9 of the World's Healthiest Spices & Herbs You Should Be Eating
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.
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.
Pictured Recipe: Turmeric Latte
May help: Ease inflammation, slow cancer, lowers type 2 diabetes risk, 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. It has also been shown to guard against type 2 diabetes by regulating the body's balance of adipokines, a family of hormone-like substances that regulate blood sugar. Curcumin can also help combat pain, inflammation and metabolic syndrome.
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
Pictured Recipe: Herbal Chamomile Health Tonic
May help: Soothe nausea, fight arthritis pain, soothes migraines
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.
Got migraines? This spice has been found to provide all-natural relief, according to a Phytotherapy Research study of 100 migraine sufferers. Volunteers who downed 250 mg (about 1/8 tsp.) of powdered ginger reported similar headache relief as those who popped 50 mg of the prescription medication sumatriptan (Imitrex), without any of the drug-related side effects, such as dizziness, spaciness and heartburn.
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
Pictured Recipe: Chile-Lime Peanuts
May help: Tame appetite, boost metabolism, fight off foodborne pathogens
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.
Not only will it help you feel more satisfied, but also it can make your food safer. Even in small amounts, the cinnamic acid in this fiery chile powder can kill foodborne pathogens, such as Listeria and Salmonella, according to a study in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Cayenne also delivers capsidiol, a plant chemical that protects against H. pylori, the most frequent cause of stomach ulcers
Related: Chile Pepper & Other Spicy Recipes
Pictured Recipe: Cinnamon Roll Overnight Oats
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.
Cutting salt isn't the only path to lower blood pressure. A 2020 Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition meta-analysis reported that consuming 2g of ground cinnamon daily (about 3/4 tsp.) lowered blood pressure by an average of 7.2/2.8 mmHg, similar to effects from low-dose meds. This spice doesn't work its magic overnight; the best results came from studies lasting at least 3 months. Experts aren't sure how cinnamon controls blood pressure, but they suspect that it may open blood vessels, improving blood flow to the heart, so it doesn't have to work as hard.
Related: Healthy Cinnamon Recipes
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
Pictured Recipe: Lemon, Cucumber & Mint Infused Water
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.
Pictured Recipe: Italian Seasoning Recipe
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.
Pictured Recipe: Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon
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
9. Black Peppercorns
May help: Reduce cancer risk
Piperine, a naturally occurring compound that gives peppercorns their kick, may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including those of the breast, lung, prostate, ovaries and digestive tract, according to a 2019 Applied Sciences review. There are several mechanisms at play, but one of the key benefits of piperine is that it can trigger apoptosis, a biochemical process that tells cells to self-destruct before they have the chance to grow out of control and form tumors.
Pictured Recipe: Black Pepper Crab