When we turn up our noses at our ancestors’ theories on health and wellbeing we forget that when it came to herbs and spices they had it nailed. What’s more, in terms of the treatment of ailments and injuries, the Romans and Egyptians were arguably more adept at using herbs and spices than we are even today.
However, in an age of yearly iPhone releases we’re fast learners. We’re beginning to rediscover some of the herby secrets of the past. So, without further ado let’s have a look at 10 herbs and spices that have risen through the ranks of our most recent health renaissance.
In the Middle Ages, mint was used to treat fevers and tummy bugs and it was also used as a mouthwash. 1,500 years later we still add mint oil to some of our indigestion tablets and toothpastes, and the herb is still thought to soothe nausea and ease respiratory disorders. Mexican mint even formed the basis of the modern-day aspirin.
A popular spice that goes with just about every sweet and savoury food is ginger. It is used to treat nausea especially caused by pregnancy, chemo treatments and rough seas. One study found that an oil containing cinnamon, ginger and sesame reduced the pain of osteoarthritis in much the same way as did over-the-counter painkillers.
Basil is a widespread herb that we use on just about everything that’s edible. It is said to be incredibly good at warding off viral infections like influenza because it boosts the immune system. Regular doses of basil are thought to protect our bodies against bacteria, aid digestion and restore a healthy metabolism.
Turmeric is one of the main spices of a curry dish which means the Brits have been eating turmeric for over 250 years. Good job too because we may have been in a far worse shape today if we hadn’t have been. Studies have shown turmeric may ease the nasty symptoms of all sorts of diseases, including degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
You may have heard of oregano mainly in reference to Italian cooking. It is used in pasta sauces and pizzas but can also be found in the tagines of Morocco. Oregano is the tasty equivalent of the multi-vitamin tablet. It is also thought to be an effective external treatment of bacterial and fungal infections (note: external), but why would you waste all those vitamins between your toes?
When the bubonic plague hit London in 1665, sage was a herb that doctors thought may prevent the disease from spreading. Houses were smoked with burning sage and people used to wash their mouths with sage infused water. Today, we are told that sage promotes good mental health and memory capacity.
Moringa is a plant species native to the Himalayas. Every bit of the plant has been used for centuries in the traditional medical treatment of various ailments. These days it is found in various forms of capsule or powder as a detoxifier. It is said to greatly benefit those who suffer from chronic liver disease or an imbalance of liver enzymes.
It may not strictly be a herb or a spice but its influence on healthy food history is too grand to ignore. Garlic is said to treat and prevent cardiovascular disease, prevent thromboses, regulate blood cholesterol and reduce elevated blood pressure. Eating raw garlic regularly may also lower the risk of a heart attack, a stroke, and of ever having friends.
Cinnamon is another spice which is found to contain worthy levels of anti-oxidants* and other beneficial ingredients. It is also thought to be anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and may even prevent heart disease. This spice is also ever so good at reducing swelling and pain of minor skin grazes and insect bites.
*Although anti-oxidants relieve the body of things called ‘free radicals’, which are known to damage DNA. Some scientists have found that too few free radicals can actually decrease our immunity. The lesson for the day: use anti-oxidants responsibly.
10 Chilli pepper
In 2017, a report undertaken by the University of Vermont in the United States concluded that eating hot chilli peppers could reduce our chances of dying early. The goodies are reportedly delivered by the ingredient Capsaicin: the chemical that makes chillies hot.