Eight of the World's Healthiest Spices & Herbs You Should Be Eating

By: Laurie S. Herr

People around the world have known for centuries about the healing power of herbs and spices. Here's the science behind why they are so good for you, and tips for how to get your fill.

Spices & Herbs

A sprinkle of cinnamon in your morning coffee. A handful of freshly chopped basil over pasta. You know how herbs and spices can wake up just about any food. But they can also do a lot to keep you well. Here are the health benefits of some of our favorite herbs and spices—plus delicious ways to use them.

Important: Some herbs in large doses can cause side effects or interact with medications. Use moderation, and tell your doctor about any herbal supplements you take.

1. Turmeric

Turmeric Latte

Pictured Recipe: Turmeric Latte

May help: Ease inflammation, slow cancer, treat depression and other conditions

This golden spice delivers some solid-gold benefits. That's thanks to its high amounts of curcumin, a powerful antioxidant. Studies show curcumin can help treat a range of health problems, from minor toothaches to chronic conditions like arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. Researchers are also studying its potential as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, as well as colon, prostate and breast cancers. Results of a small clinical trial, published in 2014, boosted evidence that curcumin may be a safe and effective treatment for depression.

Related: Why Turmeric Is So Good for You

2. Ginger

Herbal Chamomile Health Tonic

Pictured Recipe: Herbal Chamomile Health Tonic

May help: Soothe nausea, fight arthritis pain

Ginger is well-known for easing a queasy stomach. Studies show it can help soothe morning sickness, as well as nausea from surgery or chemotherapy. And while there's no hard evidence it works, many people take ginger for motion sickness.

Ginger is also packed with gingerols, inflammation-fighting compounds which some experts believe may help fight some cancers, reduce osteoarthritis pain and soothe sore muscles. In one study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days had 25 percent less muscle pain when they exercised, compared to those who took a placebo. Another study found that ginger-extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis-related knee pain.

Related: Health Benefits of Ginger

3. Cayenne Pepper

Chile-Lime Peanuts

Pictured Recipe: Chile-Lime Peanuts

May help: Tame appetite, boost metabolism

A dash of cayenne pepper with your dinner may give your weight-loss efforts a tiny boost, especially if you're not used to spicy stuff. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, the compound that gives fresh chiles—and spices like cayenne and paprika—their kick. Studies show capsaicin bumps up the body's metabolic rate, helping you burn slightly more calories. It may also stimulate brain chemicals that help tame hunger.

In a six-week study by Purdue University, 25 people—some spicy food fans, some not—had about a half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper with a daily meal. Those who didn't eat spicy foods regularly were less hungry and had fewer cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. The researchers say it's cayenne's hot taste (especially for those not used to it) that leads to the benefits.

Related: Chile Pepper & Other Spicy Recipes

4. Cinnamon

Apple-Cinnamon Fruit Bars

Pictured Recipe: Apple-Cinnamon Fruit Bars

May help: Reduce added sugars in your diet, control blood sugar

The American Heart Association recommends using sweet spices like cinnamon to add flavor instead of sugar and other sweeteners. Most Americans eat way too much sugar, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions.

Some studies suggest cinnamon may help lower blood sugar spikes for people with type 2 diabetes. Results have been mixed, though, so more studies are needed.

Related: Healthy Cinnamon Recipes

5. Garlic

Garlic & Parmesan Roasted Carrots

Pictured Recipe: Garlic & Parmesan Roasted Carrots

May help: Lower high blood pressure, boost immunity

With its potent bioactive compounds and other nutrients, garlic may be good for much more than warding off vampires. Treatments with garlic extracts, powders and supplements have been found to significantly lower high blood pressure. In one study of more than 200 people with hypertension, taking daily garlic supplements reduced blood pressure as effectively as the beta-blocker drug atenolol.

And, although some experts say the evidence is iffy, several studies suggest garlic supplements may help prevent colds and speed recovery.

Related: Healthy Garlic Recipes

6. Peppermint

Iced Mint Green Tea

Pictured Recipe: Iced Mint Green Tea

May help: Boost mood and improve focus, relieve IBS symptoms, ease nausea

Having a bad day? Brew a pot of peppermint tea. Research suggests the minty aroma may help lift mood and sharpen fuzzy thinking. Some studies suggest the scent may also soothe an upset stomach. In one small study, women who sniffed peppermint spirits after surgery reported much less nausea than those on a placebo or anti-nausea meds.

While more research is needed in those areas, multiple studies show peppermint oil can ease pain from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Experts think it works by reducing bloating and relaxing muscles in the colon.

Related: 4 Really Cool (and Surprising) Benefits of Peppermint

7. Oregano

Homemade Pizza Sauce

Pictured Recipe: Homemade Pizza Sauce

May help: Boost heart health, fight infections

These tiny but mighty leaves boast many nutrients, including vitamins K and E, calcium, iron, manganese and fiber. And oregano is sky-high in antioxidants. In fact, an analysis by the American Chemical Society found that just 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano has as much antioxidant activity as a medium apple and that oregano has 20 times more antioxidant power than many other herbs and four times more than blueberries, one of the richest sources of antioxidants around.

All that's good news for your heart—and more. Antioxidants prevent cell damage caused by free radicals, helping fend off heart disease, stroke and cancer. Plus, oregano has phytonutrients that help fight infections.

Related: 6 Foolproof Herbs for Gardening Newbies

8. Rosemary

Rosemary-Ginger Honey Simple Syrup

Pictured Recipe: Rosemary-Ginger Honey Simple Syrup

May help: Improve brain function and mood, promote hair growth

A member of the mint family, rosemary is prized both for its flavor and its fragrance. Studies show its woodsy scent helps improve concentration and may boost mood. Recent studies suggest that rosemary, even in the small amounts common in cooking, may help prevent cognitive decline in older people.

One other benefit for your noggin: Rosemary can fight hair loss. In one 2015 study, researchers compared rosemary oil to minoxidil, a common treatment for balding. The group that treated their scalps with rosemary oil had similar hair growth (and less scalp itching) over six months compared to those who used the medication.

Related: Healthy Rosemary Recipes

Watch: How to Make 3 Healthy Homemade Vinaigrettes

Some original reporting by Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D.