Are Spices good for you?

Contributed by Amar Bahadur Shrestha of ECS Media, Nepal

Synopsis: Spices are derived from the bark, roots, seeds, buds and fruits of aromatic plants. Some examples are: capsicums, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, turmeric, etc. Herbs are mostly derived from the leafy parts of aromatic plants. Some examples are: dill, mint, lemongrass, basil, celery, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, chervil, caraway, etc.


Are Spices (and herbs) good For You?

There’s no doubt really―spices and herbs are good for you! Besides, you don’t have to worry about side effects since they are naturally occurring substances. They contain valuable oils that have many health benefits and most of them are also good sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They have been credited with numerous healing properties, and listed here are some of the commonly used spices and herbs, with just a few of their reported health benefits.


Ajowan (jwano):

It is believed to cure flu and build up resistance. Its active ingredient, Thymol, is known for its expectorant and antispasmodic properties. Ajowan is also a common home remedy for indigestion, ear aches, and toe nail fungus.9

Tip:Add a tablespoon of crushed ajowan seeds to boiling water. You can either drink the preparation or inhale its steam to clear stuffy nose.


Basil (tulsi):Believed to cure bowel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis, naturopaths also use Indian basil to treat diabetes, respiratory disorders, impotence, allergies, and infertility. Fresh basil leaves and its oil have antibacterial properties.
3(E)-beta-caryophyllene and cinnamanic acid are the two main ingredients responsible for its health benefits.

Tip:When used in everyday cooking, add the herb at the end of the cooking process since its valuable oils are highly volatile.



Cardamom (sukmel) -Its seeds contain an oil that helps to stimulate digestion and relieve flatulence. Its fragrance helps in eliminating bad breath.6

Tip:Grind whole pods in a grinder just before use because they rapidly lose their freshness and flavor once ground.


Chili peppers (khursani): Chili peppers contain capsaicin which inhibits inflammation. Capsaicin extract is nowadays also used locally for osteoarthritis pain. Chili induces heat production for more than 20 minutes after they are eaten which naturally helps in some weight loss. Red chili peppers have also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, besides discouraging the formation of blood clots.Picture11

Tip:Removing the seeds and white inner membrane (which contains most of the capsaicin) minimizes the heat, but remember that it is capsaicin that is responsible for many of chili’s health benefits. But, if you find it too hot, drink a glass of milk. Milk contains casein which can help extinguish the fire.


Cinnamon (dalchini): It contains eugenol which relieves pain; and cinnamaldehyde, which has sedative properties. It improves circulation and has anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning properties and may also help lower blood sugar levels. Cinnamon is effective in providing relief for intestinal gas and also to ease diarrhea, nausea, bloating, and vomiting.10

Tip: In a Danish study, half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder with one tablespoon of honey, every morning before breakfast, significantly reduced pain in arthritic patients after one week.


Cloves (luang):Due to the anti inflammatory and pain relieving properties of its main ingredient, eugenol, clove oil cures toothache and helps relieve arthritic stiffness and pain. It can also help reduce congestion and stimulate digestion.11

Tip:Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of cloves and steep for 10 minutes before drinking.


Coriander seeds (dhaniya):Believed to stimulate the kidneys and lower blood cholesterol, besides helping to reduce fever. It is also known to reduce excessive menstrual flow and, as an eye-wash, freshly dried coriander is said to be helpful in treating conjunctivitis. 12The compounds, cineole and linoleic acid present in coriander, possess anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic properties.

Tip: Boil the dry seeds in water and strain after cooling. Drinking this water regularly is said to lower blood pressure.


Coriander leaves/Cilantro (hariyo dhaniya):Believed to promote digestion and increase urination, it is also claimed to arouse sexual desire.13

Tip:A teaspoon of coriander juice mixed with a pinch of turmeric is good for removing blackheads and pimples and also for dry skin.


Cumin (jeera):It is believed to help digestion and to relieve bloating.14

Tip:Make cumin tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of seeds in 1/2 liter of boiling water.


Fennel seeds (saunf):Due to its expectorant properties, it helps to reduce bouts of coughing.1

Tip: Boil fennel leaves in water and inhale the steam to alleviate asthmatic and bronchitis symptoms.


Garlic (lasun): The two ingredients mostly responsible for garlic’s health benefits are allicin sulphide and diallyl sulphide. Allicin sulphide is the more important one. It has excellent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and has been traditionally used to treat skin infections. Research has shown garlic to lower cholesterol and blood pressure besides protecting against strokes and heart disease.18

Tip: Whole garlic has almost no medicinal value. The sulphides are only produced when garlic is finely chopped or crushed and the finer the chopping and more intensive the crushing, the more potent is its medicinal effects. Allicin starts to degrade immediately after it is produced, so, for the most powerful effect, mix crushed raw garlic into cooked food just before serving. If adding while cooking, add the garlic at the end of cooking to ensure its potency.


Ginger (aduwa): Besides reducing gas and calming stomach spasms, ginger is a good treatment for travel sickness, hangovers, and pregnancy. It is also said to be a natural aphrodisiac besides controlling inflammation. Dry ginger (suntho) is used to make ginger tea to combat sore throat, coughs, and cold.19

Tip: In everyday cooking, if you are using powdered ginger, use 6 times more than what you would use of fresh ginger.


Mint (pudina): It soothes the digestive tract and reduces the severity of stomach aches. Mint tea also eases the discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome.23

Tip: Pour hot (not boiling) water over fresh mint leaves and keep covered to prevent evaporation of valuable volatile oils.




Black Pepper (kalo marich): It boosts digestion and increases appetite besides stimulating the breakdown of fat cells, thus helping in weight loss. It is also claimed to act as a nerve tonic.24

Tip: Drink tea with black pepper and mint. It will alleviate chest and lung infections by bringing up mucous and phlegm.


Turmeric (besar): It contains anti-inflammatory compounds called curcuminoids which may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and joint inflammation. Curcuminoids also have antibacterial, antioxidant, stomach-soothing, and liver and heart protecting properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used for digestive problems and to cure fever, infections, dysentery, arthritis, jaundice, and other liver problems. Turmeric paste is a home remedy for sunburn. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to relieve chest congestion and menstrual discomforts, treat liver and gallbladder problems, and to stop bleeding.35

Tip: To a glass of hot milk, add turmeric powder, some pepper, and jaggery. Drink thrice a day.