Spices Pack Health

Dr. Kathy Gruver is the host of the national TV series based on her first book, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet. 

She has also authored the book, Body/Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker and is a practitioner, educator and speaker with over 2 decades of experience. 

She has appeared as an expert on 100 radio shows, television and in print. Her website for more information is www.thealternativemedicinecabinet.com

Herbs, spices and plants have been used throughout history for their healing properties. In fact, many prescriptions have their origins in plants. Here are just a few things you might already have in your kitchen that can lead to better health.

Garlic is one of the oldest healing plants on the planet. It is cholesterol lowering, anti-thrombotic, anti-blood coagulant, an antioxidant, lowers blood pressure, is anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and tasty. Garlic needs to be damaged for its full effect to be used, so crush it, chop it and enjoy. Beware if you are on any heart medications, as you don’t want to lower your blood pressure too much!

Ginger is great for the respiratory system to help fight colds and flu. It’s also calming to the stomach for morning sickness or motion sickness. Ginger contains vitamins A, C and B complex.

Cumin Seeds commonly found in Indian food is good for digestive health like flatulence and is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Often we forget that herbs and spices have nutritional value too.

Coriander Seeds are a great source of fiber which helps increase the bulk of the stool for better bowel health and is a good source of copper, iron, calcium and other minerals. And you wouldn’t guess it, but Coriander contains a good amount of vitamin C.

Cinnamon may be a great additive for reducing blood sugar in type-2 diabetes. But much to my dad’s dismay, this doesn’t mean consuming more Cinnabon™. Cinnamon can be taken in capsule form and may also reduce inflammation in the body. Cinnamon oil can be hot and irritating, so use caution.

Cloves contain one of the most powerful germicidal agents around. It’s safe for nausea and vomiting when pregnant and is useful for toothaches and teething babies. (Use clove oil) Cloves are also great for gas and bad breath.

Black Peppercorn, which most of us cook with daily has a great list of health properties. It not only helps with digestion, but has properties that help the body absorb other nutrients. It’s a good source of antioxidants, which help remove free radicals from the body.

Cayenne, a step up from black pepper, is another good source of vitamin C and also A. It’s high in essential minerals and the B vitamins.

Horseradish is a strong stimulant and has been known to clear up infections and sinus issues. It also has a strong antibiotic property. Horseradish is very hot, so use care when consuming. Talk to me sometime about my experience when I took 4 capsules of powered horseradish having no idea what it was.

Turmeric has been used throughout history for its anti-inflammatory action and stomach soothing properties. It contains vitamin C and minerals such as manganese, potassium and copper. Turmeric may also offer protection from high blood pressure and stroke.

Saffron is a beautiful orange/yellow spice commonly found in Indian and Middle Eastern food. Saffron has many health properties including soothing the stomach, reducing cholesterol, and preventing heart disease. It may also help depression and cancer.

Fenugreek is an underutilized spice but provides a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. It has been used as a laxative, a digestive and a remedy for bronchitis. It also may help with high cholesterol and high blood sugar.

Nutmeg, a common holiday spice, is a traditional herbal medicine. Its oil has been used for toothache relief like cloves and can also be used for massage on sore muscles and rheumatic joints.

Mustard Seed can be used externally as a poultice for sciatica, muscle and joint pain and can help with respiratory infections. Internally, it’s a stimulant for the gastric juices and contains high amounts of B vitamins and minerals.

I hope this encourages you turn more to your kitchen as your pharmacy and utilize those gifts that Mother Nature has provided. Remember that herbs and spices are chemicals too. Just because they are natural doesn’t mean they can be taken without education. Don’t start an herbal therapy without consulting a professional.

Dr. Kathy Gruver, PhD, is the author of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet, which was recently turned into a TV series. Her second book, Body/Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker was just released and she maintains a massage and wellness practice in Santa Barbara, CA. Kathy has appeared as a guest expert in print, on the radio and on TV. She lectures around the country on health and stress. More information can be found at www.thealternativemedicinecabinet.com


I’m very pleased to introduce my friend Dr. Schweta Kasbekar as our expert on the health benefits of spices. On many an occasion I’ve been asked questions regarding spices and health. Mine is a culinary adventure. So, I’m happy to have Dr. Schweta speak about and answer any of your questions on spices and their health-giving properties.

Dr. Schweta Kasbekar is a native of the Chicagoland area and received her two undergraduate Bachelor degrees in both Biology and Spanish from Creighton University in Omaha, NE. She then attended the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL where she achieved her Doctorate in Chiropractic Medicine and the University of Chicago, IL where she completed her MBA.

Dr. Kasbekar has had a lifelong interest in fitness and health, as well as great experience addressing musculoskeletal conditions, chronic disease, and inflammatory disorders. Her background in clinical nutrition and current candidacy for her Diplomate for the American Board of Chiropractic Internists allows her to use extensive laboratory testing and evaluation.

The doctor, through her hundreds of hours of post-graduate study in nutrition, natural therapies, and acupuncture has successfully treated patients suffering from many conditions, including but not limited to: chronic disease, auto-immune diseases, fibromyalgia, weight management, fatigue, food allergies, and support for cancer therapies.

Dr. Kasbekar pursues a patient-centered, integrative medical approach to wellness. She believes that the combination of medical science and natural therapies is the key to responsible, safe, and effective health care.

On behalf of Dr. Schweta, I'm pleased to publish what will hopefully be the first of many articles for us—“Health and the Role of Turmeric.”


One amazing benefit of herbs and spices is that they’re very low in calories while being dense in vitamins and minerals. It is with this nutrient-dense status that they enrich your overall well-being with antioxidants more potently than many fruits and veggies. Herbs and spices promote health and repair throughout your entire body, not in just one particular area. This “whole person” or “whole system” approach is why I believe these spices and herbs can benefit you so tremendously. I consider one particular spice the ultimate super-food, because its benefits are amazing and endless. That spice is Turmeric.

Picking the one best thing that Turmeric does for the body was difficult. It has anticancer activity, it helps support liver health, and it’s a powerful antioxidant. The one property of Turmeric that really stands out though, and likely helps support its other healthful activities, is its enormous power as an anti-inflammatory. Inflammation, if left untreated, is now known to be a component of a baker’s dozen of chronic health diseases. And unlike aspirin or tylenol, turmeric’s active ingredient curcumin reduces inflammation naturally, without damaging the liver or kidneys. Healthier Talk reports:

“It has been found especially helpful in treating conditions like arthritis, sports injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, tendonitis and various autoimmune diseases. Some research even suggests that curcumin may also help those suffering asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and, yes, even cancer.”

Turmeric’s curcumin has been shown to inhibit the production of cyclooxygenase (COX 2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX); 2 potent enzymes involved in the implication of inflammation. Furthermore, in a study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, researchers found that turmeric extracts prevented the activation of a protein called NF-kappa B, which controls the expression of genes that produce an inflammatory response.

The majority of the studies are done on curcumin since it’s easy to isolate chemically and therefore study scientifically. But there’s every reason to believe there are dozens of other healthy compounds in turmeric spice itself that can benefit you in addition to the curcumin. The Spicy Gourmet’s Turmeric is easy to use and tastes great on everything. I use it on everything I cook (well, almost). Try it on eggs!

“May you live Long, live Strong, and live Healthy”
~ Dr. Schweta Kasbekar, DC, MBA


Article by Victoria Shanta Retelny

Nutrition: Herbs and spices not only enhance food’s flavor but may also bolster your health.

The culinary world would be lackluster without spices. Imagine tomato sauce without basil, hummus without garlic or sushi minus pickled ginger. Spices, like their botanical leafy counterparts, herbs, not only impart diverse flavors, colors and tastes to foods, but science is showing that they also offer a host of powerful phytonutrients that can enhance health and well-being. While culinary herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years, extensive research in the last two decades has shown the numerous health benefits of herbs and spices. In fact, they may prevent chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other serious pulmonary, neurological and autoimmune conditions (Aggarwal et al. 2008).

“Spices are the easiest and least expensive way to enhance flavor without adding fat, calories, sodium, cholesterol or trans fats,” says Robin Plotkin, RD, a registered dietitian and culinary communications consultant based in Dallas. Drawing on sources from folklore to current literature, here are some of the health benefits of herbs and spices.



On first glance, ginger looks like nothing more than a knotty, thick root you’d step over in a forest. But this underground stem of the perennial plant Zingiber officinale has long been used to successfully treat gastrointestinal disorders, such as stomach aches, abdominal spasm, nausea or vomiting, in addition to other conditions, such as arthritis and motion sickness (El-Abhar, Hammad & Gawad 2008).

Ginger comes in a variety of forms: fresh, pickled, dried, powdered and/or crystallized—all of which are effective in promoting health. According to Dave Grotto, RD, LDN, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life (Bantam 2008), “Ginger has been a home remedy through many generations for treating a variety of conditions.” These conditions include nausea from pregnancy-related morning sickness and chemotherapy-induced delayed nausea.

There are very few side effects from ginger at low doses. The most commonly reported side effects involve the stomach and intestines. Irritation or bad taste in the mouth, heartburn, belching, bloating, gas and nausea have been reported, especially with powdered forms of ginger (Medline Plus 2008).



With origins that trace back to India nearly 4,000 years ago, basil leaves come in many sizes, shapes and colors. From a culinary perspective, the most commonly used varieties are large-leaf Italian sweet, tiny-leaf bush, lemon and African blue (Grotto 2008). “Basil is more recognized by the American palette as an essential in our love of Italian food,” notes Chef Ryan Hutmacher, a partner in Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago. However, basil leaves are used frequently in numerous types of cuisine.

Basil contains many different and powerful flavonoids, which protect against cell damage and have strong antioxidant and antibacterial properties (Grotto 2008). Studies have shown that basil contributes to heart health by improving circulation and reducing heart disease and acts as an antibacterial agent to even the more antibiotic-resistant types of bacteria, particularly those found in produce (Opalchenova & Obreshkova 2003).

Basil is a benign plant. Eat it up, as there are no reported side effects.



Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tropical evergreen tree. Although this sweet spice comes in four types, two of them are more popular among chefs: Cinnamomum zeylanicum (also known as Ceylon cinnamon) and Cinnamomum cassia (also known as Chinese cassia or Indonesian cinnamon) (Grotto 2008). Of the two, Ceylon cinnamon is the sweeter and richer in taste; it also costs more than Cinnamomum cassia, which is more widely available in the United States (Grotto 2008).

Studies show that cinnamon can alleviate gout and arthritis flare-ups (Kong et al. 2000) and keep blood flowing smoothly by reducing blood lipids (Kahn et al. 2003). “Cinnamon, particularly Ceylon, is excellent for inflammation,” explains Grotto. Cinnamon may also lower blood sugar in individuals with type 2 diabetes (Mang et al. 2006). Nutritionally, cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of calcium, iron and fiber.

Cinnamon is not known to be an allergenic food, so sprinkle or stir away!



In the United States, cooks call the seeds of the Coriandrum sativum plant “coriander,” while the leaves of the same plant are known as “cilantro.” The seeds, when crushed and ground, have a lemony, citrus flavor.

In traditional Indian medicine, the coriander plant is used as a diuretic (the seeds are boiled along with cumin and consumed as a beverage) (Hashmi Dawakhana 2007). Research has shown coriander can also aid in digestion (Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association 2008). Coriander has long been used to treat anxiety.

Be aware that coriander seeds have been shown to produce allergic reactions in some people (Ebo et al. 2006). People who are allergic to any medications (prescription or over-the-counter) should use coriander sparingly.



Rosemary has a distinct flavor and scent, which is no surprise since it is a member of the mint family. It typically grows by the sea, hence the name, which is derived from the Latin rosmarinus, meaning “dew of the sea.” The fragrant leaves of this plant look like tiny evergreen needles.

Rosemary is extremely high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6. It also contains a large number of polyphenolic compounds that can inhibit oxidation and bacterial growth (Grotto 2008). In cancer prevention studies, rosemary has been found to protect the blood against radiation exposure (Del Baño et al. 2006). It may even help with memory loss; a recent study found that when the scent of rosemary was pumped into workplace cubicles, people exhibited improved memory (Moss et al. 2003)

Used in moderate amounts when cooking, rosemary is quite safe. However, people prone to epileptic seizures should use caution; also, rosemary oil (used in a variety of nonfood items, such as shampoo) has been shown to cause seizures.



Cayenne is a red, hot chili pepper related to bell peppers and jalapeños; it is part of the Capsicum genus and nightshade family. In its ground form, it is known as the powdered spice “cayenne pepper.” According to Grotto, “Peppers contain vitamin C and are a good source of beta carotene and B vitamins. They also contain inflammation- reducing phytochemicals.”

Cayenne is known to relieve pain and itching and has been used for centuries as a topical and internal medicine. Research has shown it is effective for relieving gas, stomach aches, cramps, circulatory diseases, sore throats and body heat regulation conditions, such as cold feet (Whole Foods 2008).

Be careful when handling cayenne peppers, as the pungent seeds and white membranes can cause severe burning of the skin, lips and eyes. Rubber gloves are a good solution when using cayenne or any chili pepper. If no gloves are available, be sure to wash hands, knives and cutting boards thoroughly after use. When eating fiery dishes made with cayenne, drink milk, which can quickly put out the fire.


Sidebar: Spice Rack Basics: Selection, Storage and Culinary Uses

Make the most of your herbs and spices by following this advice on how to select, store and use them in the kitchen.

Selection. Select fresh ginger that is bruise-free and light-brown to cream in color.
Storage. Fresh ginger should be kept at room temperature. “Wait to peel until you are ready to use, as its natural skin protects it and keeps it from going bad,” advises Chef Ryan Hutmacher, a partner in Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago.
Culinary Uses. “Sauté in olive or sesame oil, like you would garlic, and add fresh spinach, kale or a mix of Asian vegetables,” suggests Chef Michelle Dudash, RD, president and founder of Chef Dudash Nutrition in Gilbert, Arizona.

Selection. Pick basil that has bright-green leaves and no yellow spots.
Storage. Basil keeps for only a few days in the refrigerator. To extend its life, Hutmacher recommends these simple storage techniques: “The more humidity, the faster it will wilt. Take a paper towel, and sprinkle a couple of drops of water on it. (It should not be dripping wet.) Gently bundle the herbs inside the towel. Place the wrapped bundle into a transparent container in the fridge, and replace the damp paper towel every 3–4 days.”
Culinary Uses. Tradition­ally, basil is a key ingredient in Italian cookery, such as pesto and marinara sauces. However, it can also enhance salad dressings, pizza, fish/shrimp and chicken dishes. Dudash recommends tossing a few freshly cut basil leaves into pastas and over vegetables right before serving. “Dried basil is great, too, in the same types of dishes, but add during cooking,” she advises.

Selection. Be sure to smell cinnamon, as it is freshest when it smells sweet.
Storage. Ground cinnamon lasts about 6 months, whereas cinnamon sticks can be kept for up to 1 year before they lose their luster. Store all cinnamon in a dark place in an airtight container.
Culinary Uses. Cinnamon is used in both sweet and savory dishes, such as rice pudding, pies, soups, salad dressings and rice dishes. “Add a whole cinnamon stick into soups like carrot, pumpkin or butternut squash; when making your own curry spice blend, adding cinnamon is a must,” suggests Dudash. Hutmacher uses cinnamon in combination with cayenne and ground coriander when making regional Mexican dishes.

Selection. Typically sold as a whole dried seed, coriander can be found in powdered form. Grind only what you need, since it can quickly lose flavor.
Storage. Keep in an airtight container in a dark, cool place. For best flavor, use whole seeds within 6 months.
Culinary Uses. Coriander is used in meat rubs, seasonings and sausage products; it is the main spice in Indian curries. Toasting the coriander seeds before use imparts the most flavor.


Selection. While dried or oil forms are available, fresh rosemary is the most potent and is typically preferred by cooks.
Storage. Fresh rosemary must be kept in the refrigerator.
Culinary Uses. Rosemary is used mainly in savory dishes, such as roasted potatoes, marinades, chicken and turkey dishes.


Selection. Look for vivid, deep colors and firm, taut skin without black spots. The stems should look fresh.
Storage. Unwashed fresh peppers can last for 1 week in a paper bag or paper towel in the refrigerator. Never put peppers in plastic bags, as moisture may cause premature spoilage. Powders should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place.
Culinary Uses. Add to soups and sauces; sauté with vegetables; add to yogurt to make a dip; or use in curry, meat, fish or poultry dishes.

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