5 of the Most Popular Spices and Their Uses

5 Of The Most Popular Spices And Their UsesAs the winter evenings grow longer, we traditionally start to think of things that make us feel warm, happy and healthy! Culinary spices often fall into this category, particularly as spices are often added to various celebratory dishes. However, spices have medicinal benefits too. Five of the most popular spices that are used during the winter months are ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and black pepper.

1. Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) was one of several valued spices that was traded on the spice routes out of Asia and ended up in Medieval Europe. Ginger is used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The medicinal part of ginger is extracted from the rhizome root of the small, perennial herb. Medicinally, ginger has been used in Arabic, Indian and Asian traditional medicine for centuries (source).

Some of the medicinal uses of ginger include:

  • nausea and vomiting – including pregnancy related nausea and travel sickness
  • indigestion
  • arthritis
  • rheumatism
  • catarrh.

(source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless)

Medicinal Uses of Nutmeg

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is another of the spices that is frequently used in culinary dishes. The nutmeg tree, which grows up to 65 feet in height, produces seeds that, once dried, are used for medicinal purposes. Nutmeg is primarily used for digestive complaints (such as nausea, indigestion and flatulence) but other medicinal uses of nutmeg include:

  • arthritis
  • rheumatism
  • bacterial infections.

(source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless)

Medicinal Uses of Cinnamon

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), an ancient Eastern traditional medicine, has various parts that can be used for medicinal purposes (however, see cautions below). Both the leaves and the bark of the tropical cinnamon tree are used for medicinal purposes. Cinnamon has the following medicinal uses:

  • digestive complaints
  • colds and flu nervous
  • exhaustion
  • rheumatism diabetes – clinical studies show that the use of cinnamon is valuable to regulating blood sugar levels in people who suffer from diabetes (source).

(source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless)

Medicinal Uses of Clove

The clove plant (Eugenia caryophyllus) also produces various parts that are used for medicinal purposes; the buds, leaves and stalks of the tropical, evergreen tree are all used in traditional medicine (however, see cautions below). Use clove for the following medicinal uses:

  • digestive complaints such as nausea and dyspepsia
  • asthma
  • colds and flu
  • acne
  • as an insect repellent.

(source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless)

Medicinal Uses of Black Pepper

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) has been used for over 4,000 years in traditional medicine. According to Lawless, Indian monks used to swallow between 7 and 9 grains of pepper a day to help them maintain the endurance needed to walk the daily distances that they covered. The seeds (or dried berries) of the perennial pepper vine are used for medicinal purposes; these include:

  • arthritis
  • poor circulation
  • nausea
  • flatulence
  • heartburn
  • colds and flu
  • colic.

(source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless)

Cautions For Using Spices for Medicinal Uses

Spices are used in various formats for medicinal purposes; for example, they might be used as an essential oil in aromatherapy or as actual plant parts in herbal medicine. The way in which they are used will dictate which part of the plant should be used and how. Plants are chemically composed in different ways, depending on whether they are used as an oil or in whole parts (and different parts of the plant are also composed differently).

Several of the spices mentioned in this article (in particular, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon) are made up of what can be described as “hazardous” chemical components. You need to understand the plant profile of each spice and when and how it can (or cannot) be used. This is particularly important if you are pregnant, breast feeding, a child, are taking certain prescribed medications or have a medical condition. Consult a qualified health care practitioner for further advice.

However, if you use these popular spices in a safe way, you will not only add a bit of spice to your next culinary dish but help to heal a common winter health problem too!


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