Adding herbs and spices to your food makes it taste better, but turns out the taste-boosters can make you feel better, too. "Certain spices can actually help your metabolism, fullness, and satiation," says Dr. Candice Seti, certified nutrition coach. That's good news for your waistline, but there's even more good news for the rest of your body: Herbs and spices can lower cholesterol, boost antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, improve cognition and mood, and more, according to a 2019 article in the Journal of AOAC International.
In other words, a simple step to better health is sitting just inside your spice cabinet—all you have to do is use it. Here are seven herbs and spices that offer powerful benefits to your mind and body, plus recipes to help you use them.
If you've ever had an upset stomach, you know how soothing a cup of ginger tea can be. The warm, spicy ingredient is known for its ability to aid indigestion, but its benefits don't stop there. Ginger has vitamin B6 and magnesium, which are known for increasing energy levels and improving your mood, and it's also been shown to help ease arthritis. "Ginger can also help keep your blood sugar in check and can accelerate gastric emptying,” says Dr. Seti. Fresh, dried and ground ginger are all easily available in most grocery stores. You can work it into lots of meals, like soups, stir-fries, or fish dishes. For a super-quick hit, sprinkle dried ginger into your salad dressing.
Recipe: Try our Carrot Soup with Ginger & Thyme
A combination of citrus, mint, and a hint of spice, cardamom is often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. It can help with digestion and gastric ulcers, says registered dietician LeeAnn Weintraub, and its antibacterial benefits can help with food poisoning and stomach inflammation. You can find both black and green cardamom as seeds, pods, or a ground spice. It works well with other warm spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg to flavor anything from poultry and curry to coffee and bread.
Recipe: Try our Curry & Cardamom Fried Chicken
A sweet leafy herb, basil can help manage blood sugar, reduce high blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system. “The compounds in basil have antimicrobial properties that have been shown to protect against strains of E. Coli and could help treat or prevent infections," Weintraub says. There are many types of basil, but sweet and Genovese are the most common. Buy it fresh, dried, or ground and toss into drinks, pasta, salads, and sandwiches.
Recipe: Try our Basil Lemonade
Part of the ginger family, turmeric combines ginger's spiciness with a bit of citrusy flavor to create a warm, bright taste. It's known for helping with liver function and hormone imbalance, and it can also speed up metabolism while helping control hormones, says Seti. You'll usually find turmeric in ground form. It's the main spice in curries, but it's really good in soups, stews, hummus, and smoothies, too.
Recipe: Try our Turmeric Mashed Potatoes
Coriander comes from the same plant as cilantro—cilantro is the leafy part of the plant, and coriander is the name for the dried seeds. The seed has tons of benefits for health. "Coriander seed extract may help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes," Weintraub says. "It may also help protect the heart by lowering blood pressure and 'bad' LDL cholesterol while raising 'good' HDL cholesterol." It's also rich in immune-boosting antioxidants and can help promote digestion. Find it in both ground and whole seed form, and add it to food for a twinge of sweet-and-sour flavor. It's great with savory meats, sweet desserts like cookies, or even alone as a toasted seed snack.
Recipe: Try our Hummus with Toasted Coriander & Feta
A classic in baked goods and savory breakfasts, cinnamon can help your mental state: Recent research shows that, when combined with ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, cinnamon helps balance emotions. It can also help balance blood sugar and control cravings, Seti says, so it's a nice addition to an afternoon snack like apple slices. Try it in oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, sweet potatoes, or on fresh fruit.
Recipe: Try our Roasted Cinnamon Sweet Potato Fries
A little of this spice goes a long way. Cayenne comes from a chili pepper plant and packs a spicy punch. But that punch is good for you. “Cayenne is warming and can help you burn more calories during every meal while also suppressing appetite," Seti says. Moreover, it contains an element called capsaicin, which is used as a topical pain relief ointment. Add a pinch of cayenne to just about anything you want to spice up, but be sure to try it with beans, chicken, and eggs.
Recipe: Try our Zucchini Pappardelle
How to grow your own herbs
Growing an herb garden is convenient and cost-effective way to work more nutrients and flavor into your diet. Loretta Allison, Los Angeles edible landscaper and consultant, says “the key to success when starting an herb garden is to find out exactly what growing conditions the herb really wants to thrive and produce abundant foliage.” Reading plant tags or consulting your local nursery is a great way to learn what grows best in your area. Also keep in mind the best time to plant. "Springtime after the last frost is a safe and reliable time to plant perennial herbs," Allison says. For new gardeners, she suggests starter plants. "You’ll be rewarded with lush growth right away, which means more herbs for your kitchen."