Important as it is, spices are far more than flavoring. They have a wonderful aroma and are packed full of healing properties. These five well known spices will add taste, warmth, scent and goodness to your food while making you healthier too.
It comes in two types – true cinnamon and cassia (which is its more robust cousin minus the red/brown color). Cinnamon is the bark of a small tropical tree and when you see it in its natural state, it is in the form of tightly rolled reddish-brown quills. It has a delicacy and sweetness that makes it ideal for baking. Those quills will keep for a year or more but once ground down into powder, quickly loses its strength and medicinal potency. The less valuable cassia comes in a thicker and flatter bark and, with a more assertive flavor, it can be used in savory dishes. I use cinnamon every day as a sweetener for a bowl of oatmeal or added to some raw honey on my slice of toast at breakfast. It can just as easily be added to a milky soothing bedtime drink for some extra spice. Cinnamon is renowned for lowering your cholesterol levels with just half a teaspoon per day while it may also help treat type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and increasing the amount of insulin production in the body. Cinnamon has anti fungal properties, and it has been said that candida cannot live in a cinnamon environment.
Native to South East Asia, it is the rhizome of this grass-like plant that we use. I have it planted very successfully in a container that gets plenty of sun and I use some ginger freshly sliced and crushed in my smoothie every day. When dried, ginger is popular among bakers for traditional ginger cookies, ginger breads and fruitcakes. Always available in the produce aisle of your local store, ginger can be crushed first to tenderize the fibers, then ground and pushed through a sieve for a fiery and aromatic taste and smell. This soon diminishes when stored. Ginger is a panacea for nausea so especially useful in times of morning sickness or when motion sickness strikes. It is also good for winter colds and flu to dry up the sniffles and dates right back to medieval times when it was used to induce sweating and reduce fever in those victims of the dreaded Plague. Ginger may also be a powerful weapon in the treatment of ovarian cancer as a study (at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center) found that ginger powder induces cell death in all ovarian cancer cells to which it was applied while another study (at the University of Minnesota) found that ginger may slow the growth of colorectal cancer cells. Ginger is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as being a powerful natural painkiller and heartburn remedy. Add a slice or two of fresh ginger to boiling water to make a strong tea. Finally, ginger could help you get relief from migraines
(if you are a sufferer) due to its ability to stop prostaglandins from causing pain and inflammation in blood vessels.
Nutmeg originally came from the South Sea Islands. It is the dried kernel of the plum-like fruit of evergreen trees found there. Like all spices, nutmeg is most successful when freshly ground or grated, adding extra taste to special desserts and puddings and even milk-based sauces for chicken or vegetable dishes. If you buy your nutmeg whole, it will keep for years. An added attraction of nutmeg could be that it heightens the effect of alcohol when used (for example) in mulled wine. There are many health benefits in using nutmeg including being a tonic for the brain to eliminate fatigue, stress, anxiety or depression while improving your concentration. An effective sedative, nutmeg treats the pain of inflammation while some nutmeg added to a drink of milk at bedtime soothes the mind so that the chance of insomnia
To me cloves always bring to mind their use as a remedy for toothache with their antiseptic and anesthetic properties and also when my mother used to bake apples. In fact in the US, eugenol extracts from clove have often been used in dentistry in conjunction with root canal therapy, temporary fillings and for general gum pain as eugenol and other components of clove (including beta-caryophyllene) combine to make clove a mild anesthetic as well as an anti-bacterial agent. For this reason, you will often find clove oil in some over-the-counter sore throat sprays and mouth washes. Cloves are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree which are picked by hand while still pink - and dried until they turn brown in color. Small in size, cloves resemble tiny nails. Although cloves have a very hard exterior, their flesh features an oily compound that is essential to their nutritional and flavor profile. Cloves have a warm, sweet and aromatic taste that evokes the sultry tropical climates where they are grown.
This is an attractive 8 pointed star shape harvested from an evergreen tree in tropical and subtropical areas of China and Vietnam. The star anise has several health benefits and is sometimes used for its fragrance in natural cosmetic products, such as soaps and toothpastes, while providing pungent, powerful flavor with hints of licorice and clove in a variety of dishes. Just a single star is enough to flavor a whole pot of soup or stew. A warming spice, star anise has health benefits too, being widely used for treating digestive ailments such as abdominal cramps, bloating, belching, constipation, gas, indigestion and stomach aches. It is believed that star anise activates the body’s digestive enzymes, which helps assimilate heavier foods including meats and fats.
Every pantry cupboard should be stocked with these highly prized 5 spices for their all round usefulness.