A herb is “a friend of physicians and the praise of cooks”. Herbs and spices have been used historically owing to their aroma, flavour and preservative properties. They have also been well known for their therapeutic benefits.

Knowledge of their healing power dates back to thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians prescribed coriander, fennel, juniper, cumin, garlic and thyme, cardamom, mint. Greeks and Romans used herbs more than spices. Chinese often used herbs and spices – Ginseng, Ginkgo biloba, galangal, nutmeg and cinnamon. In traditional Indian medicine, herbs and spices were used for various ailments: turmeric for jaundice, basil to protect the heart, mace for stomach infections, cinnamon to stimulate circulation, and ginger as the universal medicine and relieving nausea and indigestion. Many of these herbs and spices are still being used in for their therapeutic benefits and modern science has documented several of these.

What make herbs and spices so special are their high antioxidant concentrations. It is still not very clear how these constituents work in the body, however, they certainly possess anti-oxidant, cholesterol lowering, anti-clotting, anti-hypertensive (lowering blood pressure), anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, decongesting, hypoglycaemic and even immune-boosting properties. Given the long history of use of herbs and spices, they may be considered one of the first ever recorded functional foods. Cardio-protective benefits have been documented in several herbs and spices. Garlic is loaded with nearly 100 active compounds. The most important of these is Allicin, a sulphur-containing compound.

Research has shown that garlic exhibits a cardio-protective role by helping to lower blood cholesterol, especially the undesirable fraction of serum cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and serum fat. Eating half a clove of garlic a day may lower blood cholesterol by 9 per cent, provided it is taken regularly.The anti-clotting and antihypertensive properties have been attributed predominantly to allicin. Cinnamon, ginger, chili (capsaicin) and turmeric (curcumin) have also been associated with a decrease in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and an increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. Several herbs have been found to have anti-cancer properties. These include turmeric, garlic, basil, rosemary, mint and lemon grass.Several studies have found that turmeric possesses chemo-preventive effects against cancers of the skin, stomach, liver and colon, and oral cancer.

According to decade-long research at National Nutrition Institute, Hyderabad, a teaspoon of haldi a day can keep cancer at bay and it not only can prevent cancer, but may even be useful in reversing it. Sulphur compounds found in garlic increases the production of detoxification enzymes that help break down cancer-causing compounds and toxins and enhance their removal from the body. Garlic has also been shown to protect against liver, lung and breast cancer. Research has shown that consuming on an average of six or more cloves a week lowers the risk of colorectal cancer by 30 per cent and stomach cancer by 50 per cent. Inflammation has been associated with arthritis, asthma, ulcers and other conditions such as those of the skin, pulmonary, systems, aches, pains, wounds, and sprains.

Natural anti-inflammatory herbs include turmeric, milk thistle herb, ginger and chilli. A study showed that turmeric worked in relieving pain and stiffness in arthritis patients as a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Garlic also reduces inflammation by blocking the formation of agents (prostaglandins) that induce it. Liquorice (mulathi) possesses anti-inflammatory properties and provides protection against asthma, chest problems and mouth ulcers. Herbs have been used in the treatment of diabetes for years.

Spices beneficial in the treatment of diabetes include fenugreek seeds, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and turmeric. Fenugreek seeds contain trigonelline and are a rich source of fibre (50 per cent), which have anti-diabetic properties. Fenugreek seeds should not be consumed raw — they are better taken soaked or powdered.Herbs and spices usually do not cause side effects, but in sensitive people they may cause allergic symptoms. Herbs do not always show the same health benefits when the active substance is isolated from food and ingested as a pure compound. So, spice up your life, tickle your taste buds and boost your health.

So next time remember buying good spices!! ask for more spice in food and of course SPICE UP YOUR LIFE!!!!

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