Breathing New Life Into Your Meals

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A pinch of oregano or rosemary can turn a bland dish into an aromatic treat, but if you add them every day it may also enhance your health.

Those little jars on your spice rack hold powerful healing ingredients, and sprinkling them on meals may help you feel better over time. For thousands of years, health practitioners have used plant-based teas, poultices, and tinctures to treat diseases and relieve aches and pains. Many herbs contain vitamins, essential oils, and antioxidants, as well as compounds to combat bacteria, inflammation and cancer. Some herbs have research backing their healing properties, while others are consumed based on centuries of use and anecdotal evidence, according to Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family practice medicine clinic.

Botanical remedies can be used to treat particular problems or to gradually boost your immunity and overall health. For treatment, you may choose to consult a doctor specializing in herbs, or self-administer based on traditional, documented use of plants. But even if you don’t have a specific health concern, you can still cook regularly with herbs to help nourish your body and enhance the flavor of meals.

Unlike synthetic drugs and medicines created to target specific problems, herbs can be viewed more broadly as supporting the body to ease symptoms, keep illness at bay, and build up your immunity.
Although supermarkets are full of herbal supplements, you may prefer to nourish your body with safe, common herbs you’ve known all your life. Supplements may be beneficial, but they also have little or no government oversight in terms of safety, efficacy, potency, and other details. Instead of popping a pill, consider eating oregano or rosemary from your own plant, from your spice rack, or freshly cut at the market.

Cinnamon, for example, contains calcium, fiber, and manganese, and has been shown to have broad value in fighting bacteria, viruses, and inflammation. It may help with digestion, work against free radicals that damage your cells, and may even offer protection against conditions that impact the brain and nervous system, including the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Ginger is also an anti-inflammatory, and is a good choice to help cope with arthritis inflammation. It can also help with digestion and in relieving an upset stomach, nausea, and motion sickness.
Ginger may interfere with diabetes medications and blood thinners, so always consult your doctor before using it on a regular basis.

Turmeric is a relative of ginger and is widely praised for its healing potential. This yellow spice contains curcumin, believed to be have antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties that can ease joint pain and arthritis. Turmeric may also help with a variety of other issues, including digestive problems, certain cancers, and headaches. And it may even offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Populations where turmeric is consumed have low levels of Alzheimer’s, possibly because the spice helps to prevent or clear the brain plaques that are characteristic of the disease.

When you add pungent, peppery oregano leaves to dishes, you’re reaping the benefits of a plant known for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Oregano is packed with vitamin K, manganese, iron, calcium, fiber, and other beneficial compounds. Over centuries of use, the bright green plant has gained a reputation as a traditional treatment for urinary tract infections, respiratory disorders such as bronchitis, asthma and coughs, and for heartburn and other gastrointestinal issues.

Paprika is made from sweet or chili peppers and can be mild or hot, depending on the kinds of peppers used. Paprika contains vitamin A and iron, and has antioxidant compounds. It may help with a variety of health issues, including pain from arthritis and other problems, digestive issues, and heart and circulation issues.

Many other beneficial herbs and spices may be underused in your kitchen, including cumin, garlic, sage, cayenne, rosemary, basil, and lemongrass. You don’t need to add a lot of each herb to reap benefits. The key is to use a variety of herbs on a daily or regular basis and add a small amount—a half a teaspoon or so—to a dish.

It’s best to add fresh or dried herbs toward the end of the cooking process to keep their flavor. Also, to preserve potency and flavor, buy small amounts of fresh, new spices. Store them in a tightly sealed container away from light and heat for up to six months or so.

Finally, if you consume more than a small amount of herbs, it’s wise to consult a doctor to make sure they do not present risks, especially if you are pregnant or use certain medications.

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