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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine
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GreenWise - December 2004

5 Healing Spices

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Spices Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
The secret to cardamom's health benefits lies in a powerful phytochemical called cineole, which has positive effects on several bodily complaints. Because cineole can help break up chest congestion, cardamom is an obvious choice when battling bronchitis, laryngitis, and colds. This tasty spice fights sore throats and liver problems, as well. While cardamom is generally safe, posing no more risk than a cup of coffee, people with gallstones should talk with an herb-savvy physician before taking it as a tea or supplement.

Cayenne (Capsicum spp.)
Like cardamom, cayenne possesses a mighty phytochemical. In cayenne's case, the substance is capsaicin, found in peppers and spices from the mild (bell pepper, paprika) to the mouth warming (jalapeno chile, cayenne). The greater the heat, the greater the concentration of capsaicin. This phytochemical has proved so successful in dampening itching and pain that it's used in over-the-counter as well as prescription ointments. Capsaicin helps alleviate the aches of joint problems, cluster headaches, shingles, skin problems, and diabetic neuropathy.

Cayenne and other capsaicin-containing spices and peppers also boost heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, they improve digestion and reduce gas, and may even help prevent and treat cancer. Despite its hot taste, cayenne actually sets off a "cooling center" in your brain, bringing your body temperature down.

Cayenne is as safe as cardamom, but keep it away from eyes and broken skin or you'll feel burning. Experiencing a burning sensation is also normal the first few times you use a capsaicin-containing topical ointment, but this sensation should subside with continued use.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum, C. verum)
Take advantage of one of grandma's favorites. Cinnamon's healing powers are myriad. And its flavor is mild enough to invite a dash in hot drinks and cold sweets, on fruits, and even in stews and soups. This spice's phytochemical compounds help control blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Cinnamon can also keep ulcers from worsening, as well as prevent second ulcers from developing after first ulcers have abated.

Like cayenne, cinnamon reduces pain, whether for sore throats or menstrual cramps. It's also useful for indigestion and intestinal spasms, bronchitis, colds, fevers, and mouth inflammation.

In addition, dried cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, which may protect against diseases related to oxidative damage, including atherosclerosis, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Cinnamon is very safe; only the most sensitive will react to this spice when it is used topically. But taken as a supplement or concentrated in tea, it may lessen the effect of tetracycline.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger has gained a reputation for soothing the stomach. When suffering from indigestion, motion sickness, or postoperative nausea, reach for ginger. Two phytochemicals - gingerol and shogaol - fight stomach distress by staving off the urge to vomit and helping the stomach to keep food moving in the right direction through the GI tract. Other substances in this spice quell dizziness and neutralize stomach acids. Ginger also lessens inflammation and pain, brings more blood to injured areas, and can help in treating ulcers.

Powerful antioxidants in ginger help prevent blood clotting and improve cholesterol levels. Like cinnamon, it may have preventive powers against oxidative diseases such as atherosclerosis and cancer.

Ginger's cineole, the same powerful phytochemical found in cardamom, acts as an expectorant and dissipates bad breath. Even in supplement form, ginger is safe unless you have gallbladder problems. If so, check with a doctor before ingesting.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
"Super" spice turmeric adds the yellow to curry and American-style mustard. The antioxidants curcumin and curcuminoid make turmeric tops at alleviating arthritis and other forms of inflammation and swelling. Evidence supports the theory that turmeric also defends against some kinds of cancer - breast, lung, colon, and melanoma - by reducing tumors, neutralizing certain cancer-causing compounds, and stopping cancer-producing changes in cells. Athlete's foot benefits from an application of turmeric oil, while the painful swelling of bunions can be reduced by application of grated turmeric. Upset stomachs will be soothed, fats are better digested, and cholesterol may be lowered. If you're cooking with this spice, toss in some black pepper, too. A substance in pepper called piperine greatly increases your body's ability to benefit from turmeric.

Turmeric is a safe spice that's a natural alternative to dangerous Cox-2-inhibitors like Vioxx®. But it has blood-thinning properties, so if you're a hemophiliac or considering surgery, don't use this healing spice except occasionally in cooking.

The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook by James A. Duke, PhD ($6.99, St. Martin's, 2000)
Dr. Duke's Essential Herbs by James A. Duke, PhD ($14.95, Rodale Press, 2000)

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