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Five Healthy Herbs and Spices with Powerful Benefits

In this article:

Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and cayenne are the spice cabinet’s mighty five.

Spices and herbs are the hidden champions of your pantry. They naturally enhance food’s flavor and pack a powerful health punch with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Embrace them, experiment with them, and work them into your meals every chance you get.

Spices have been essential in both food preparation and preservation for thousands of years. Phytochemical compounds are responsible for their aroma and flavor, as unique as the countries where they’re predominantly used. Exploring global dishes will take you on a sensory journey, as you travel vicariously through your kitchen.

Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and cayenne boast some of the most impressive health benefits, from stemming inflammation to boosting memory.

Invest in high-quality fresh and dried spices to raise your cooking game. Whether you mix and match or play up a single spice, experimenting is the way to go. A world of exotic flavors and wellness benefits awaits!


Bowl of turmeric powder with spoon

The active ingredient in turmeric is a group of compounds known as curcuminoids or curcumin. Curcumin gives turmeric its superstar status in the spice world, with research showing efficacy in the prevention of neurological and inflammatory diseases.

Andrew Weil, America’s integrative medical authority says three reasons to incorporate turmeric into your diet are to prevent Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and cancer. How do you get turmeric in your diet? You can sprinkle it on scrambled eggs or make turmeric tea. I take turmeric as a supplement largely because as great as it is, it’s not well absorbed.


Fresh ginger root and powder

Ginger has the deserved reputation as being a wonderful calming substance for the stomach. Research has been done on ginger as a cancer preventative. I’ve written a number of books in which I talk about four things that age the body and promote every disease and they are inflammation (top of the list), oxidation, stress, and sugar in the diet. Inflammation is involved in diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, and every degenerative disease.

Anything we can do to lower inflammation is extremely important for our health. Oxidation: the damage done by free radicals that are found in oxygen. It’s kind of a rusting. Oxidative stress is a major part of aging and just about every degenerative disease you can imagine. Antioxidants help fight the damage done by these marauding free radicals.

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Whole heads of garlic

Garlic is probably the number one medicinal food in the world. It goes back thousands of years. It’s been found to be helpful for the heart, for the immune system, helps kill parasites, it’s a natural antibiotic and it’s great for blood pressure. Matthew Boudoff, a cardiologist at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, has done a lot of research on garlic. He found that it actually reduced plaque. Aged garlic extract was shown to inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis to lower blood pressure, improve oxidative stress and enhance circulation. Garlic has to be chopped up and broken down in order for two compounds to mix together and create allicin. There are studies showing the anti-cancer mechanism of sulfur-containing compounds of which garlic and onions are two prime examples.


Cinnamon sticks and star anise stacked on table

A 2004 study showed that cinnamon actually improves blood sugar, glucose, and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. In the eleven years since this study was done, not all studies have duplicated this. Some have shown great results with cinnamon, some have not. However, there’s just no downside to using it and there are potentially lots of upsides. There’s a meta-analysis of all the studies of cinnamon use in type two diabetes, and on the whole, they’re very positive. Here again the effect of cinnamon tea on postprandial, just means after eating, postprandial glucose simply means your blood sugar after you eat and cinnamon has a nice muting effect on that. Here again, more experimental evidence, more reviews, and here once again, big surprise, turns out that cinnamon may also have some anti-cancer properties which is a very nice little side benefit so if you’re taking it for blood sugar oh look at this, it may also have some effects on cancer cells, not a bad side effect.


Red chili peppers

There are spices for weight loss and they include the cayenne pepper because of its effect on energy balance and metabolism in general. The main beneficial compound in hot chili peppers is capsaicin. During the 2008 Democratic campaign, when she was running against Obama for the nomination Hillary Clinton was asked how she kept up through that grueling campaign and she attributed much of her endurance and energy to red hot peppers! Red peppers are easy to eat, easy to find, inexpensive, and have great health benefits.

An Honorable Mention for Oregano and Sage

Fresh oregano grows in garden

A study by the American Chemical Society found oregano to have the highest-ranking antioxidants of any herb. It appears to contain some diabetes-fighting compounds as well. I prefer the oil of oregano, not really the spice itself. Oregano oil is antimicrobial. WebMD says it should be taken by mouth for parasites, allergies, a cold, the flu and fatigue.

Sage is an anti-oxidant and a powerful anti-inflammatory. It seems to have a great effect on memory in both younger people and older. An interesting article shows that sage actually improved glycemic control and lipid profile in type 2 diabetics. In a study, they gave sage to a test group and they found that it lowered their fasting glucose; it brought down blood sugar. It lowered triglycerides which I consider to be a serious risk factor, far more important than cholesterol, and finally sage increased HDL cholesterol which is generally thought to be the good cholesterol; a list of great effects from a simple spice like sage.

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)


Institute for Natural Medicine Staff

Our dedicated content team of professional staff writers represents decades of experience covering essential natural health topics in an accessible, evidence-based, and engaging way. Guided by a shared passion for holistic well-being, each and every one of our writers strives to empower our readers to take charge of their health.

Supported by a rigorous fact-checking and medical editing process from licensed naturopathic doctors that examines the latest in peer-reviewed research, our team brings their in-depth knowledge of natural health practices into every piece of content we produce. We strive to be the gold standard for evidence-based natural medicine, providing trustworthy information and inspiring narratives to help you live your best health, naturally.

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