In recent history, especially the thirty years between the nineteen seventies and nineties, the nation was bombarded with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Health became so bad that many cited a “bad health epidemic.” During those years, the nation’s health was the worst it had ever been. The good news is that the current two generations, the young adults and the children who are quickly becoming adults, have come into their own in an age of information. They are more concerned with health and can easily learn about it. Nutrition plays a bigger role in their lives than that of their parents and grandparents. For example, they know what trans-fats and gluten are, and how it effects the body; their grandparents, generally speaking, never even heard the word gluten.
I have noticed in my work (and play) that people under thirty-five years old cook at home more than their parents did when these now adults were children. They prefer “wild” food that is plant based and usually buy the organic option. They are very much concerned with what is in their food and what it does inside the body. With more people cooking at home, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at some common herbs and spices. I’ll begin with one that is in virtually every American household.
Peppercorns are the fruit of the pepper plant and are most commonly used ground. However, the whole peppercorn may be consumed as well. White, green, and red peppercorns all come from the same plant. Harvesting them at different stages of maturity is what causes the different colors, taste and effects on the body.
Black pepper is antibacterial and antiseptic. It is also carminitive meaning it relieves colic, flatulence and gastric discomfort. It is a tasty digestive aid. It is also diaphoretic in that it will induce sweating keeping colds and influenza pathogens in check. Interestingly, it is what is known as a sialogogue. It makes the mouth produce more saliva. This is important for food absorption. It is the saliva that begins to prepare the food for correct absorption and digestion once it enters the blood stream. Black pepper is also a catalyst for other spices such as turmeric.
Turmeric is one of the spices that has grown in popularity among younger people. It is know known that it is one of the most healthy herbs to consume. The part of the plant used is the rhizome (a root) and it must be ground. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. The active ingredient in black pepper is piperine. Piperine increases the absorption of curcumin by two thousand percent.
Turmeric is antioxidant, antibacterial and lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also anti-inflammatory, so it is good for people with asthma, arthritis and those at risk of heart disease.
My favorite, basil leaves, are high in antioxidants that protect the cells of the body. There are several types of basil plants including Thai basil that has a distinct licorice flavor. Basil leaves are also antibacterial, to ward off infection, and anti-inflammatory. Basil leaves usually have a strong flavor, but they are not only used to ramp up our food.
Basil contains cinnamanic acid. Research has shown that this compound has a positive affect on circulation, respiration and blood sugar levels, therefore making it an important staple in a healthy diet as well as adding flavor to our food.
Oregano, a fairly common spice, is like many other herbs antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Oregano has a high content of macronutrients as well as micronutrients, including essential omega- three fatty acids. This herb contains an abundance of nutrients such as fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamins A, C and K. It is nature’s favor to us! Oregano is helpful to people with sore muscle, respiratory conditions, and it also wards off infections.
Delicious when paired with garlic, rosemary, like black pepper, is carminitive and tones the digestive tract. It relieves indigestion. It is antiseptic as well as anti-spasmodic making it helpful to cramped muscles. Rosemary is an emmenogogue meaning that it will stimulate menstruation.
Rosemary has some benefits that we do not usually think of. For example, rosemary increases circulation to the brain improving focus and even memory!
How exciting is it to know that all of these health benefits are right on our dinner plates? We definitely do not get these effects from What-a-Burger. So, next meal time think about what a favor you are doing yourself by cooking and eating nutritious foods at home, and most importantly, enjoy!
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