Health Benefits of Indian Spices

Indian  cooking is characterized by the use of a variety of spices and herbs. People
often refer to Indian food as “spicy”. This does not mean Indian food is hot
(though sometimes it can be). It means Indian food is flavorful.
For centuries, Indian cooks have been using spices to make the food flavorful. But
often times along with taste and flavor, these spices make Indian food good for
health too. Almost all Indian spices have some health benefits or medicinal
properties. Some health benefits are pretty pronounced and can be observed
relatively quickly. At other times the benefits are subtle and may take some
time to be noticed.
Medical literature and scientific studies lists a  variety of health benefits and medicinal properties of Indian herbs and spices.  The benefits range from aphrodisiac properties to blood sugar and cholesterol
reducing properties, from relief of morning sickness and sore throat to treating
heart ailments – the list goes on. It is neither the scope of this Web page nor
am I qualified to discuss these in great details. Listed below are some well
recognized health benefits of some of the more commonly used spices in Indian
cooking.

Listing of common Indian herbs & spices and their health  benefits

Anise  Seed: (Hindi name: Choti Saunf, Suwa, Shopa)
Aids  digestion and memory. Tea made with it, when cooled, can be used as wash for
oily skin.

Asafoetida: (Hindi name:  Hing)
Aids digestion and prevents gas formation. That is
why Indians use it in many lentil dishes (Dal).

Bay Leaf: (Hindi name: Tej Patta)
Bay leaves are often used as a natural headache
remedy. They are also used as herbal cold remedies.

Cardamom: (Hindi name: Elaichi)
This versatile spice is included in  a wide range of dishes, from Indian curries to desserts and teas. It’s believed
to counteract stomach acidity, stimulate appetite, ease nausea, cure bad breath,
and relieve gas and bloating. Cardamom has also been used as both an aphrodisiac
and to fight obesity. But more study needs to be done on how well it may aid
weight loss. And aphrodisiac? Well we like to believe that every exotic thing is
an aphrodisiac.

Cayenne Pepper (Red Chili): (Hindi name: Lal Mirch)
This super hot spice  is a powerhouse of healing many things – too numerous to list here. Some of its
benefits include speeding of metabolism, relief of aches and pains of arthritis
and other pains due to sprains, strains, and bruises (Capsaicin Cream is made
from cayenne pepper), warms body and stimulates blood flow, prevents blood
clots, heals ulcers, effectively relieves symptoms of cold and flu, dramatically
reduces blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, treats high blood pressure, improves
heart health, kills certain cancer cells, immediately stops heart attack … the
list goes on. Health benefits of cayenne pepper have been listed in numerous
places in the Internet. Extensive information is available at this site. Hot
chili peppers (any color) are also considered as aphrodisiacs.

Cinnamon: (Hindi name:  Dalchini)
This spice is a rich source of antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, eases digestion, and reduces both sugar and
cholesterol levels in the blood. It also helps stimulate blood flow and is a
herbal remedy for poor circulation. Cinnamon also has the reputation of being an
aphrodisiac.

Cloves: (Hindi name:  Laung, Lavang)
The active compounds in clove lend it  anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It also has some anti-inflammatory
effect. Clove oil is widely used to treat toothache.

Coriander seeds: (Hindi name:  Dhania)
These seeds of the cilantro plant has  antibacterial properties. It also helps soothe the stomach and relieve bloating.
It also has anti-inflammatory properties and coriander oil is a natural remedy
for arthritis pain.
Cumin seeds: (Hindi  name: Jeera)
As a traditional herbal remedy its uses include : diuretic (helps the body shed water), relieve diarrhea and bowel
spasms, relieve morning sickness, and ease carpal tunnel
syndrome.

Fennel seeds: (Hindi name:  Moti Saunf, Saunf)
Not only loaded with powerful  antioxidants fennel also contains fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. It is
believed to boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, and aid in
detoxification of the body. It contains compounds that help relieve smooth
muscle spasms, which in effect, helps ease abdominal cramping and spasms. Fennel
seeds are a natural remedy for bloating and gas. Chew a teaspoonful of fennel
seeds after each meal to prevent gas. Fennel seeds also prevent bad breath. That
is why Indians chew fennel seeds after meals.

Fenugreek  seeds: (Hindi name: Methi, Methi Daane)
Like many of the other herbs and spices used in Indian cooking, the ground seeds of fenugreek
have anti-inflammatory properties and help in digestion. Fenugreek seeds are
also believed to reduce blood sugar levels and have been used as natural
supplement for use with insulin. Fenugreek seeds are also a potent expectorant,
and is used for natural remedies to ease congestion, allergies, and bronchitis.
Paste of fenugreek seeds applied to the scalp and later rinsed off with a
dandruff shampoo is an effective treatment for
dandruff.

Garlic: (Hindi name: Lassun)
Garlic is considered as natural remedy for a number of ailments. The important uses include treatment of acne, for
cardiovascular health and for lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure, as
an anti-bacterial agent, as an anti-arthritic agent (to treat joint pains), to
improve digestion and so forth. It also helps the body to produce certain
antioxidants which have benefial effects on the liver. In India people still rub
warmed cooking oil with crushed garlic in it on the chest and back (particularly
of babies, but adults also) to relieve chest congestion due to
cold.

Ginger: (Hindi name:  Adrak)
Ginger is used to treat many things including nausea from morning sickness and nausea related to motion sickness (travel
sickness). Its anti-inflammatory properties help ease muscle and joint pain. It
also has a diaphoretic property (promotes sweating) and so is used to cleanse
and detoxify the body, stimulate circulation, and ease bronchitis and
congestion. Adding crushed ginger to tea while steeping it, is a common practice
in India and is often used as household remedy for throat pain and cough due to
common cold. Ginger is also considered as an aphrodisiac.

Onion:  (Hindi name: Piyaz)
Onions, and other members of the same botanical family like garlic, chives, leeks, scallions, and shallots, are highly
useful herbs possessing great culinary and medicinal values. Some of their
beneficial effects are seen only after long-term usage. Onion may be a useful
herb for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, especially since it
diminishes the risk of blood clots. Onions also protect against stomach and
other cancers, as well as protect against certain infections. Onions can improve
lung function, especially in asthmatics. The more pungent varieties of onion
appear to possess the greatest concentration of health-promoting
phytochemicals.

Turmeric: (Hindi name:  Haldi)
This bright yellow spice,  one of the most important spices for cooking “curries”, has many medicinal
properties. (Turmeric is one of the main ingredients of “curry powder”.) Its
primary antioxidant, curcumin, is an essential ingredient for liver detox, and
is also a natural arthritis treatment for its anti-inflammatory effects. The
latest scientific studies are showing that turmeric may also be a promising diet
aid that fights belly fat by inhibiting the growth of fat cells. Turmeric is
even used to treat certain forms of cancer (along with conventional treatment).
A paste made out of turmeric and quick lime (“Chuna” in Hindi) and applied to
the affected part is very commonly used in India as an effective home remedy for
sprains.

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