April 1, 2006 | Episode 13

Essential spices
Spice up your life
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Treat Everyday Ailments with Spices

Five common complaints — and how to cure them in the kitchen

If you have a headache...

• Turmeric, when cooked in oil or fat and ingested, may reduce the inflammation associated with migraine and sinus headache, says Sally A. Frautschy, PhD of the department of neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

• Ginger can also be good when taken as a tea, according to Bill Gottlieb, author of Alternative Cures. Just add one teaspoon of grated ginger to a 16-24 ounce thermos of hot water and sip throughout the day.

If you have a cold or the flu...

• Practitioners of Chinese medicine swear by ginger as an expectorant for cough and watery phlegm. “Boiling two half-inch slices in a cup of water, and drinking this one to four times a day, should do the trick,” says Judy Gee, who has a Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is a board-certified herbologist in New York.

• Stick cinnamon is particularly helpful for colds, Gee says, because of its “slight antibiotic, temperature-regulation, and diuretic effects.” It works best when boiled with licorice, and taken one to two cups at a time, three to four times a day.

• “Garlic is the standout for flu and colds because it is an antiviral,” says Gottlieb. Taking 300 to 500 miligrams for five to seven days, or as long as you have the cold, should help knock it out. Gottlieb also suggests sprinkling a pinch of cayenne pepper on any food to thin out mucus.

If you have a stomachache or indigestion...

• Turmeric is the most efficient killer of Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori), which is associated with gastritis, gastric ulcers and peptic ulcers, according to a 2005 report from the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Other effective spices included cumin, chili pepper, black caraway, and oregano.

• Oregano is highly effective in killing bacteria related to food-borne illnesses when used in cooking, according to a 2001 study by Paul W. Sherman, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. The study also points out that cooking with varying amounts of the spice killed bacteria, so top your pizza with as little, or as much, as you like.

• Ginger is effective in stimulating digestion (and relieving and preventing belching), says Gottlieb. Just one cup of ginger tea with each meal will help. He also recommends cardamom, which can reduce muscle spasms in the stomach. Add one teaspoon to eight ounces of water and boil for ten minutes, then drink with each meal. “It also increases the production of digestive fluids so your digestive tract is less likely to produce gas,” he says.

If you have muscle or joint pain...

• The potent anti-inflammatory effects of ginger and turmeric may help with muscle and joint inflammation, says Frautschy. They help block the COX-2 enzymes that cause swelling, says Dr. James A. Duke, a former researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of the Handbook for Medicinal Spices (CRC Press). And a 255-milligram capsule of ginger extract, available at health-food stores, taken twice daily may even reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee, according to a 2001 study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, the official journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

If you have a toothache...

• Clove has been used throughout history as a quick remedy for toothaches, says Jack Turner, author of Spice: The History of a Temptation. Clove’s main active ingredient is eugenol, which is used by dentists as an analgesic, adds Duke. To be effective, “the eugenol needs to have direct contact with the inflamed tissue,” explains Bradford Johnson, director of postdoctoral endodontics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He recommends applying clove oil as needed.

• The long pepper, available at gourmet food stores, is favored by practitioners of Chinese medicine, says Gee, who recommends grinding the pepper and applying topically, three to four times daily, until pain subsides.

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