This blog is unrelated to skin health and more about total body health. I have had the flu and so have been using the principle of “food as medicine” particularly with grated ginger, hot water, lemon and honey. The other reason I thought of these ingredients is that a friend dropped around some food for me (bless!) and he used cinnamon sticks in a savory meal. It was fantastic. So below are some tips about some common kitchen spices and their medicinal benefits. I have also put one of my favorite winter dishes at the end.
This spice comes from the underground rhizome of the ginger plant. Traditionally, ginger has been used to remedy symptoms arising from
gastrointestinal issues. It works primarily by relaxing and soothing the intestinal tract. Ginger is also warming to the digestive system so useful for sluggish digestion.
Research has shown that ginger effectively reduces all symptoms associated with motion sickness including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating. This action is also helps to safely reduce nausea in pregnancy. The good thing is that ginger is extremely safe, and only a small dose is required.
Ginger has also shown a reduction of inflammation and swelling in trials for arthritis. Regular cooking with ginger will help reduce generalised inflammation within the body.
Fresh Ginger contains more of the anti-inflammatory gingerol compounds than dried so use fresh ginger in cooking rather than dried ginger. Used in tea, mixing the ginger with honey and lemon juice, its pungent effect may help to relieve sinus congestion and assist with digestion.
From the root of the Curcuma longa plant comes Tumeric. Traditionally called “Indian saffron” because of its deep colour Tumeric has a history of use as a spice, therapeutic remedy and clothes dye.
The deep yellow or orange flesh of Tumeric are largely responsible for its
therapeutic effects. The active constituent in Tumeric is known as curcumin and it has shown in many studies to have a powerful antiinflammatory effect. When compared to drugs such as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone, curcumin has exerted similar anti-inflammatory activity without the same risk of side effects.
Recent research Curcumin has shown to be a safe and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. This effect has been seen in doses as low as the amount required for a good curry!
Another great benefit of including Tumeric in cooking regularly is that it has a powerful detoxifying effect. It works by enhancing the liver’s ability to detoxify chemicals.
Keep fresh Tumeric in the fridge and the powdered form in a cool, dark cupboard. Use it for soups, curries and bean dishes such as Kedgeree (see recipe below). Be warned, Tumeric will stain if it comes into contact with your hands or clothes.
The berries of the pepper plant (Piper nigrum) are picked when half ripe and dried to create Black Peppercorns. Pepper has a stimulating effect on the
digestive system which is why it is often added as a spice to foods. It works by stimulating the taste buds which has the effect of increasing hydrochloric acid (HCl) secretion in the stomach. An increase in HCl leads to more effective breakdown of foods and therefore increased bioavailability of nutrients. For this reason, pepper has been used in some traditional Ayurvedic herbal combinations to increase the absorption of the other herbs.
Black pepper also acts to reduce pain and gas build up in the gut which is likely also a result of increased HCl production. The hot taste of pepper has the effect of increasing sweating which promotes toxic elimination through the skin.
Pepper used to add flavour to food however, as with everything, too much of a good thing can be detrimental. A good guide is that you can taste the heat of added pepper but your mouth doesn’t feel hot or burnt.
Cinnamon is a well known spice with an extensive history of use as a pungent and sweet flavouring agent as well as a medicine. It is the inner brown bark of the cinnamon tree, which is available as a form known as a quill or as ground powder.
New research has shown that cinnamon may significantly help people with
type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes improve their ability to regulate their blood sugar.
Studies have found that cinnamon improved the ability of fat cells in diabetics to respond to insulin and greatly increased glucose uptake by the cells.
In a human clinical trial published in Diabetes Care, 2003 volunteers with type 2 diabetes were given doses of cinnamon powder, in capsules after meals. All volunteers in the trial responded to the effects of cinnamon with an average blood sugar level of 20% less than the control placebo group, some even achieving normal blood sugar levels.
The results of this study demonstrate that intake of 1 (equivalent to ¼ – ½ teaspoon daily), 3, or 6 g of cinnamon per day reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. The long term implications of this study suggest that regular inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Cinnamon research in a completely different area has also yielded positive results, this time for brain function. In one study chewing cinnamon flavoured gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants’ brain activity by improving cognitive processing. The specific outcomes were that tasks related to attention processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed were all improved.
Cinnamon can be added to cereal, shakes, stewed apple and other sweets as well as savoury dishes such as lamb casseroles.
Like Tumeric and Black pepper, cumin seeds have a beneficial effect on the digestion. Cumin works to stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes,
compounds essential for good digestion and nutrient absorption. It is no surprise that these three spices are so commonly used together to create delicious dishes that have the added benefit of supporting the digestion.
Add Cumin to curries, bean and lentil dishes, vegetables and dukkah.
Kedgeree is a spicy flavoured lentil dish without the heat of a curry. It is light enough to eat in spring and summer and contains lots of delicious spices.
• 1 cup of mung bean lentils
• 4-6 cups of water
• 1 onion
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
• 1 teaspoon minced ginger
• 2 teaspoons coriander powder
• ¼ teaspoon astafoetida powder
• 1 teaspoon tumeric powder
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 2 tablespoons of ghee
• 1 cup of chopped, mixed vegetables eg. broc, cauliflower, carrot, Brussel sprouts, zucchini, eggplant etc
• Salt and pepper to taste (usually a good dash of each)
• Fresh coriander as garnish & yoghurt
• Soak mung bean lentils overnight in water. Scrunch them in the water before rinsing to get rid of the woody flavour.
• Put the lentils in 4-6 cups of water with the ginger, garlic, bay leaf and spice powders.
• Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the tomatoes and other vegies. Cook for half an hour.
• In the meantime chop the onions and fry in the ghee until almost soft and clear. Add the mustard and cumin seeds to the onion and ghee and fry for an additional 5 minutes on a low heat. Make sure the seeds don’t burn.
• Add the ghee mix to the lentil & vegie mix. Take care as the fat hitting the water may spit. Stir through.
• Serve into bowls. Top with yoghurt and fresh coriander leaves.