Medicinal spices

Medicinal spices

One of my favourite things to do as a chef is to play around with the spices I use in my food. I love the fact that you can change up the flavours of a meal and, by using a wide variety of spices in your cooking, you can literally travel around the world, all in your own kitchen.

One of my favourite things to do as a chef is to play around with the spices I use in my food. I love the fact that you can change […]

But over the past four years, I’ve become even more passionate about why spices are so important in the dishes that I cook because adding as little as half a teaspoon a day of some of these nutritional powerhouses to your diet can have a dramatic effect on your overall health and wellbeing. That’s because each spice has many medicinal properties you can add to your food and recent scientific research shows that as little as half a teaspoon a day does have a measurable changes on the body.

Indeed, there’s a hit list of nutritional powerhouses that not only will spice up your dishes but will also help to soothe an upset digestive system, boost immunity (such a key thing to do right now as we head into winter!) and, most importantly, help to reduce inflammation. Spices also regulate blood sugar levels by reducing sugar cravings. Plus they are potent protectors for both internal and external organs – warding off everything from heart to premature signs of ageing.

In short, they are the ingredients I encourage everyone I meet to be adventurous with in their cooking, so rich they are in their ability to heal.

But by far their standout medicinal property is the fact that they are so anti-inflammatory by nature.

You see, the foods you choose to eat can either halt or cause inflammation in the body. And the one running thread that links a huge variety of common health problems in the modern world is chronic inflammation. From obesity and type-2 diabetes to heart disease and cancer, inflammation wreaks havoc on our metabolic function and, if left unchecked, causes damaging oxidative stress on the body’s organs.

That’s why, in my opinion, medicinal spices are the most important ingredients to use whenever you are cooking a meal for yourself and your loved ones because they are a sure-fire way to naturally help reduce inflammation throughout the body. By fighting free radicals, spices help to minimise any oxidative stress and inflammation that may be present.

So which spices should go to the top of your rack? Well, just like anything cooking is a bit of theory, a whole lotta love and heaps of experimentation so it’s all about finding the ones you love.

But there is some recent research, which shows the spices that have the most medicinal properties when it comes to reducing the inflammatory response are turmeric, ginger and cloves.

Our family’s favourite has to be turmeric. We love adding its earthy, warming flavour to curries, such as a prawn or chicken laksa. And it’s also pretty damn fantastic added fresh or powdered to treats, such as coconut ice cream with manuka honey. Meanwhile, one of my ultimate, energy-boosting ways to start the day is with a mug of steaming hot bone broth infused with turmeric, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. That’s because you really do get so much bang for your buck when it comes to how effective regular ingestion of turmeric is. The rhizome (root) is a great way to heal and seal the gut and fill the body full of lots of important antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Turmeric quells inflammation, boosts immunity, creates a stronger digestive system and helps to protect joints.

In Ayurvedic medicine it has been used for centuries as a treatment for inflammatory joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and, by including it regularly in your diet, it can also help to greatly improve inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. But what’s really special about this spice is the active compounds it contains called curcuminoids. These compounds are full of antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage and can improve memory. These same compounds also help to activate powerful enzymes that detoxify and cleanse the liver, as well as encouraging healthy heart function. In India, turmeric paste has been used for centuries as a skin food and topical application because of its healing properties. It’s nature’s oldest anti-ageing secret because it flushes your blood, detoxifies your liver and leaves your skin looking smooth, supple and radiant. There’s also lots of exciting research being done into curcuminoids, their anti-carcinogenic properties and how they may inhibit the growth of certain cancers.

Another star spice is ginger. Interestingly it is a botanical relative of marjoram and turmeric and, like turmeric, it’s the aromatic rhizome (root) that is used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

It’s one of the ingredients Nic and I use almost every day in at least one of our meals because it’s got massive depth of flavour and is incredibly versatile. I love ginger crushed and fried with garlic as the base of a laksa or Indian curry. And I reckon when you’ve got fish so fresh it should be eaten as sashimi, you can’t go past a simple Japanese dressing of tamari infused with finely grated ginger, seasame oil and dried bonito flakes.

With more than 40 scientifically proven pharmacological actions, including anti-nausea, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antioxidant and anti-parasitic properties, ginger is a cure all for many common maladies. And as the weather gets cooler, my favourite way to ingest it (and I do this at least a few times each week in the lead up to cold and flu season!) is by taking about 20g of the peeled rhizome (root) and slicing it up into a steaming cup of hot water so it can steep as ginger tea. It tastes great and is a fantastic natural, quick remedy to help alleviate bloating and indigestion.

Ginger’s effectiveness as a digestive aid is due to two active ingredients – gingerols and shogaols. These substances help to neutralise stomach acids, stimulate the appetite and tone the muscles of the digestive tract.

Best absorbed into the body by consuming it as the fresh ginger root – although it can also be taken as a dried powder or in extract form – it also has advanced anti-inflammatory properties. This is why it helps cure headaches and relieves joint pain. It has also been proven to reduce knee pain in patients with osteo-arthritis and, for centuries, was used to treat tooth pain. And now new research also shows that ginger can be beneficial for asthmatics to consume regularly, alongside normal medication, because ginger’s potent antioxidant activity naturally mirrors the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties similar to pharmaceutical, anti-inflammatory asthma drugs.

Another great spice to rock to the top of your rack is the clove. Sure, it’s known to be used for Christmas ham each year but there’s so many more incredible medicinal properties to this spice that it’s one I encourage all of us to start experimenting more with in the kitchen. Cloves are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. The buds are picked by hand when they are pink and dried until they turn brown in colour. Used since ancient times in China as a way of infusing dishes with its sweet, warm, aromatic flavour. Cloves are also a key spice used in Chinese medicine. That’s because the oil that exists under the hard shell of the clove is renowned for its superior anti-inflammatory properties as well as being anti-bacterial and as an analgesic.

Cinnamon is also another fantastic medicinal spice and an easy one to enjoy sprinkled over chia seed pudding or dumped into your daily smoothie. In fact, research published in the journal Diabetes Care revealed that as little as half a teaspoon a day significantly reduces blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes sufferers. It can also help to reduce triglycerides, create a stronger digestive system, tone tissue and help to relieve and reduce inflammation and stiffness in joints.

That’s why sufferers of arthritis often find that adding a daily dose of cinnamon into their diet provides much needed nutritional support because it helps to reduce inflammation so drastically.

As a chef whose had the privilege of travelling and cooking with many different cultures, I can honestly say there is nothing more universal in the culinary world than the power of spices and you don’t get another ingredient that packs more of a nutritional punch.

That’s why I urge gourmands to go far and wide in their search for exotic and interesting spices that will enliven the palette and really up the ante medicinally simply by including them in as many of your meals as you can.

To be honest, there are so many more medicinal spices with as many fantastic properties as the ones I’ve discussed. So go and seek your favourite ones and get into the kitchen.

Cook with love and laughter,


By p

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