Herbs + Spices for Optimal Functional Health

Herbs + Spices for Optimal Functional Health
Photo by Theo Crazzolara / Unsplash

It is important to understand that our genes play a role in disease development and prevention; and the foods that we eat influence gene expressions and contribute to either good health and longevity, or diseases and earlier death. There is no question at this point in time that food is medicine.  One of the most influential figures in the history of medicine and healing, Hippocrates, claimed this at the beginning of time, and since then advised people to prevent and treat diseases by eating a nutrient-dense diet. The foods we incorporate into our diets play a critical role in controlling inflammation levels, balancing blood sugar levels, regulating cardiovascular health, aiding the digestive system, alkalizing the body, and balancing hormones. The foods that we eat help determine whether or not we will become ill or remain healthy into older age. Poor diet is linked to almost all modern health conditions.

Herbs vs. Spices

Herbs are the leaves of the plant and spices come from the non-leafy parts including the roots, bark, stem, berries, flowers and seeds. They are both processed differently. Spices are dried and crushed, and herbs come from the aromatic leaves that are dried, chopped, fresh, or whole. Spices tend to be stronger in flavor than herbs because they are used from the crushed parts of the plants, which are rich in essential oils.

Herbs and spices contain high amounts of antioxidants, which slow the effects of aging by decreasing free radical damage. They supply nutrients like resveratrol, flavonoids, and beta carotene.  Herbs and spices are low in calories, highly nutritious, and are capable of adding intense flavor to food naturally.

Health Benefits

Herbs and spices have numerous beneficial properties and work to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular health, boost the immune system, and prevent and fight cancer. There are over a hundred different kinds that can be consumed or used topically for healing. Herbal medicine allows us to focus on health rather than disease. Wallace Wattles said that health is never attained by studying disease and thinking about disease; medicine as a science of disease has increased disease. Thus, studying health will lead us to optimal health.

By using healing herbs and spices, we are able to thrive and focus on our overall wellbeing instead of a specific disease process when it arises due to lack of equilibrium. Not only will herbs and spices protect our health, but boost the flavor and make our foods taste better. Wallace Wattles also said that to think health when surrounded by the appearances of disease requires power, but whoever acquires this power becomes a mastermind. That person can conquer fate and can have what he wants. Thus, focus on health.

Different Types of Herbs

Adaptogenic herbs (adaptogens) counteract the negative effects of stress in the body. The hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands are all involved in the stress response and these herbs regulate a stable balance between the three glands. Adaptogens increase energy, enhance mental clarity, increase mental work capacity, enhance attention, and prevent stress and fatigue. They have anti-fatigue properties, anti-depressive properties and stimulate the central nervous system.

Aromatic herbs are very high in antioxidants, which counteracts damage from free radicals. Free radicals are produced by our cells in response to excessive physical activity (professional level sports), cigarette smoking, pollutions, alcohol, excessive exposure to UV rays, and pharmaceuticals. Free radicals damage the cells in our organ systems, which debilitate their function and cause diseases. It is crucial to get enough antioxidants. Herbs and spices contain excellent amounts of antioxidants and add intense flavor and smell to foods.

Versatile herbs can be used in multiple ways. An example of this would be basil. It can be used to flavor oils, in a pesto paste, finely chopped on an Italian dish, and as part of a salad or Italian sauce. While most herbs are used for cooking, some can be used in lotions and perfumes, as essential oils, and incense. Also, some herbs, like mint, can be used for desserts and drinks. Versatile herbs can also be used for medicinal purposes like coughs, headaches, pains, ulcers and swelling.

Perennial herbs are the most popular herbs for gardeners, as they do not need to be replanted. These herbs will grow back year after year. They are full of color and flavor and be used from healing to cooking. An example of a perennial herb is Echinacea. It has multiple health benefits and protects against colds and the flu. Other examples include lavender, sage, thyme, and mint.

Top Herbs

Basil is a volatile, adaptogenic, aromatic herb from the mint family that has anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and anti-bacterial properties. It can also work as a pain reliever, blood vessel protector, diabetes preventer, immune booster and cancer fighter. It can be used in cooking and as an essential oil rich in antioxidants.  Basil is an adaptogen helping the body combat stress and disease. It is full of aroma, taste, and healing benefits.

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and balances thyroid hormones. It supports adrenal function and helps to overcome adrenal fatigue that occurs when we are constantly stressed out. Ashwagandha supports brain health, improves mood, increases stamina, and inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells.

Cilantro is a versatile herb that contains many healing properties including phytonutrients, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. Benefits include the ability to promote detoxification of heavy metals, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, lower blood sugar levels, boost cardiovascular health, support digestion, promote skin health and combat free radical damage, which prevents degenerative disease.

Echinacea is a cornflower native to North America that contains many beneficial properties. It is well known for its ability to boost the immune system an reduce chances of catching the common cold (rhinovirus). Echinacea is also commonly used as a natural cold remedy, but it can also be used to relieve, pain, reduce inflammation, relieve constipation, and improve skin problems.

Oregano is a healing herb that has been used for over a thousand years.  Oregano has the power to reduce inflammation, fight bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic infections, fight allergies, and shrink tumors. Oregano oil can be used as an antibiotic agent.

Rosemary is an aromatic herb that is part of the mint family like basil. Rosemary has the ability to improve memory, promote hair growth, relieve muscle aches and pains, improve cognitive function and soothe digestive issues. It also has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, detoxifying, anti-stress and healing properties. Rosemary can be chopped and ground to add to meals or rosemary oil can be diffused or used topically.

Top Spices

Coriander is the dried seed of the cilantro plant, which is commonly ground into powder. Coriander helps lower blood sugar levels, ease digestive issues, improve cholesterol levels, decrease blood pressure and prevent neurological disease.

Turmeric is one of the most powerful spices on the planet. Turmeric supplements can be taken in place of antidepressants, anticoagulants, arthritis medications, skin condition treatments, anti-inflammatories, and cholesterol regulators. Benefits of turmeric include ability to aid weight loss, treat GI issues, ease pain and treat cancer naturally.

Cinnamon is also one of the most beneficial spices on earth. Benefits of cinnamon include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, immune boosting, heart protecting and cancer fighting properties.

Cayenne pepper is a spicy herb that has many health benefits. It can be used to support digestion, prevent blood clots, relieve migraines, nerve, and joint pain, promote detoxification, improve allergy symptoms and support weight loss.

Ginger root is known for its sophisticated flavor and pickling spice. It is a potent antioxidant, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, supports digestion, reduces pain and lowers cholesterol levels. Ginger root also has the ability to improve diabetes, reduce arthritis pain and fight cancer.

Saffron is a spice that promotes cardiovascular health, alleviates symptoms of PMS, treats anxiety and depression, promotes satiety and can help with weight loss, erectile dysfunction and prevent cancer.

Antiviral Herbs

Antiverbal herbs can be used to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and fight viruses. They inhibit the development of viruses and allow the body to attack viral pathogens. Antiviral herbs could even be better than antiviral medications because pathogens mutate over time and become less susceptible to treatment.

Echinacea and elderberry are both powerful immune system stimulants and are used in natural cold remedies. Andrographis has been used in malaria and influenza treatments. It blocks virus replication and virus development. Garlic protects against countless microorganisms and is a natural ear infection remedy. Astragalus root is another powerful immune system booster that can be used for the flu and common cold. Turkey tail mushroom stimulates immune function and increase antiviral cytokines. Reishi mushroom is an adaptogenic antiviral herb that brings the body back to homeostasis and regulate immune function. It also enhances immune response and reduces inflammation. Licorice root is rich in antioxidants, prevents free radical damage and boosts the immune system. Oregano is a very powerful antiviral agent that protects against viruses, bacteria, and disease-causing inflammation. Sage has the ability of fight infections and has anti-inflammatory effects.

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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.