Hippocrates might just very well be rolling over in his grave in Larissa right now. Despite how famous his quote “Let food be thy medicine” is–people still treat it like Greek mythology. I can just see Hippocrates puzzled reaction as he strolls down the CVS pharmacy aisle: What are these hundreds of containers? A young tour guide would explain to him that those hundreds of containers are modern medicine. But what happened to the food that sprouts from the earth?! He would exclaim.
Well, Hippocrates, humans have shied away from what is recognizable to the body and moved towards processed chemicals. Of course, the tour guide would tell him that a lot of modern medicine has helped immensely with surgeries and epidemics but as far as common ailments go, we rely on quick-fix coverups. That’s just how it goes here in the 21st century, pal. But that’s not how it needs to be.
Issues with OTC Medicine
Conventional medicine takes the easy route. And if we listened to our parents like we were supposed to, we would know that the easy route is not always the best route. With healthcare as the number 1 money making industry in the US, big pharmas aren’t looking for solutions– they’re looking for customers.
You may have noticed that every other commercial on T.V. is marketing to an ailment or illness: High cholesterol? Try Vytorin. You can’t wear short sleeves in the summer because of your eczema? Eucrisa can help. Too tired to text your friends back? Ask your doctor if Zoloft is right for you. Direct-to-consumer marketing is a huge problem.
And most of the time, conventional medicine only offers a temporary, synthetic solution that also comes with a heavy load of secondary problems. Have you ever noticed the never-ending list of side effects muddled off as you watch the mom happily play with her kids and text on her phone after taking her new depression medicine?
Traditional medicine does the opposite. It gets to the root of the problem, using its natural compounds, oils, and healing properties to heal. But maybe traditional medicine seems a little hooky and woo-woo to you. Well, it’s not as witch-y as you might imagine, in fact, most of your medicine can be found in your spice cabinet and used TODAY.
In this article, I’m going to show you how 8 spices (you probably already have in your kitchen) can double as medicine, so you can ditch the synthetics and get back to basics. Read on to discover the healing properties of herbs and spices and new ways to incorporate them into your wellness routine.
The Top Healing Spices
I would argue that the world of medicine and cuisine collided when they cultivated ginger for the first time 4,400 years ago. And that’s not just because I’m a huge ginger fan (ok, maybe).
Ancient India, Arabic, and Asia considered ginger an essential ingredient in traditional medicine and cuisine. In India, ginger’s Sanskrit name vishwa-bhesaj means “universal medicine”- that’s got to be saying something.
You may already be familiar with ginger’s hard-core stomach taming abilities or maybe even its power to effectively treat colds, the flu, and headaches. But did you know that the National Cancer Institute discovered a 40% decrease of nausea in chemotherapy patients after taking 0.5 to 1.0 g of ginger for three days before and after chemotherapy (1)?
You can easily obtain the medicinal benefits of ginger by keeping a powdered ginger in your spice cabinet, fresh ginger root in your fridge, or dried ginger tea in your pantry. Oral and topical use can help every ailment from vomiting to constipation. Getting all the ginger goods is as simple as sprinkling ginger in your morning coffee to set your stomach right for the day or winding down your night by steeping the golden root for a warming, post-dinner tea.
Check out more of ginger’s healing powers below.
- Take internally for motion sickness, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting
- Inflammation, cold, and coughs
- Massage diluted oil on stomach to soothe stomach and stimulate appetite
- Diffuse oil for mental clarity and fatigue relief
Dried Ginger Capsule
- Add 250-300 mg to a capsule and take 2-3 times a day
Try this keto meatball recipe that adds ginger for a subtle burst of spicy and sweet.
Even though it sometimes gets a bad rep for its strong odor, garlic is one of the most-used medicinal plants and has a pretty solid case to back it up.
Vegetable, medicine, AND condiment: garlic is what we like to refer to as a triple threat. Garlic was first harvested more than 7,000 years ago and revered for its strength and stamina boosting effects. Greece’s original Olympic athletes used garlic as a performance-enhancing substance by eating it before competition!
As far as medicine goes, Ancient China prescribed garlic for respiratory and digestive issues, diarrhea and worm outbreaks. Fast forward from 2000 BC to the 20th century, garlic was used in World War 1 on wounded soldiers to fight infections when antibiotics were unavailable. And guess what. It worked (1).
Today, natural practitioners use garlic to support heart-health, reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure and boost the immune system. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute completed a 2002 study that showed a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men with a high dietary intake of garlic. So sprinkle it, chop it, or cook it (on low heat to avoid deactivating benefits) for a healthy heart and healthy gut bacteria (1).
Keep garlic powder or fresh cloves on hand for a variety of health-boosting and taming uses. Continue reading below for more benefits and recipe ideas.
- Expectorant (helps loosen mucus)
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
Garlic cloves can be chewed, powdered, cooked lightly, used as a tea, infusion, food supplement, or oil
- Add powdered or fresh garlic to meals for an immune system booster
- Try Garlic Milk for a fever reducer
- Peel and chew 3 cloves of garlic 2-4 times a day for an antibiotic effect
- Garlic syrup to treat bronchitis, asthma, flu, colds, and ear and lung infections
- Daily consumption may be beneficial for cancer patients and diabetics
Garlic milk works as a respiratory disinfectant and is amazing for fevers (especially in young children) (2).
- Thinly slice 3 cloves of garlic into a pan with nut/goat/cow milk and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes then strain
- Can be refrigerated for up to 3 days
- Infants take 1-2 dessert spoon once every 4 hours
- Small children may drink freely
Garlic syrup will help relieve lung infections and bronchitis (2)
- Peel and chop 6-8 fresh garlic cloves
- Place in a jar and cover with 8 tablespoons of raw honey
- Let stand for several days, strain
- 1 tablespoon for children, 4 tablespoons for adults
The Cayenne pepper is native to Central and South America but has been used in fiery cuisine cultures across the world like Mexico, China, Southeast Asia, southern Italy, North American cajun and Caribbean Islands for a millennia.
If you have a spicy side, cayenne will be your new favorite spice cabinet staple– but not just for the yummy food. This type of Capsicum has been used for thousands of years to reduce pain and increase circulation. While the Aztec used cayenne to dull toothaches, the Maya used it as a remedy for infections. Cayenne is most famously used in traditional medicine as a topical for muscle pain and arthritis due to its ability to desensitize nerve endings. Internally, cayenne can be used for circulatory and digestive issues (1,2).
Cayenne contains an important compound called capsaicin making it an effective pain reliever when applied topically. When capsaicin is absorbed by the skin it binds to receptors that work to wipe out compounds responsible for producing pain sensations in the brain (1).
If you’re more of a sweet person than spicy, still consider keeping cayenne on hand to at least take advantage of the topical benefits!
- Circulatory booster
- Digestive aid
- Carminative (gas/bloat reducer)
- Add to drinks and food to relieve colds, fevers, sinus problems
- Beneficial for toothaches
- Digestive aid for diarrhea and constipation
- Helps increase circulation and decrease chills
- Use externally to treat arthritis, cold joints, cramps, muscle soreness, bodily aches
- Cold feet? Put in socks to heat up feet during the winter
Cayenne can be taken raw, powdered or cooked and used as a spice, tea, oil, or poultice. Mix with garlic, ginger, lemon and coriander for a delicious combination. As little as a small pinch for internal uses will benefit the body.
Cayenne Morning Fire Tonic
- Add a teaspoon of cayenne to warm lemon water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, teaspoon of ginger, teaspoon of cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of raw honey
- Stir and enjoy
- Wonderful for firing your digestion in the morning
Cayenne Oil for Muscle Pain
- Combine ½ teaspoon of cayenne powder with 1 cup of warm vegetable oil
- Apply to painful areas of the body
Cinnamon: a spice so wonderfully fragrant, that its aroma fills the air wherever you sprinkle it. Nowadays, you probably come into the most contact with cinnamon when you take a sip of a wintery drink or a bite of a warm bakery staple–but back in the day (2700 BC to be exact) China was using it to treat diarrhea, fever, and menstrual complaints– not just to add a little hint of sweet spice.
Modern Chinese medicine continues to use cinnamon for circulating vital energy throughout the body. Today, herbal medicine uses cinnamon for digestive issues and as a remedy for colds, coughs, flu, and chest infections.
More recently, cinnamon is being used to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce blood cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. A polyphenol compound, methylhydroxychalcone can found in cassia cinnamon and is thought to lower blood sugar levels and aid in the formation of glycogen. One study found a 29% improvement in fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels in people with type-2 diabetes (1).
In addition to internal use, cinnamons essential oils have antibacterial effects that can be beneficial for minor boo-boos–not to mention diffusing cinnamon oil has an amazing stimulating effect on the brain (2). So sprinkle it in your morning bulletproof and on your afternoon cottage cheese– or try one of the recipes below to capitalize on the medicinal properties of cinnamon.
- Colds, bronchitis, sinus congestion
- Boosts circulation (particularly helpful with anemia during menopause)
- Helps with lice and scabies
- Aids in digestion
- Relieves parasites, intestinal infections
- Use powdered cinnamon on minor scrapes and cuts for an antibacterial effect
- Cinnamon essential oil for mental fatigue, concentration, and depression
- Add a couple of drops of cinnamon leaf oil into diffuser to stimulate, refresh, and relieve nerves
- Try adding orange peel and basil to your cinnamon diffusion for a lovely invigorating aroma
Who doesn’t love a warm cinnamon roll? Seriously, they are the perfect Sunday morning treat. Try switching up your daily dose of cinnamon with these fluffy keto cinnamon rolls.
You probably use thyme to make your soups, stews, and meats extra flavorful but did you know that besides flavor enhancing properties, thyme also has extraordinary antiseptic properties?
The medicinal benefits of thyme date back to 1st century AD when Greeks used it for nervous conditions. In Medieval Europe and England, thyme was used as a therapy for everything from menstrual complaints to rheumatism and eventually became a staple cure for the flu and coughs. But it’s popularization is owed to its effective treatment of lung infections and digestive issues.
Today, herbalists continue to recommend thyme for colds, the flu, sore throats, bronchitis, and asthma. Thymes relaxing effect on stomach muscles and intestines make it a hard-hitting cure for digestive issues as well.
Thyme contains volatile oils such as thymol and carvacrol that account for its ability to inhibit bad bacteria, fungi, and viruses as well as expelling mucus (1).
Use thyme as an oil or spice for a range of health benefits!
- Digestive tonic
- Decoction or tincture for dispelling phlegm and and cough
- Decoction or syrup for digestive issues or intestinal infections
- Massage oil for to treat arthritis, cellulite, and gout or to relieve poor circulation or muscle/joint pain
- Diffuse or apply to ear lobes/behind neck/bottoms of feet to stimulate immune system and ease coughing
Thyme cough syrup
- Make decoction with ½ ounce thyme, 1 ounce chamomile, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, reduce heat and add raw honey
- Give 2-3 teaspoons to infants 4x daily
- Steep 1-2 tablespoons of fresh or dried thyme leaf and cover cup so that volatile oils do not evaporate
- Option to add raw honey to help coat back of throat
- Drink 2-3 times daily
Or try this savory keto chicken recipe to get your whole family in on the benefits of thyme.
You probably have a black pepper shaker sitting on your dinner table every night. If that’s true, you’re going to be psyched to hear about the health benefits of this food basic. In Sanskrit black pepper means sun probably due to its warming and comforting effects.
Black pepper has been used throughout history to treat sinusitis, nasal congestion, inflammation, poor digestion and pain relief. Black pepper also contains piperine which helps relieve pain (2). And all this time you thought black pepper was just a flavor enhancer.
But there’s more to black pepper than cracking it over some scrambled eggs. The pepper kernel can be used as a spice, tea, or oil. Combine black pepper with orange, cypress, ginger, lemon and basil for a flavor bursting effect like they do in Ayurvedic tradition. Or try an essential oil blend with lavender, rosemary, frankincense, or florals for an invigorating aroma.
- Circulatory booster
- Use in cooking to enhance healing properties
- Treat flatulence and indigestion by adding black pepper to your food daily
- Rub oil on chest or take internally to dispel mucus
- Use essential oil to ease muscle aches and pain
- Combine black pepper and ghee to heat any meal as a remedy for nasal congestion, sinusitis, and skin inflammation
Painful Joints Essential Oil Compress
- Add 3 drops black pepper, 2 drops marjoram, and 2 drops chamomile to a bowl of hot or cold water and apply to concerned area
Turmeric has been worshiped as a full body purifier and cleanser since at least 650 BC when the vibrant golden-orange spice’s description was etched on clay tablets as a stomach tonic. Turmeric was even honored in the Vedas, one of the oldest Hindu texts.
In traditional Chinese, Asian, and Indian medicine, turmeric was prescribed for digestive and liver disorders as well as jaundice, abdominal pain, skin infections, and arthritis (2). Modern medicine notes it as an anti-inflammatory spice that can help treat ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and eczema.
Turmeric’s potent anti-inflammatory properties can also work to reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and has proved to be beneficial in the reduction of symptoms in Crohn’s patients (1).
But the positive impact doesn’t stop there. Researchers are discovering now that turmeric can be used to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. Recent studies in animals also indicate that a daily dose of turmeric may protect you from Alzheimer’s disease (1). Scientists discovered a group of active compounds called curcumin that prevents the accumulation of plaque in the brain (1). Incorporate turmeric into your daily diet as a prevention and healing method or use externally to clean injuries.
- Take internally for energizing effect on immune system
- Use turmeric in a face or body mask to create an even skin tone or to treat skin disorders
- Apply topically on wounds and bruises for proper healing
- Incorporate into diet to tamp down inflammation and increase digestion
Daily Turmeric Capsule
- Add 2-3g of turmeric to a capsule for 60-100 mg of curcumin
- Take once a day
Blend up this keto friendly turmeric latte– it will warm you up and provide you will all the turmeric health benefits
Ready to dump out your medicine cabinet? Hippocrates would be proud. Gifts from the earth are the key to getting to the root of a health issue so you can heal. So make earthly food thy medicine. Try some of the recipes above and comment below and let me know your favorites!
- Johnson, Rebecca L., et al. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: the World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. National Geographic, 2014
- Shealy, C. Norman. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies. Thomsons, 2018.