AS researchers find ginger could ease migraines we look at the medicinal benefits of other natural seasonings
Sweetly pungent with a peppery kick allspice is an all-round healer. Researchers in Japan found these tiny berries contain 25 active phenols (chemical compounds).
These include ellagic acid, eugenol and quercetin, all of which fight the cell damage that can lead to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other chronic problems.
Recent studies in Costa Rica found allspice lowers high blood pressure. The theory is it relaxes the central nervous system and improves blood flow in the arteries.
There are more than 100 varieties of thyme but they all have one factor in common: the volatile oil thymol.
This is one of nature’s powerful antiseptics and kills germs when applied to the skin or the membranes of the mouth.
It is the primary antiseptic in the mouthwash Listerine.
Researchers in Switzerland tested thyme on coughs not only from bronchitis but common colds and other infections.
They found it “good or very good” in clearing up coughs in 90 per cent of cases.
Make this a staple of your spice cabinet. It brightens your mood, refreshes your concentration and sharpens the memory.
British psychologists asked 24 adults to take challenging memory tests, repeated several times a day on three separate days.
When they took a sage supplement before the tests they could recall more and recall faster. They also reported feeling calm and more content for six hours after taking it.
Doctors in Iran gave sage extract for four months to people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It produced a “significantly better outcome on cognitive functions” compared to a group who didn’t take it.
Commonly used to flavour after-dinner digestifs in the Mediterranean, aniseed has been used to ease digestion for years.
Studies show its gut-calming compound anethole relaxes the parasympathetic nervous system which controls the muscles of the digestive tract. It also aids bad breath and constipation.
A study in Saudi Arabia found aniseed extract stopped the formation of ulcers by reducing the acid that can irritate the stomach lining.
It is ironic that cinnamon, a spicy- sweet flavour used in sugary confections, can help balance blood sugars. In an
American study 109 people with Type 2 diabetes were split into two groups with one receiving a gram of cinnamon a day and the other a placebo.
After three months the cinnamon-eating group had lower blood sugar levels.
Swedish researchers also found a sprinkling of cinnamon on food reduced after-meal blood sugar spikes.
If you want to be smarter then chew cinnamon gum.
A professor at Ohio University in the US found students scored better on mental agility tests after smelling or tasting it.
Broccoli is known for cancer-fighting properties but overcook it and these can be lost. Add a dash of horseradish, and the benefits are revived.
Scientists at Illinois University found spicing up broccoli increased absorption in the upper part of the digestive system, boosting its impact.
Horseradish is rich in glucosinolates (compounds which produce cancer-protecting isothiocyanates) so you reap the benefits every time you add a dollop to your roast beef.
Medical journal Headache reported the results of a month-long US trial on 60 migraine sufferers treated with feverfew and ginger tablets.
Two hours after an attack almost a third of those who took the supplement claimed to be pain free.
Only 16 per cent of the group given a dummy pill were symptomless after the same period.
For years ginger has been reliedupon to alleviate nausea caused by travel sickness, morning sickness and the effects of food poisoning.
And scientists from the University of Michigan in America discovered high-protein drinks spiced with ginger can delay the nausea caused by medical-induced sickness such as chemotherapy and anaesthesia.
The juniper berry (not a berry but a tiny pinecone from the juniper tree and bush) defines the flavour of gin.
If you had a G&T last night you might be going to the loo more than usual today because juniper berries are a diuretic.
Not only do its compounds stimulate the kidneys to produce fluid they help kill bacteria, making them ideal for battling bladder and urinary tract infections.
The juniper berry is so kind to kidneys, researchers at the University of California found it helped prevent organ rejection in kidney transplants.
Curry’s essential ingredient has a wealth of benefits. Scientists in India gave lab animals with Type 2 diabetes either cumin or anti- diabetes drug glibenclamide.
Both worked equally well to reduce levels of cholesterol and heart-damaging blood fats called triglycerides.
The animals also had a “significant reduction” in blood sugar. Another study in India found feeding cumin to diabetic rats delayed the progression of cataracts by preventing changes in the lens caused by high blood sugar.
Cumin’s volatile oil and rich content of vitamins C and A make it a potent antioxidant.
In studies, cumin reduced the risk of cervical cancer by 82 per cent compared to animals not receiving the spice.
Researchers from Portugal’s University of Beira Interior found oil from coriander plants can kill a range of bacteria.
They believe tiny amounts could be given to patients in hospitals to treat drug-resistant infections including E.coli and MRSA.
They tested the oil against 12 bacterial strains.
All had their growth reduced and most were killed by solutions containing 1.6 per cent or less of the oil which worked by damaging cell membranes.
Stressed out? Grab some basil. Indian researchers found this popular herb normalised levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowered blood sugar (which spikes when under stress) and decreased the amount of creatine kinase produced.
This is an enzyme generated when the body is under severe stress, such as during a heart attack.
Basil extract also helps protect the heart and lowers cholesterol.
The scientific name for oil of clove is eugenol and biting a clove brings an instant rush of localised numbness.
This makes the use of cloves in oral medicine very popular.
The Journal of Dentistry reports that clove oil is as powerful as the drug benzocaine in numbing oral tissue.
When rubbed around a painful tooth it dilates the blood vessels near the gum bringing the blood to the surface with a soothing sensation.
Cloves are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and can fight the early stages of the gum disease gingivitis as well as help prevent cold sores.
Fiery chillies use their heat to numb and diffuse aches and pains.
When you bite a chilli its compound capsaicin triggers the release of a neurotransmitter called substance P which tells the brain to transmit pain along nerve fibres.
Capsaicin builds a tolerance to substance P so the more chillies you eat the less substance P is produced.
At the same time it releases somatostatin which is a hormone that cools inflammation.
Taste buds become desensitised to the burn so you feel less pain.
Fennel is a vegetable, herb and a spice with the taste of licorice. Its seeds are teeming with oestrogen-like compounds which help chronic menstrual cramps. Fennel seed oil can also help infants with colic.