Herbs and spices are rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial compound. Used regularly, culinary herbs and spices can help reduce inflammation, fight free radicals, aid digestion and circulation, lower blood sugar, and boost immunity -- so critical during cold-and-flu season.
Fennel seeds are a well-known digestive aid. Anethole, in the plant's oil, can reduce inflammation and help prevent cancer. Try a crust of crused, toasted fennel seeds on seared tuna.
For more than 5,000 years, people have depended on garlic for fighting illness, with good reason. Known in herbal lore as the poor man's penicillin it contains many antimicrobial compounds. Like leeks, onions, and other Allium vegetables, garlic shows promise for protecting against gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer. As for its reputation as a heart helper, studies are mixed, but one recent Tufts University study on aged garlic extract suggests that it may indeed help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Garlic is delicious raw or roasted -- or eaten both ways at the same time, as with this bruschetta recipe.
Thyme has a slightly minty flavor and immune-enhancing properties. Preliminary studies show that it may increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids present in kidney and brain cells. Like other spices, thyme is an excellent antioxidant and is rich in antibacterial and antispasmodic properties.
Thyme brings an earthy taste to the warm dressing in this mixed chicories salad.
A renowned anti-inflammatory and circulation booster, ginger is a year-round power spice. Ginger is also high in potassium and has a particular affinity for the tummy: Studies show it contains essential oils and compounds that help settle an upset stomach. But don't exceed 10 grams fresh ginger per day (or 2 to 4 grams dried). Higher doses can cause gastric upset and may interact with blood-clotting medicine.
Cinnamon does more than add a festive touch to your morning latte: Traditional Chinese Medicine considers it a warming remedy; it's a good source of manganese, iron, and calcium. Recent studies have shown that as little as a teaspoon of cinnamon daily can help lower blood sugar, exciting some diabetes experts. It may also help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Rich in rosmarinic acid, a powerful antioxidant, rosemary leaves have been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, giving credence to the herb's reputation as a memory tonic. (In ancient Greece, students used to put rosemary in their hair when studying.) Native to the Mediterranean but thriving in any warm climate, the herb contains anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting compounds and is a good source of iron, calcium, and potassium.
An excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin A, beta-carotene, and lutein, this spice turns up the heat -- and not just on your tongue. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, boosts circulation, fights infections, and aids digestion.
Cayenne pepper is also a traditional flavoring in a Louisiana remoulade.
Known for its distinctive tang, cilantro is common in both Mexican and Asian cuisines. And experts say this spice, among the world's oldest, provides powerful health benefits. Cilantro helps counter indigestion, and some research suggests it may help remove toxic metals such as mercury from the body. Its sweet-tasting cousin, coriander (the seed of the same plant), also confers general health benefits.
With its cool, fresh flavor and lively aroma, peppermint is perhaps best known as a stomach soother, thanks to its high concentration of menthol, which relaxes smooth muscles. It's also rich in nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C. But like ginger, peppermint can worsen heartburn -- so be careful if you're prone.
You can use peppermint, or any other fresh mint you like, to make our licorice-mint iced tea.
A fragrant hallmark of Italian cooking, basil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and contains a wealth of nutrients, including beta-carotene and magnesium. Besides adding it to your diet, consider picking up some basil essential oil. Combine 1 percent basil essential oil and 99 percent water for a produce wash, or apply a few drops to minor cuts and scrapes.
Want to build your body's defenses? Then eat turmeric -- or curry powder, which features turmeric -- often. Several studies have shown that turmeric activates cellular defense mechanisms in genes. And while high doses show promise for adjunct cancer treatment, some scientists theorize that the low incidence of certain cancers in India may be due, in part, to the prominence of turmeric in Indian cuisine.