Herbs and Spices for Health

I’m a big fan of herbs and spices, and they are always getting column inches due to all their amazing properties. They’ve been used for generations both as food and to treat all sorts of ailments, and scientific evidence does seem to be accumulating to support their medicinal uses. In particular, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that commonly used herbs and spices have particular antimicrobial properties i.e. they kill off bacterial, viral and other microbial infections. This also means they are a good way of keeping a healthy balance amongst the beneficial bacteria and yeasts that live in our gut. Take a look at this handout, which gives you an idea of which herbs and spices help with which kind of microbes. herbs-and-spices

I know lots of people who dedicate a whole area of their cupboards to herbs and spices, and use them haphazardly when cooking. But lets face it, how many of them remain at the back of the shelf collecting dust! Half of them I bet people aren’t even sure what to use them for (I include myself here). It really does takes a concerted effort to add them daily to your food, but I promise you it is worth it. The best thing to do is start with the ones you know, then slowly branch out and experiment with other flavours. It may mean actually following the odd recipe or two (yawn), but once you understand how the flavours work in cooking, it shouldn’t be too much effort. However, as I’ve discovered on a number of occasions, you can overdo it with some and even worse, you can try and add too many to one meal. Once when I was going through my cumin and coriander craze, my poor dad suffered (ever so politely) through a pretty revolting bowl of soup. So definitely its true that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

What I would say is aim for fresh and organic wherever possible, as they retain more of their medicinal properties than dried ones. Plus they look really pretty in the kitchen! You can even try growing your own. Some are easier than others and they are usually better grown indoors. Start with basil, parsley, chives, rosemary and thyme. Or if that sounds like a total nightmare then use ready grown ones. In the summer, I often cheat and buy the pot and transfer it onto a larger pot on my balcony. I’ve had varying degrees of success, but I find growing things good for the soul anyway!

So, because it’s winter and I’ve heard an awful lot of people sniffling away on the tube, a word about the wonder that is garlic. At the bottom I’ve given a nice little cold remedy, but first let me waffle on a bit about one of the best foods on the planet! Garlic has always been used for both its culinary and medicinal purposes since the ancient Egyptians. Hippocrates even mentioned using garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion and low energy.

So what is it about garlic that makes it such a powerful medicinal food? A whole head of raw garlic doesn’t have a strong smell. However, if you crush or chop it then you really get a powerful odour. In fact, it’s really important to crush garlic before using it. What happens when you crush it is that the cells of the plant are destroyed, which causes a release of a compound called alliin. If the garlic is left for a few minutes, the alliin will react with an enzyme to create another compound, allicin. Allicin is what gives garlic its pungent taste and smell and is thought to be responsible for its healing properties. The strong smell and taste might be off-putting for some people, but don’t forget, the strength of these chemicals is what keeps the bugs away too! When garlic is heated in cooking, or undergoes processing of any sort, some of the active ingredients are lost. The best way to use garlic is to crush the cloves and leave for 6-8 minutes and then add at the end of cooking. Of course there are issues with this, as the odour remains pretty strong. Nice if you are single, not so great if you aren’t!

Garlic and Lemon Cold Remedy:
This can be used during the acute phase of a cold to help your body fight off the infection. If you have a really sensitive stomach then try watering it down a little for the first couple of times, just to make sure you can tolerate it.

• Take 3 crushed garlic cloves.
• Mix with freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon or lime.
• Add a sprig of freshly chopped rosemary.
• Mix in a little water.
• Have 1 tsp every hour.
Olivia 🙂

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