Anyone who knows me, knows that although I don’t cook much, I love to eat, and I encourage everyone to do both, even if you’re not the greatest home cook (like me). Fortunately for me, my wife Janice is a whiz in the kitchen and I learn from her every time we are in the kitchen together. But, when it comes to spices, we’re almost equally matched, tossing in generous pinches of these wonderful ingredients not only to enhance flavor but also to support health. Don’t forget that many of these spices have been used as medicine for thousands of years, so all the more reason to pour them on. They’re amazing gifts from nature or, to put it bluntly, no-brainer health hacks which instantly raise the nutritional profile of foods with an added sprinkle or two.
Even if you’re no master chef, you can master the basics by keeping a small portfolio of spices within reach, and a few easy-to-grow herbs in pots on your windowsill. With these essentials, you’ll add wonderful aromas, rich taste and health-boosts to all your meals quickly, simply, and in time, perfectly. Here are a few of our favorites ideas on how to spice up your kitchen creations and make ‘em sing:
Spices and herbs are your new daily medicine.
When it comes to eating well and supporting health, spices and herbs enable you to create infinite mealtime variations from the simplest whole foods ingredients. Without the extra flavor kick of spices and herbs, healthy meals can wind up seeming bland, and send you running for the heavily salted and sweetened processed foods that everyone should avoid. So think of spices as one way to help wean yourself off the bad stuff and make the good stuff almost irresistible. What’s also great about herbs and spices is that virtually all of them have positive medicinal effects — some aid digestion and nutrient absorption, while others have antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer properties.
Eat and live better with the spicy essentials.
To put their protective and tasty benefits to work for you, use more spices and herbs at every meal, including your smoothie and your soup. And while there are literally thousands of delicious, health-supporting spices out there to choose from, these 9 wellness wonders are some of the easiest to incorporate into everyday meals:
1) Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne contains capsaicin which can help reduce appetite, boost the immune system and provide anti-cancer protection. Use it to add heat to soups and stews, or add a pinch to hot chocolate for a savory surprise.
2) Cilantro and Parsley (fresh or dried)
Both impart a lively, fresh taste as well as vitamins and minerals. Scatter on salads, soups, and on proteins of all kinds. Experiment with the flavor. Fresh cilantro is especially good with Mexican, Indian, and southeast Asian dishes.
Good for helping to stabilize blood sugar, cinnamon goes well with homemade chai tea, alongside cardamom and ginger — no added sugar needed. Grind it up fresh from sticks for maximum freshness.
The piperine in black pepper can help prevent some cancers, and becomes twice as potent when combined with turmeric. It also contains vitamin C, vitamin A, flavonoids, carotenes and other anti-oxidants to combat free radicals. For maximum benefit, grind it up and sprinkle a pinch or two on foods after they’re plated to help extract more nutrients.
Helps prevent allergies and nasal congestion.
Tarragon adds a deep French bistro flavor to everything it touches, but we particularly love it on roasted chicken and in lentil soup.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric also helps reduce pain, decrease fatigue, boost mood, improve cognition and helps protect against cancer, so sprinkle into eggs, smoothies, salads, soups, hot and cold beverages – the works!
To add protein and magnesium—sprinkle it on top of proteins or vegetables.
9) Vanilla beans, paste, or pure extract
Increases the perception of sweetness in foods, reducing the need for sugar.
Put your spices to work.
My longtime friend, master chef David Bouley, has a food-as-pharmacy philosophy and spices are a big part of his healing foods prescription. His favorite hack for getting spices out of the bottle and into food? Infusing them into oils for dressings, drizzling, and sautéing. “The oil protects the spice from oxidation, preserving and rounding out its fullest flavor,” he says. While he employs several professional techniques to prepare his oils (different spices release their beneficial “terpenes” at different temperatures), it’s easy to make your own using a basic infusing technique. Chef Bouley recommends blending one part ground turmeric with two parts oil (or oils) of choice and placing in a glass jar. Cover and let sit, away from light, for 2 weeks before use. Feel free to experiment with oils – and flavors – by adding ginger, garlic, or vanilla to help with joint inflammation, candida overgrowth, and digestive function.
Grow your own, no green thumb required.
While some spices do require some labor-intensive preparation (harvesting, drying, grinding, etc.), a number of healing herbs couldn’t be easier to grow and use: plant the organic seeds, add some healthy soil and wait a few weeks. Before you know it, you’ll have a crop of healing leaves to clip off and toss into your dishes for a flavor and nutrition boost. Here are 4 easy-to-grow herbs to plant in your garden or on your window sill before the days grow short:
Basil is that delicious, fragrant and fast-growing medicinal plant that grows quickly and abundantly, just like its cousin the mint plant. Fresh basil offers a healthy dose of vitamin K and A as well as manganese and magnesium, plus it has anti-aging, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also thought to increase antioxidant activity so enjoy as a pesto, or add it raw or lightly sautéed to sauces, stews and salads to get your dose.
Cilantro is a quick grower – just 3 to 4 weeks and it’s ready to harvest – that’s high in antioxidants and has antimicrobial and detoxifying effects. It’s also helpful for reducing swelling and nausea as well as smoothing out hormonal imbalances. Cilantro can grow year-round, inside and out, so plant anytime and harvest leaves, roots, seeds and stems for a wide variety of dishes.
Mint is a fast-growing aromatic perennial that’s high in minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants, and perks up drinks, meats, salads and fruits with its fresh, cooling taste. It also grows abundantly, so one way prevent it from taking over the garden is to plant in pots, and remember to harvest frequently. Mint also helps relieve digestive distresses like nausea and indigestion.
Parsley is a great natural breath freshener as well as a good source of antioxidants and flavinoids. The trick with parsley is to plant it early, as it needs about 70 – 90 days before it’s ready to harvest. The good news is that outdoors, parsley will continue to grow late into the fall, and can be transferred indoors or grown in a pot on a sunny window sill throughout the year.