The use of herbs and spices has been incredibly important throughout history.
Many were celebrated for their medicinal properties, well before culinary use.
Modern science has now shown that many of them do indeed carry remarkable health benefits.
Here are 10 of the world’s healthiest herbs and spices, supported by research.
Cinnamon is a popular spice, found in all sorts of recipes and baked goods.
It contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which is responsible for cinnamon’s medicinal properties (1).
Cinnamon has potent antioxidant activity, helps fight inflammation and has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood (2, 3, 4).
But where cinnamon really shines is in its effects on blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon can lower blood sugar by several mechanisms, including by slowing the breakdown of carbs in the digestive tract and improving insulin sensitivity (5, 6, 7, 8).
Studies have shown that cinnamon can lower fasting blood sugars by 10-29% in diabetic patients, which is a significant amount (9, 10, 11).
The effective dose is typically 0.5-2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day, or 1-6 grams.
You can read more about the impressive health benefits of cinnamon in this article.
BOTTOM LINE:Cinnamon has numerous health benefits, and is particularly effective at lowering blood sugar levels.
Sage gets its name from the Latin word Salvere, which means “to save.”
It had a strong reputation for its healing properties during the middle ages, and was even used to help prevent the plague.
Current research indicates that sage may be able to improve brain function and memory, especially in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is accompanied by a drop in the level of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain. Sage inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine (12).
In a 4-month study of 42 individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, sage extract was shown to produce significant improvements in brain function (13).
Other studies have also shown that sage can improve memory function in healthy people, both young and old (14, 15).
BOTTOM LINE:There is promising evidence that sage extract can improve brain and memory function, especially in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
Peppermint has a long history of use in folk medicine and aromatherapy.
As is the case with many herbs, it is the oily component that contains the agents responsible for the health effects.
Many studies have shown that peppermint oil can improve pain management in irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS (16, 17, 18).
It appears to work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the colon, which relieves pain experienced during bowel movements. It also helps to reduce abdominal bloating, which is a common digestive symptom (19, 20).
There are also some studies showing that peppermint in aromatherapy can help fight nausea.
In a study of over 1,100 women in labor, peppermint aromatherapy caused significant reductions in nausea. It has also been shown to reduce nausea after surgery and C-section births (21, 22, 23, 24).
BOTTOM LINE:The natural oil in peppermint provides pain relief for those with IBS. It also has potent anti-nausea effects when used in aromatherapy.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color.
It contains several compounds with medicinal properties, the most important of which is curcumin (25).
Curcumin is a remarkably powerful antioxidant, helping to fight oxidative damage and boosting the body’s own antioxidant enzymes (26, 27, 28, 29, 30).
This is important, because oxidative damage is believed to be one of the key mechanisms behind ageing and many diseases.
Curcumin is also strongly anti-inflammatory, to the point where it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs (31).
Given that long-term, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic Western disease, it is not suprising to see that curcumin is linked to a variety of health benefits.
Studies suggest that it can improve brain function, fight Alzheimer’s, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and relieve arthritis, to name a few (32, 33, 34, 35, 36).