Spice up your life with these herbs, roots, and plants that benefit your health as much as they do your taste buds: From keeping your heart healthy and your arteries clear to reducing pain and warding off cancer, these everyday flavors will add a healthy punch to all your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
1. Chili Peppers
Add some heat to your dish with chili peppers — and choose versions that are especially spicy to get the maximum amount of capsaicin. Capsacin, the ingredient that provides the plants with their spice, also has medical benefits that include pain relief, heart health, fighting prostate cancer, and stopping ulcers. If you’re ready to take on the hottest peppers out there, try habanero or Scotch bonnet; for less of a jolt, try jalapenos, Spanish pimentos, or cherry peppers.
You already love cinnamon in pumpkin pie, cinnamon rolls, raisin bread, and cinnamon sugar topping, but there are healthier ways to reap the benefits of this power spice: Add it to your coffee, sprinkle it on oatmeal, stir it into peanut butter for celery sticks, and dash on sweet potatoes or carrots. While it brings out (and warms up) the flavors in the foods it is paired with, cinnamon will also help keep your arteries healthy, manage blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol.
Brightly-colored turmeric comes from the same family of spices as ginger — which means both plants can reduce inflammation in arthritis patients (and may block the formation of some cancers). Try it in a curry chicken dish from Planet Green’s Kelly Rossiter — and then add black pepper, since that tabletop staple is believed to help the body absorb turmeric for maximum effect.
It’s easy to ignore that little piece of parsley that always arrives next to your main dish, especially when it seems little more than a decoration (even if the bright flavor does fight bad breath).
But this early spring green has been connected to health since the days of the Romans, and today its supporters believe the herb helps pass kidney stones, battle deafness, and prevent buildup in the arteries.
When you shake extra oregano onto your slice at the local pizza joint you aren’t just adding some classic Italian flavor to your pepperoni-and-mushroom: Oregano is a major source of thymol and carvacol — two antibacterial agents that fight off infection — and has quadruple the antioxidants of blueberries. Like thyme, it’s easy to grow at home and adds traditional flavor to any dish whether you use it fresh or dried.
Love garlic or hate it, you can’t deny that it’s good for you: As a staple of natural remedies and traditional medicine, garlic has anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiviral effects, and some studies show that it can stop blood clots from forming in your arteries. It’s also an easy spice to add into your diet: Try it in pasta sauce, on pizza, roasted with other vegetables, or finely chopped in homemade spreads.
The strong flavor of thyme pairs well with comfort food — think wintry soups, stews, and roasts — and it’s easy to grow at home with full sun and well-drained soil, so you can use it fresh or dried all year-round.
But the health benefits go beyond warm soup on a cold night: The herb’s oil is antiseptic and antibacterial, and recent studies show thyme can kill MRSA infections, which are resistant to other antibiotics.