Herbs and spices have been linked with health since the beginning of time. In Ancient Greece, the famous Greek physician Hippocrates wrote at length about both spices and herbs including five that we still consume today - saffron, cinnamon, mint, marjoram and coriander. These five plants which grow in abundance all over the world are easy to incorporate in to our everyday lives and have an array of astounding health benefits:
Saffron is a vibrant orange spice and is derived from the crocus flower. It is used to season and to color food. Saffron is considered the most expensive spice in the world and is a powerful antioxidant and mood enhancer as it increases serotonin levels. Saffron has powerful health promoting properties as it contains vitamins A and C and an abundance of minerals for optimum health. Add it to rice dishes for its color, flavor and aroma.
Cinnamon is a warm brown spice derived from the inner bark of various tree species. It is an aromatic spice loaded with powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It is a good source of fiber and contains both calcium and iron. It has a distinctive flavor and is used extensively in sweet deserts. Cinnamon sticks can also be used to make a soothing tea.
Mint is an aromatic perennial herb which grows in all environments. It has a wide range of soothing health-enhancing benefits and has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food. It improves digestion, reduces fevers and prevents nausea. The leaves can be made into a tea or added to smoothies, salads and sweet deserts.
Marjoram is a perennial herb of the mint and oregano family and is known for both its aroma and delicate flavor. The oil derived from this herb has many health benefits. It is both antiviral and antiseptic and has the ability to reduce inflammation and combat aches. The fresh or dried leaves can be added to soups and rice dishes.
Coriander is an aromatic Mediterranean plant of the parsley family. Both the leaves and seeds can be used and have an array of health benefits. Because of its levels of iron, magnesium and manganese it has anti-fungal and antiseptic properties. It is also an antioxidant which combats inflammation and infection. Add the leaves to salads and soups.
Spices and herbs through the ages, and in many cultures, have also been used to color hair, decorate skin and dye fabrics. Turmeric, for example, has scientifically proven health benefits and is used as a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. However its vibrant golden yellow color has been revered for thousands of years and used to dye fabrics. Henna is also used extensively for this same purpose. The dried Henna leaves are used to form a powder which when added to lemon juice or eucalyptus oil produces a red-brown dye. Henna has its own health benefits and its medicinal properties are used to treat a variety of skin conditions including cooling the skin and reducing fever. It is derived from the Henna Tree, also known as Egyptian Privet, and comes from the Lawsonia plant species. Whilst we may associate henna with India and the art of Mehendi, the tradition of using henna to color hair and decorate our skin with intricate patterns dates back as far as Ancient Egypt.
The practice of dying fabrics with spices has its roots in Ayurveda, a 3,000 year old Indian holistic healing system which concentrates on balancing mind, body and spirit. In the Ayurveda technique of using spices as fabric dyes, saffron is used for its rich orange-red color, as is cinnamon which is believed to awaken the system.
So the spices and herbs that Hippocrates wrote about thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece we still use today, all over the world, to sooth and heal, color and decorate. How marvelous is that !