Herbs and spices are most celebrated for their wondrous ability to elevate a dish from bland to irresistible with their intense and unique flavours. But since the spice trade began in 2000 BCE throughout South Asia and the Middle East, herbs and spices have also always been used for medicinal purposes.
Although different herbs and spices offer unique health benefits, most of them are well-known as having powerful antioxidant contents. In fact, amongst the top antioxidant foods, herbs and spices beat out all other categories with their mean antioxidant level. So what if we take some of the herbs and spices highest in antioxidant level and examined their respective health benefits?
What do the most powerful herbs and spices offer in terms of health benefits?
Allspice is a crucial ingredient in many Central American cuisines where the spice originates, but it has since been adopted by cultures all over the world. This fragrant ingredient has been credited for improved immune system, circulation, dental health, heart health, and even digestion[i].
Originally cultivated only in India, Basil has undoubtedly become one of the most popular herbs in a wide diversity of cuisines, from Asian to European. Its benefits include boosting the immune system, protecting the liver, blood vessels, and the heart, and reducing the risk of inflammation, diabetes, depression, and even cancers[ii].
3. Bay leaf
Bay leaf is most often used in soups and stews. Its flavours are so potent that usually only one or two leaves are required in a single dish. And its medicinal properties are equally powerful, as they’ve been studied to have antibacterial and antifungal effects, as well as supporting the nervous system.
We know and love cinnamon with its strong association with fall flavours, but did you know that cinnamon is also well-known for its ability to control blood sugar level by lowering insulin resistance[iii]? In fact, it’s actually been used a treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Clove has a lot of antioxidant components, but one significant component called eugenol has been studied to come with some pretty prestigious health benefits, including protection from toxic pollutants, joint inflammations, and even digestive tract cancers[iv].
Mints are perhaps some of the most loved and versatile herbs. Each specific mint species will vary in terms of nutritional value and health benefits, but they are all generally great sources of antioxidants. Some of mint’s health benefits include improving digestion, headaches, nausea, skin health, and even asthma[v].
Nutmeg is another delicious spice that is strongly associated with fall flavours. While it’s not advised to consume large amounts of nutmeg, small doses can actually help regulate sleep, relieve anxiety, and soothe joints and muscles.
It’s no surprise that oregano is on this list, as oregano is already one of the most potent natural antibiotics. Its main health benefits are its antibacterial properties, anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its anti-cancer components[vi].
We don’t often think of rosemary as anything more than its unique and pleasing aroma, but this popular roasting herb is actually very high in antioxidants. Rosemary is known for its ability to reduce anxiety and elevate mood, protect brain health, relieve pain, and help treat arthritis with its powerful anti-inflammatory properties[vii].
Saffron is an aromatic and powerful herb that originates from Southwest Asia, and is a staple in many cuisines including Indian, Persian, Turkish, Arab, and some European. This spice is not only packed with antioxidants, it also offers various vitamins and essential minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus[viii].
Sage is another herb that is used sparingly in cooking due to its potent flavours, as it stands up well even in the most flavourful meat dishes. This earthy and refreshing herb has been studied to improve memory in general and also for those for those with Alzheimer’s disease[ix].
Thyme is a popular roasting herb known for its lemony and peppery notes. It also comes with a long list of health benefits that include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, offering protection against food poisoning, reducing the risk of cancer, and also lifting your mood[x].
Are you surprised by some of these high-antioxidant herbs and spices? Share with us your favourite recipes and what you use these herbs and spices for!