Table 103

Spices and Herbs Used for Their Beneficial Health Effects


Health Effect


Treat throat infections

Chili peppers

Stimulate digestion, induce perspiration, improve memory, as an aphrodisiac agent


Improve digestion


Decrease cholesterol levels and high blood pressure


Inhibit tumor formation and heal wounds


Relieve chronic fatigue, coughs, and cold symptoms


Treat indigestion and inflammation of gums


Treat intestinal worms

Sources: Adapted from Petesch and Sumiyoshi (1999),21 Uhl,20 and O'Donnell (2001).22

Sources: Adapted from Petesch and Sumiyoshi (1999),21 Uhl,20 and O'Donnell (2001).22

with spices is the oldest form of aromatherapy, since the aroma can stimulate gastric secretions that create appetites. Aromatherapy, using essential oils, relaxes or stimulates the body, creates positive moods, relieves cold symptoms and respiratory problems, and eases muscle pains. In the traditional cultures, spices were not only used in cooking but also added to milk, tea, hot water, ghee (clarified butter), or sugar to give the desired healing effects. For example, chili peppers are added to milk to reduce swellings, turmeric made into paste with milk to reduce coughs and colds, and saffron mixed with ghee to prevent colic pains. These examples give us an idea of the value of spices as tools for healing and as a complement to Western or modern medicine. In relation with the active principles of spices, the properties have been attributed to phtalides, polyacetylenes, phenolic acids, flavonoids, cou-marins, capsaicinoids, triterpenoids, sterols, and monoterpenes. Thus, parsley, garlic, onion, mustard, and chili pepper have numerous therapeutic properties: they stimulate the production of enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, inhibit cholesterol synthesis, block estrogen, lower blood pressure, or prevent blood clotting.20

In the Ebers Codex, an Egyptian medical volume, the use of garlic was mentioned in many remedies for a variety of ailments, such as heart problems, headaches, bites, worms, wounds, and tumors. Hippocrates prescribed garlic for a wide range of conditions. Ancient Chinese and Indian medical texts also mentioned garlic prominently. Garlic cloves contain a limited number of organosulfur compounds, such as alliin and y-glutamyl-allylcysteine. These compounds or their metabolic products are responsible for several of their medicinal properties. Additionally, garlic has steroid saponins, which have antifungal and cholesterol-lowering effects. It has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system: it enhances fibrinolytic activity, inhibits platelet aggregation, reduces blood pressure, and normalizes lipids. It has been established that organosulfured compounds such as 5-alk(en)yl cysteines and g-glumayl-S-alk(en)yl cysteines derived from garlic inhibit 20 to 60% of cholesterol biosynthesis in the primary cultured hepatocytes, apparently through metabolic alteration. It has also been observed that thioallyl compounds are effective in blocking a myriad of chemically induced tumors. Various organosulfured compounds inhibit human colon tumor cell growth by inducing apoptosis and by preventing cell division. It has been also shown that S-methyl-cysteine has anticarcinogenic properties in a hepatocarcinogenesis model that it is associated with the inhibition of glutathione-S-transferase. Diallyl disulfide suppresses the growth of H-ras, a gene product codified in chromosome 11 that is involved in cell growth and that when mutated produces an uncontrolled growth process, oncogene-transformed tumors in mice by inhibiting the membrane association of tumoral p21H-ras. Because of its antimicrobial effects, garlic has been used for treating amoebic dysentery as well as other infections by Heliobacter pylori.21

The pharmacological activity of spices has been associated with their antioxidant activity. The activity of several spice extracts has been compared against a vitamin E analogue. Oregano (Origanum spp.) is an excellent antioxidant, as are, in decreasing order, thyme (Thymus vulgaris), sage (Salvia officinalis), cinnamon (Cinnamo-mum cassia), rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), and black pepper (Piper nigrum). Rosemary and sage contain carnosic acid that through oxidation reactions generates carnosol, rosemanol, and other antioxidants. Although the mechanism is not known, rosemary extract and carnosol isolate from rosemary oleoresin have shown some anticancer activity when studied in skin and mammary cancer models. Moreover, it has been suggested that repair/replacement mechanisms may be as or more important than free radical mediation. Some of these recovery systems include the activation systems that remove foreign chemicals, such as P-450 enzymes and glutathione-S-transferase; inhibition of substances that form and/or activate carcinogens; activation of DNA repair systems; and support for the normal cell life cycle by assisting cells to divide properly.22

Very strong antitumorogenic activities have been found for many crude spice extracts. For example, the IC50 (concentration causing 50% inhibition of the number of tumors) value for nutmeg is 3.52 ppm, 1.66 ppm for cinnamon, 1.24 ppm for thyme, 0.86 ppm for mint (Mentha spp.), 0.69 ppm for rosemary, 0.70 ppm for sage (Salvia officinalis), 0.95 ppm for black pepper, and only 0.45 ppm for basil (Ocimum basilicum).22

The North American marketplace for functional teas is growing. Functional teas are a combination of teas and/or other botanicals (spices, herbs) formulated or specially fortified to produce specific physiological or psychological benefits beyond inherent benefits afforded by a single ingredient. The category includes products for energy, medicinal use, and weight loss.22

Aromatherapy Ambiance

Aromatherapy Ambiance

Aromatherapy, a word often associated with calm, sweet smelling and relaxing surroundings. Made famous for its mostly relaxing indulgent  feature, using aromatherapy has also been known to be related to have medicinal qualities.

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