The Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices

Open your spice cabinet and you will find a pharmacopoeia of ancient wisdom. You may also find yourself on the way to the hospital. Herbal medicine is not something to embark upon uninformed. Self-medication, in any form, can be risky. At the same time, there are many herbs and spices that you can use to spice up your life, your diet and your health.

We all know that knowledge is power. When taking herbal supplements, you need knowledge about your personal state of health. See a doctor to identify any medical conditions you may be experiencing. During your visit, be sure to tell your doctor about any and all herbal supplements you are taking. Some of them, such as St. John's Wort, contain enzymes that interfere with the absorption of over half the drugs prescribed today.

There are literally thousands of herbal supplements to choose from, but there are a few that warrant your attention. Most herbal supplements come in capsule form, although teas are a pleasant way to enjoy many of them such as chamomile, peppermint and Echinacea. Purchase your herbal supplement with individual ingredients, instead of buying mixtures, to ensure dosage, and buy the highest quality you can find. As with any plant material, herbal supplements have a limited shelf life. Check the expiration dates regularly.

One of the simplest supplements you can add to your diet is capsaicin. You can buy it at any grocery store in the form of red pepper flakes. Surprisingly, capsaicin soothes stomach ailments, Crohn's Disease symptoms and joint inflammation. You can sprinkle a little, or a lot, into nearly all supper dishes, scrambled eggs, pasta, beans, even on vegetables.

Garlic has been hailed as a cure all for centuries, treating everything from high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer and even warding off vampires. Research has shown that garlic slows atherosclerosis, reduces high cholesterol and thins the blood. As a result, it should be avoided for one week prior to surgery and should not be used by those taking saquinavir, an HIV drug. A garlic press makes cooking with garlic very simple. It holds the skin and releases crushed fresh garlic into salads, supper dishes, even scrambled eggs.

Another long time favorite of the kitchen medic is ginger root. The root is peeled and then sliced or crushed. It is found in many Caribbean, Indian and Chinese recipes. Ginger is very effective in treating stomach and digestive problems, colds, flu, joint and muscle pain. Research shows ginger relieves morning sickness, although, for some, it may cause heartburn and bloating.

Peter Rabbit and the Pokey Little Puppy both know the benefits of chamomile tea. This sweet, mild tea helps you fall asleep, soothes your upset stomach and helps you get over a stressful day. It is also used as a rinse to treat skin ulcers and gives hair a shiny appearance. Some people are allergic to this member of the daisy family.

Peppermint tea is another tummy-numbing treatment with a delightful flavor. Peppermint oil has been used for centuries to treat digestive ailments, headaches, colds and muscle pain. Research has shown it may help those who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome. Some people are allergic and should not be taken with antacids, which will be broken down too quickly, causing heartburn.

Green tea is all the rage these days with claims of improving mental function, preventing cancer and lowering cholesterol. Research shows some slowing in cancer growth and improved mental function but it can cause liver problems when taken in high doses. Green tea contains vitamin K which can interfere with anticoagulants like warfarin.

Echinacea is another healthful tea used to fight colds, flu and infection. Research has shown Echinacea does boost the immune system and it is effective against upper respiratory infections, although some people are allergic to it. Echinacea should not be taken by people who are going to be anesthetized or who are taking immunosuppressant or hepatotoxic drugs for auto-immune or connective tissue disorders.

While it may not have the best flavor, valerian tea is used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, as well as headaches and trembling. It is highly effective against nerve spikes experienced by amputees. Some people experience headaches or stomach aches when using Valerian. Add a little honey and peppermint and you should be fine.

Drink cranberry juice to get rid of a bladder infection. We've all heard the claim. Some swear by it as a treatment while others claim it only works as a preventative. Cranberry juice has also been used traditionally to prevent dental plaque. It won't hurt to have a glass now and then, just in case.

Many southeastern Chinese and Indian dishes use curry and fenugreek to add flavor and health benefits. Fenugreek is used to treat premenstrual symptoms and stomach problems, to stimulate the appetite and increase breast milk flow. Fenugreek lowers blood sugar and induces childbirth so it should not be used by women who are pregnant and should be used cautiously by diabetics. Curry has been shown to prevent colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Another popular Indian spice you can add to your diet is turmeric. It is used to treat liver and digestive problems, joint pain, skin ulcerations and eczema. Turmeric has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and research has shown turmeric strengthens the immune system, reduces tumor growth, helps fight cystic fibrosis and is an effective pain killer. While it should not be used by people with gallstones, this is one powerful herbal supplement that's often neglected.

Ginkgo biloba seed has been used in Chinese cooking for centuries, promising cures for respiratory ailments, memory loss, narrowing arteries, ED (related to taking antidepressants), multiple sclerosis, insulin resistance and tinnitus. Ginkgo is an antioxidant that stimulates blood flow and blocks blood clotting, but there has been no verifiable proof that it prevents Alzheimer's disease in humans. Ginkgo should not be taken prior to surgery or by those using anticoagulants or anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen. Many people are sensitive to the seed's outer coating and the uncooked seeds may cause seizures or death.

Another popular herbal supplement, Ginseng, claims it will make you smarter and faster, lower your blood pressure, cure your erectile dysfunction and hepatitis C and eliminate your menopause symptoms. Sound a little too good to be true? Research has shown ginseng reduces blood glucose levels and boosts immunity, but it may cause breast pain and should not be used by diabetics, especially when taking fenugreek or bitter melon. The ginseng root is used in the Chinese soup, samgyetang.

Clearly, you must be aware of what will help you and what will hurt you. Spices and herbal supplements, while not a necessary part of your diet, can certainly improve your health and well-being if used properly. Our bodies have evolved for tens of thousands of years, using plants for food and medicine. Science doesn't yet understand how all the pieces fit together, but there is enough evidence to warrant taking an educated leap into the kitchen to cook up a batch of good health. Bon appeacute;tit!