7 Herbs and Spices with Surprising Health Benefits

Tired of bland food? Try adding herbs and spices to your dishes. If you’re not using them on a regular basis, we definitely recommend it.

What is the difference between herbs and spices?

Generally speaking, an herb is the leafy portion of a plant while a spice is harvested from other parts of the plant, like berries, roots, and seeds. Some plants are both an herb and a spice–cilantro is the leafy herb, while coriander seeds can be used as a spice.

Herbs and spices add tons of flavor to your cooking, and they have some incredible health benefits as well. Dried and subtle herbs as well as bright, fresh leaves will both enhance your recipes, but for maximum health benefits, stick to fresh herbs.

Sage

Sage has long been utilized for it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And although the herb has a different etymological origin than the adjective, sage is a memory-enhancing herb. Some scientists have correlated use of the plant with positive treatment of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. Cut up sage leaves and fry them in some brown butter to use as a sauce with our kid-friendly potato gnocchi.

Peppermint

Ever notice how chewing on peppermint after a big meal helps you digest it better? It turns out that ingesting low doses of peppermint is a great way to activate an anti-pain channel in the colon.

Peppermint is great for a cold too! High amounts of menthol are found in peppermint, and although menthol doesn’t actually unclog your stuffy nose, it tricks your brain into thinking that you can breathe again. Doctors advise against heavy use of menthol- and camphor-related products for children under 6, so never give peppermint oil to young kids. Mint is a great topper for both fruity and chocolatey desserts, and it’s fabulous in lemonade and berry drinks, like this non-alcoholic cranberry punch.

Basil

Here’s another, more medicinal name for basil: St. Joseph’s Wort. It’s a great source of iron,and contains lots of Vitamin K and vitamin A. It also contains flavonoids, which help protect your DNA. Try making your own pesto, or using fresh leaves in a caprese salad.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon has many properties with health benefits–which should make you feel a lot better about all those cinnamon-sugar cookies you ate over the holidays. Not only is cinnamon a powerful antibiotic, it can also help lower your blood sugar and reduce the risks associated with diabetes.  Just make sure you’re using ceylon cinnamon as opposed to cassia cinnamon–cassia cinnamon is more readily available in North America, but ceylon cinnamon offers more health benefits. It’s usually used for sweets, but try using a pinch of cinnamon in a savory Middle Eastern or Indian dish.

Clove

Clove is a very effective pain reliever and a natural antioxidant. 1 teaspoon of ground cloves can even contain more antioxidants than ⅔ cup of blueberries. Thanks to it’s pain-relieving properties, clove oil is often used for treating a toothache. Just don’t be too liberal with it’s application. Ingesting too much undiluted clove oil can cause serious negative side effects, so we don’t recommend the essential oil for younger kids. Its fragrant aroma is great for winter baking, and for comforting drinks like our homemade chai tea mix.

Ginger

Ginger root has so many health benefits, it’s kind of unbelievable. It can be used fresh, as a powder, or candied. Historically, it’s been used as a way to relieve gastrointestinal distress, including reducing the symptoms of seasickness. Along with motion sickness, it helps reduce prenatal and medicine-related nausea. You can brew ginger tea for cold-sufferers, since it’s a natural expectorant that helps you breathe again. Dried ginger has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of arthritis, as it’s an anti-inflammatory. Try using fresh ginger with your next Asian-inspired dish!

Garlic

Like ginger, garlic has numerous health benefits (although breath-freshener is not one). Although it might not technically be an herb or a spice, it’s often referred to as one. Active compounds in garlic help reduce blood pressure, and prevent heart disease. Heart-healthy garlic also helps lower cholesterol, sometimes by 10-15%! Garlic is a key ingredient in many Italian dishes, or you can roast it in the oven and serve it with hummus, pita, and crudités as a delicious dip!

There’s no excuse not to use these healthy herbs and spices in your recipes! Tell us if you know of any health benefits to your favorite herbs and spices.