
It is also recommended that you purchase each of these items organically grown whenever possible to ensure they haven’t been irradiated or treated with pesticides; then we are making food choices that are not only good for our bodies, but the planet as well.