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The healing power of spices

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Boost your health and help prevent diseases with the help of these tasty seasonings.

Saffron is a popular spice derived from the Saffron crocus flower. With the scientific name Crocus sativus, it is a member of the lily family. Known as the world’s most expensive spice, it takes approximately 150 flowers to yield just 1,000mg of saffron threads. Once the stigmas (the part of the flower that catches pollen) have been handpicked and cut, they must be laid onto a sieve and cured over heat to deepen their bold flavour. This process is very tedious—costing up to $1,000 a pound.

The costly spice has two compounds: crocin and saffranal. Both help with brain function by preserving the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. According to the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, saffron is also effective in treating a range of problems from coronary disease and hypertension to stomach disorders and learning, memory and nervous system disorders.

In addition, saffron has anti-inflammatory and antigenotoxic properties; the latter refers to chemical agents that damage genetic information within a cell, causing mutations that may lead to cancer. The study also reveals saffron can help protect against atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

New research in the Journal of Translational Medicine found that saffron has vision-enhancing benefits. Saffron can help increase blood flow to the retina, protect it from photo-oxidative damage, improve sensitivity of the retina to light and improve visual performance, especially for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Saffron is delicious in rice-based dishes and authentic meals like paella, a traditional Valencian dish.

Rosemary, a perennial woody herb with the scientific name Rosmarinus officinalis, is native to the Mediterranean region. Known for its wonderful taste and aroma, it also has several health benefits. Rosemary can stimulate cognitive activity in the elderly and those who suffer from cognitive disorders like dementia.

According to a study in the journal Phytochemistry, rosemary contains general immune boosting qualities, specifically against bacterial infections in the stomach. For example, eating rosemary can prevent growth of the bacteria H. pylori, a dangerous pathogen that causes ulcers.  Recognized as a stomach soother due for its anti-inflammatory properties, rosemary serves as a natural remedy for an upset stomach, constipation, bloating and diarrhea. It can also prevent staph infections, from minor skin infections such as boils to more serious infections of the blood, lungs and heart.

Another benefit of rosemary is its aroma, which has been linked to improving mood and relieving stress, chronic anxiety and hormone imbalance. It can improve the quality of the skin, while also healing blemishes and dark spots and increasing its natural shine and hydration.

Prevalent in Italian cuisine, rosemary has a warm and slightly bitter flavour, making it the perfect addition to soups, stews, sauces and roasts or turkey.

Commonly known as the ingredient that adds a spicy kick to meals, cayenne pepper comes from a shrub that originates in Central and South America. Its many benefits include its antioxidant properties, derived from vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, manganese, potassium and flavonoids. It also contains the active ingredient capsaicin, which is found in many prescription and over-the-counter ointments for arthritis and muscle pain. These ointments can also be used to treat shingles pain and diabetes-related nerve pain.

Cayenne’s benefits include stimulating body circulation, eliminating acidity and supporting weight loss by speeding up the calorie-burning process for hours after eating. It also provides detox support by helping the digestive system remove bacteria and toxins from the body. It also helps regulate blood sugar. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found people with diabetes who ate a meal containing lots of chili pepper required less post-meal insulin to reduce their blood sugar levels—suggesting the pepper may help reduce the effects of diabetes.

Add an extra zing to your meals by incorporating cayenne pepper to dishes like chicken noodle soup, tacos or homemade vegan, black bean burgers.

Native to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas (the Spice Islands) of Indonesia, nutmeg is the spice made from the seed of the dark-leaved, evergreen nutmeg tree. The tree cultivates two spices from its fruit: nutmeg (the seed) and mace (the covering of the seed), both with strong antibacterial properties. In fact, both spices are strong enough to kill pesky bacteria in the mouth and treat bad breath, gum problems and toothaches.

Other benefits of ground nutmeg include boosting mood and digestive health, reducing skin inflammation, relieving pain, providing insomnia relief, lowering blood pressure and increasing libido. In 2005, a study in the Journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that feeding nutmeg to animals increased their sexual activity, indicating that nutmeg has aphrodisiac properties.

In ancient times, Roman and Greek civilizations used nutmeg as a brain tonic. Recent studies have shown that nutmeg does help to maintain optimal brain health, eliminate feelings of fatigue and stress and also ease anxiety and depression. Nutmeg’s active ingredient myristicin has also been shown to improve recovery of brain tissue following a stroke, improve memory in mice and help slow cognitive decline in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

Nutmeg has a sweet aromatic flavour, which makes it a great addition to baked goods, starches and warm milk or chai tea.

Oh and cranberries! Check out this article on the benefits of cranberries!


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