India is renowned all over the world for its rich tradition of herbs and spices- both are used for adding colour and flavour to food, as preservatives, and food additives; the medicinal use stems from their diuretic, laxative, carminative, and expectorant properties.
Spices are derived from a plant’s dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or flower. Cumin, clove, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, fenugreek, and black pepper are the popular spices in Indian households. Herbs are mostly derived from the green leafy part of a plant but can also be its green stems and flowers. Commonly-used herbs are tulsi, aloe vera, curry leaves, sage, lemongrass, ashwagandha, lavender, and cilantro. Most herbs and spices have both culinary and medicinal usage. Commonly used Indian herbs and spices found effective in managing lifestyle problems are:
1. Turmeric: This dark yellow/orange coloured spice is available in every Indian kitchen and is one of the most cost-effective remedies for a number of health conditions, primarily because of the presence of bioactive compounds called curcuminoids. Curcumin is the primary bioactive compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow colour and endless health benefits like fighting bacteria, viruses, and inflammation. These properties make turmeric useful in boosting the health of organs like the immune system, heart, brain, and skin. It may ease joint pain and stiffness, toothaches, inflammatory skin conditions, and menstrual irregularities. Curcumin has also shown promising results in battling diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and chronic infections.
2. Cumin: This spice is widely used in Indian tadkas for its distinct flavour and aroma. Cumin helps improve digestion and memory. After digestion, it releases chemical compound, megalomicin, which possesses antibiotic properties and may help prevent the risk of food-borne diseases. Cumin is a rich source of iron. A single tsp of coarsely ground cumin seeds contains approximately 2.3 mg of iron which is almost 8% of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance). Including cumin or jeera water in your child’s daily routine can meet their additional iron needs for growth and help young women compensate for blood lost during their menstrual cycle.
3. Fenugreek seeds: Fenugreek or methi seeds are well known for their medicinal and culinary usage. A rich source of soluble fibre, they help manage blood sugar levels by delaying the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. Breastfeeding women with hypogalactia are advised to include fenugreek since it contains galactogogue, a substance that increases the production of breast milk. The strong antiviral properties of methi seeds makes them effective in treating colds and sore throat. They may also be effective in treating arthritis, hypercholesterolemia, wounds, skin rashes, hair loss, bronchitis, constipation, etc. They're also used to flavour of a variety of Indian foods.
4. Cloves: Widely used as a staple spice in Indian food preparation, cloves are small, reddish brown flower buds. Found in both whole and powdered form, they have also been put to medicinal and culinary use in India. Cloves can help treat joint/muscle pain and rheumatoid arthritis and may also prove beneficial for tackling skin irritation, bacterial infections, and acne outbreaks. They may also help reduce the risk of cardiac problems, diabetes, and certain cancers
5. Cinnamon: This spice contains polyphenols, which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon helps manage blood sugar levels; it improves insulin sensitivity by making insulin efficiently move glucose into the cells. Cinnamon is commonly used while cooking to add flavour to curries or meat preparations. It has a distinctive spicy and sweet taste, hence is widely used in baked foods. Cinnamaldehyde, one of the primary active components of cinnamon, possesses antifungal and antibacterial properties, which make it effective in lowering the risk of infections, fighting dental cavities, and bad breath.
6. Cardamom: This intense and slightly sweet spice has both culinary and medicinal use. Taken regularly, it may help improve digestion and tackle diarrhoea, acidity, gastric ulcers, and nausea. Cardamom’s strong antioxidant properties may help prevent cancer and effectively reduce inflammation and elevated blood pressure levels. You can also use it to treat bad breath and improving oral health (It fights cavity-causing bacteria).
7. Ashwagandha: An ancient ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha has been used to effectively manage blood sugar levels and stress. It may also help improve sleep, memory, muscle health, and fertility in males. As per a few studies, ashwagandha can also help lower inflammation and improve immunity and heart health.
8. Licorice root: This spice is helpful in lowering inflammation and fights foreign bodies such as disease-causing microbes. Licorice root effectively soothes sore throat and improves oral health by safeguarding against dental cavities and candida (a type of fungus). It can also help with gut-related issues such as heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, nausea, and stomach ulcers. Licorice may also provide relief from common skin issues such as skin rashes, redness, itching, and swelling.
9. Black pepper: Known for its impressive antioxidant and antibacterial effect, black pepper is a tried and tested remedy to improve digestion, manage cholesterol, and help in weight loss. Piperine, the bioactive compound found in black pepper, protects the body against oxidative damage by scavenging free radicals. Black pepper contains vanadium, an important mineral which helps improve cardiac function, insulin sensitivity and supports cholesterol management.