By Cheshire Que, RND, RN, RD
Herbs and spices are widely known for their culinary uses and applications yet their medicinal uses are often overlooked in the modern world we live in. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how the herbs and spices benefit your health in the same way they delight your culinary senses?
Here are common and locally available herbs and spices recognized for their medicinal uses as studied by renowned experts in the field of nutrition and dietetics, Dr. Virginia Serraon Claudio and Dr. Adela Jamorabo-Ruiz.
1. Basil – Belonging to the mint family, this sweet, spicy, and aromatic leaf is often used in salads, tomato dishes, and Italian cuisine. It helps calm the nervous system making it a natural tranquilizer.
2. Bay leaves – Commonly used in oriental dishes and our very own adobo and lechon sauces. Bay leaves or laurel aids in proper digestion. It also enhances insulin utilization in the body thus beneficial to individuals with insulin resistance or diabetes.
3. Cilantro or coriander leaves – An herb that has a strong aroma widely used in Chinese dishes. Wansoy as it is also known, wards off infection of the urinary tract and relieves symptoms of diarrhea and cystitis.
4. Lemongrass – This grassy blade flavors Muslim and Bicolano dishes. It is also used as a stuffing for lechon. Tanglad or lemongrass tea soothes a queasy stomach and relieves bloating.
5. Oregano – Having a spicy, strong aromatic flavor and pleasantly bitter taste, oregano is used in Spanish, Mexican, and Italian cooking as well as the Filipino paksiw and estofado. The oregano’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties can be attributed to a compound called rosmarinic acid that promotes a healthy digestion and relieves symptoms of colds, cough, and flu.
6. Pandan – This slender long blade of grass is used as a flavoring for teas, beverages, and desserts. Rice is sometimes cooked with pandan leaves, which give it the sweetest aroma reminiscent of my childhood days. Pulverized dried pandan leaves can be applied to wounds to facilitate healing.
7. Parsley – This mild flavored herb that look like clusters of tiny leaves is often used as a garnish and seasoning for soups, sauces, salads, dressings, and marinades. Parsley is commonly discarded after adding aesthetic appeal to dishes putting the many benefits it possesses to waste. It is a diuretic and also a remedy for urinary tract infection, colic, anemia, and arthritis. It stimulates milk flow and menstruation.
8. Chili pepper – Used fresh or dried in Filipino and Mexican dishes, this fruit pod from the capsicum plant is locally known as siling labuyo. This spice is hot in the real sense of the word and works well for cold hands and feet as it promotes good blood circulation. It also soothes the digestive system, relieves colds, sore throat, and fever.
9. Pepper and peppercorn – This pungent, sneeze-inducing spice comes in black and white varieties. Paminta and butil ng paminta are usually paired with salt to season dishes. This spice eases flatulence, stomach, constipation, and improves circulation.
10. Saffron – The orange-yellow, bitter tasting, needle-like spice considered to be the most expensive spice. Typically used in Middle Eastern cuisine and a key ingredient in making paella and risotto. Saffron helps with digestive and urinary problems. It eases menstrual cramps, depression, diarrhea, and neuralgic (nerve) pain.
Now that we have been enlightened by the wonders of these herbs and spices, I recommend regularly incorporating them into your recipes instead of taking large amounts. Do not discontinue any medications against your physician’s advice.