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Spice health heroes


All amateur cooks have them in their pantries – spices. But some spices can provide more than just flavor, they can provide health benefits.

This week on “Take Care,” chef and author Natasha MacAller discusses the healing power of spices. MacAller wrote "Spice Health Heroes: Unlock the Power of Spice for Flavor and Wellbeing." It's a cookbook that includes a detailed study of the history and traditional uses of spices along with their culinary, nutritional and medical applications.

“Spices have been used not only for flavor, but considered as medicine, in traditional medicine, for thousands and thousands of years. Long before we had medicines in a bottle, we had spices,” said MacAller.

Spices all have active compounds that are concentrated forms of a chemical. That’s what gives them medicinal properties.

In her book, MacAller includes input from eight medical doctors from around the world who discuss each spice, and she sites studies from medical journals.

Here are five of MacAller’s “spice health heroes”:


MacAller calls turmeric the “master spice,” saying it’s probably one of the oldest spices with medicinal properties, and the most heavily researched. It’s a root. You can use it fresh, as a powder, or grated when it’s dried. It’s used been used as a culinary and sacred spice.

  • Used for anti-inflammatory properties
  • It’s compounds are added to Tylenol to help pain relief
  • Tried by Olympic-level athletes as anti-inflammatory and to help pain. Because it’s a food, there’s no drug testing issues.


MacAller calls cumin “the global spice.” Historians argue about where it originated, because it grows virtually everywhere. It’s not only drought tolerant, it’s flood tolerant, as well.

  • Used as an antibacterial for problems like food poisoning.
  • Reduces stress
  • lowers blood sugar
  • Mimics HRT, or hormone replacement therapy and is a natural phytoestorgen
  • Helps slow down osteoporosis

Clove & Allspice

MacAller says these two spices originated in different parts of the globe and have nothing in common, except they share an active compound, called eugenol.

  • Clove is an antiseptic, pain reliever
  • Clove oil is powerful and has been used as a numbing agent for dental work.
  • Both are digestive aids.

Citrus Zest

There are more health properties in the zest or peel of citrus fruits than the actual fruits themselves.

  • Vitamin C
  • Intense flavonoids
  • Citrus oil can help aching tired feet

Star Anise

MacAller calls it the “sultry fighter spice.”

  • Antibacterial, antiseptic.
  • Fights insomnia, pain
  • An active ingredient used in Tamiflu
  • In China, people use it during a flu breakout

MacAller says studies continue on the health benefits these spices and others. And she says you don’t have to consume very much of some of these spices in order to reap the rewards. She says a small amount of citrus zest goes a long way. And ¼ - ½ a teaspoon of turmeric a day is enough.