I love cooking with herbs and spices, not only do they add flavour to my meals, they keep me warm and nourished through the winter months. Herbs and spices contain medicinal properties, which fight inflammation, improve your digestion, boost your immunity and help to fight viruses.
Here are a few of my winter favourites, which support a healthy immune system.
Garlic ( Allium sativum)
The most widely used spice (vegetable, actually) can be found in all cuisines. Garlic, contains sulfur compounds, which are responsible for its aroma and medicinal benefits. The most studied of these compounds, is Allicin. Garlic, contains antibacterial, antiviral, anti fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It supports a healthy immune response and reduces the frequency and severity of the common cold. It boosts the production of T cells, which fight viruses. Garlic also has a mucolytic action, which assists in clearing mucous and congestion. Garlic is also commonly known for its cardiovascular benefits, reducing cholesterol and preventing blood clots.
Tip: Crush garlic and allow to stand for 5-15 minutes then add to cooked meal. This enhances allicin and other powerful sulfur compounds. Don’t like it raw? Add it, close to the end of cooking to retain the nutritional benefits.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger has been utilised for its medicinal properties, for over 2,500 years in both China and India.
Consists of gingerol, a constituent, found in higher concentrations in fresh ginger, which contains immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger helps relax constricted airway tubes, allowing you to breathe easier. Its diaphoretic action stimulates healthy sweating which aids in fending off infections. Ginger increases circulation, warming those cold winter hands and feet. Ginger has a soothing action on sore throats and assists in the break up of excess phlegm.
Dried ginger contains the active constituent shagoal; its analgesic properties may relieve aches and pains. Ginger is more commonly used for motion sickness, nausea and to expel excess gas from the digestive tract.
The active constituents can be found in the essential oils, which reside in the bark.
This sweet, aromatic spice, is my winter favourite, my breakfast is not complete without it. Smelling its sweet scent can increase brain activity, improving memory. Cinnamon may boost immunity, dispose of congestion and fight respiratory infections. Cinnamon inhibits pathogenic bacteria like salmonella and can help alleviate digestive complaints like bloating, flatulence and indigestion. Studies have shown cinnamon, improves insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.
Native to the Mediterranean, its roots are steeped far back to the Roman and Greek Empires. Its actions include antiviral, antibacterial, expectorant and antiseptic properties. It is best utilised in the acute phase of colds, flu and bronchitis. Thyme may facilitate the expulsion of mucous, bring down fever and eliminate toxins. Thyme has one of the highest antioxidant levels amongst herbs, helping fight disease by reducing free radical damage. Its antimicrobial properties inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
Cooking tips: sauté with mushrooms, add to scrambled eggs, pasta sauces, stews, chicken, lamb, soups, tea, throat gargle
Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Capsacin is the active ingredient, which gives these peppers their kick. Capsacin is better known as a pain reliever, used topically. Cayenne is high in vitamin C and beta-carotene, nutrients that are essential for a healthy immune system. Cayenne is indicated in viral infections, bronchitis, sore throats, and irritable coughs. It is also a powerful circulatory stimulant, increasing blood flow, which facilitates the delivery of nutrients to cells and eliminates wastes.
Cooking tips: Dips, spicy sauces, eggs, Mexican and bean dishes, add a touch to a warm cup of cacao
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Native to South East Asia, turmeric has been utilised in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for over 4000 years. Traditionally used to treat indigestion, menstrual disorders and arthritic conditions. Active compounds belong to the curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most potent. Contains anti- viral, anti fungal and antibacterial actions in which will support a healthy immune system. Natures most potent, anti–inflammatory, is used in the management of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions. Turmeric aids digestion by stimulating the gall bladder to release bile and improves bowel motility. Early research is indicating Turmeric may have potential in treating depression, insulin resistance, diabetes and the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
Cooking tips: Roasted cauliflower, curries, smoothies, golden milk, rice. stir-fries
Tip: Curcumin has very low bioavailability Black pepper and fat( fat soluble) greatly increase the absorption, a perfect base for curry.
Peppermint (Mentha × piperita)
This digestive herb is not what comes to mind, when I think about winter. It's active ingredient menthol, contains cooling properties that can provide relief to an inflamed sore throat and fever.
Menthol is a decongestant, use as a tea or add the essential oil to a diffuser or vaporiser to open up the airways.
Tip: Add 2-3 drops of peppermint essential oil on the soles of the feet, to help bring down a fever.
Do you suffer from frequent colds? Book an appointment to see me