Saturday, September 11, 2010

Health in Focus - One: Spices

People People! Gather Round!
A tale of hope
Is to be found!
Spices! Spices!
Sights and Smells
Follow your nose
and sit right down!

I mentioned in the comments section as well as in my post "Food and Libation", that I would review the health benefits (if there were any) of any plants, spices, herbs, or foods that you had questions about.
Today, I have the first post in my "Health in Focus" Series, to discuss the spices that Robin Peyton asked about.
They are as follows:
  • Turmeric
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Saffron

Termeric -Curcuma longa (turmeric, hardidra) and Curcuma aromatica (wild termeric), Zingiberaceae (L)
 - From The Herb Society of America's New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses 

There are forty species of perennials belonging to genus Curcuma, found in seasonally dry tropical forests of Asia and Australia. Most have aromatic rhizomes or tubers that yield spices, starch, and dyes, and cone-shaped inflorescences (the "flower" in this case), with often colorful bracts. Curcuma longa (turmeric), is a source of orange and yellow dyes for silk, cotton, and wool, and is a traditional coloring for the robes of Buddhist monks. The name comes from kurkum, the Arabic name for these plants. It is also one of the most common food flavorings and colorings in Asian cuisine. Many medicinal uses are recorded, especially in China, India, and Indonesia. Research has shown significant anti-inflammatory and liver protective effects from both C. longa and C. aromatica.

Curcuma aromatica (Wild Turmeric)
Properties: A pungent, bitter, cooling herb that improves digestion and stimulates the gall bladder and circulatory system. It both checks bleeding and dissolves clots.
Medicinal Uses: Internally for jaundice, nosebleeds, internal hemorrhage, painful menstruation, shock, chest pains associated with low liver energy, and angina.

Curcuma longa (Turneric, Haridra)

Properties: A pungent, bitter, astringent herb with characteristic smell and deep yellow color. It stimulates the uterus, the digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems, normalizes energy flow, lowers cholesterol levels; has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-coagulant effects.
Medicinal Uses: Internally for digestive and skin complaints, circulatory disorders, uterine tumors, jaundice, liver disease, and menstrual problems. Also as an anti-inflammatory for asthma and eczema, and to reduce risk of strokes and heart attacks. often combined with Berberis vulgaris (Common Barberry) or Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape, mountain grape) for liver complaints and diabetes. Externally for injuries, sores, athlete's foot, and ringworm
Culinary Uses: An essential ingredient of curries and curry powder.

NOTE: I just found this list of "20 Health Reasons to Add Turmeric To Your Diet"
Check it out!
Here are 20 reasons to add Turmeric to your diet:
1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.
2. When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer.
3. Prevented breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice.
4. May prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to commit suicide.
5. Reduces the risk of childhood leukemia.
6. Is a natural liver detoxifier.
7. May prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain.
8. May prevent metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer.
9. It is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects.
10. Has shown promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice.
11. Is a natural painkiller and cox-2 inhibitor.
12. May aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management.
13. Has long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for depression.
14. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
15. Boosts the effects of chemo drug paclitaxel and reduces its side effects.
16. Promising studies are underway on the effects of turmeric on pancreatic cancer.
17. Studies are ongoing in the positive effects of turmeric on multiple myeloma.
18. Has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.
19. Speeds up wound healing and assists in remodeling of damaged skin.
20. May help in the treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Turmeric can be taken in powder or pill form. It is available in pill form in most health food stores, usually in 250-500mg capsules.

Cayenne Pepper - Capsicum Annuum, Solanaceae (L)
 - from Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.
This spice should be treated with delicacy and respect. Medicinally though, herbalists love cayenne.
Cayenne pepper was first introduced to Europe with the return of Christopher Columbus from the New World. It had been cultivated for hundreds, maybe thousands of years before Columbus stumbled upon it, but he was the first European to take notice. It is first recorded as being cultivated in Europe by the famous London herbalist John Gerard in the sixteenth century.

Cayenne pepper, although it shares the name "pepper" with our everyday table variety, is not related.

Properties: With its oddly shaped fruit and its colorful presence, the cayenne plant looks as unusual as it is biting to the tongue. In its native form, cayenne is a shrubby, tropical perennial with angular hardwood branches and stems that often have a slight purple cast at the nodes. It has drooping flowers that bloom in pairs or clusters in long stems from leaf axils; corolla star-shaped with five pointed segments, greenish or yellowish white, often with reddish or golden vein-like markings across; five bluish stamens. The leaves are broad, elliptical, puffy and wrinkled looking and can either be hairless or downy. Technically the fruits, the peppers, are berries;pendulous, pod-like;shiny, leathery covering of varying shades or red, orange, and yellow when ripe. Distinctively pungent odor; contain small, kidney-shaped whitish seeds in several rows. It flowers in the summer, and is now not only a North American plant, thriving in subtropical and tropical zones of Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America.
Although quite hot on the tongue, cayenne has extensive soothing properties, uncharacteristic with all it's visible and touted features.

Medicinal Uses: Herbalists have, for many years, used cayenne in the treatments of a variety of symptoms - from gas and diarrhea to asthma and toothaches. Cayenne from Sierra Leone in Africa is said to be the most pungent and medicinal. Common Paprika is the mildest form of cayenne, but is also the highest in vitamin C content. Mature hot red peppers are bursting not only with heat but with nutrition as well. Ounce per ounce, they have more vitamin C than anything else you can probably grow in your garden. The same goes for vitamin A content. In tropical areas, where  people get large amounts of hot peppers every day, they're also getting important amounts of iron, potassium, and niacin from these spicy pods. Note that Sweet green peppers, when they turn red, are also highly nutritious, but are inferior to the hot variety on every count.

The active ingredient in Cayenne pepper is a substance called capsaicin, which, when taken internally or applied externally, acts as a powerful stimulant. Of all the Capsicum varieties, Cayenne has the highest concentrations of capsaicin. It's also the substance that makes your eyes water and your tongue burn when you've sprinkled too much Tabasco sauce on your huevos rancheros.
Oddly enough, this fiery substance has been valued by herbalists throughout the ages for its soothing and restorative effects on the digestive system. Folk medicine recommends it highly, as Maude Grieve, author of A Modern Herbal, put it, "for purging the system of bad humors."
The twentieth-century American herbalist Jethro Kloss called cayenne "one of the most wonderful herb medicines that we have" and he termed it a "specific" for fevers. Take some in capsules, he said, followed by a glass of water.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy, author of the Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, calls Cayenne "a supreme and harmless internal disinfectant".
Herbalist R. C. Wren called it "the purest and most certain stimulant in herbal materia medica....A cold may generally be removed by one or two doses of the powder taken in warm water."
Other authorities highly recommend cayenne as a gargle for a sore throat and as a remedy for a hangover. West Indians soak the pods in hot water, add sugar and the juice of sour oranges, and drink freely when feverish. This seems to make a lot of sense, as the cayenne would induce cooling perspiration, the sugar would supply energy, and the oranges would add lots of vitamin C and bioflavonoids. A digestive remedy and appetite stimulant known as "mandram", also from the west indies, calls for a blend of cayenne, thinly sliced cucumbers, shallots, chives or onion, lemon or lime juice, and Madeira wine.

Folk medicine aside, cayenne pepper can aide the digestive system by stimulating the production of saliva and gastric juices. A pinch in food has often been thought to prevent stomach trouble; some people ingest cayenne in the form of capsules. However, consumption of cayenne can be dangerous for those people with intestinal disorders. Even in individuals with healthy digestive systems, cayenne in excessive amounts can cause severe stomach upset and even kidney damage. Those who suffer from these conditions should consult with a physician before using cayenne. normal culinary uses, however, should not cause problems.
Cayenne can also be applied externally in poultices as a stimulant for chilled skin or as a remedy for painful joints.
To make a powerful liniment for sprains and congestion, gently boil 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper in 1 pint of cider vinegar. Bottle the unstrained liquid when it's hot.

Culinary Uses: Cayenne adds a hot flash whenever it's used. It isn't to be confused with chili powder, which is also hot and has a similar appearance in its dried, ground form. Chili powder is actually a combination of various chilies, herbs, and spices.
Add half a pinch of cayenne to native American, Cajun, Creole, Spanish, Mexican, Southeast Asian, Szechuan, and East Indianan recipes, or to egg dishes, cheeses, creamy soups and sauces, curries, and chili blends.
Omit Cayenne from recipes that will be frozen, because the flavor could become too intense. Instead, add cayenne when ready to serve.

Saffron - Crocus Sativus, Iridaceae (L)
from Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.

Now, Saffron is the powder and/or stigmas of the Crocus plant. Crocus, as a flower, is a favorite of gardeners everywhere because it is first to bloom in spring, and signals the start of winter. What most people don't know is that the stigmata was used for centuries as the source of "Royal Dye" to color Asian royalty's robes, as well as strictly for Greek royalty. Why only royalty? Well, some 35,000 flowers are needed to produce just 1 pound of the spice. The gods, goddesses, heroes, and nymphs of Greek myths and poems wore robes dyed with saffron. Wealthy Romans perfumed with baths and homes with it. "The Scent was valued as much as the dye" wrote Maude Grieve in A Modern Herbal; "Saffron water was sprinkled on the benches of the theatre, the floors of banqueting-halls were strewn with crocus leaves, and cushions were stuffed with it."
From the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, saffron was used as a medicine and spice in Europe. So widespread was its use at this time that any spice dealer was called a saffron grocer.

 Properties: The Saffron crocus resembles other true crocuses, and like other crocuses, the flower rises directly from the earth. This perennial has no true stem. What appears to be the stem is actually the tubular portion of the corolla. It originated in Asia Minor, but is now widely cultivated.

Medicinal Uses: Traditionally, saffron has been recommended against colds, tumors, smallpox, insomnia, and cancer. It is also considered an appetite stimulant and an aphrodisiac.
A volatile oil and two glycosides have been identified in saffron, but researchers have yet to learn whether these or any other saffron constituents have any therapeutic effects. We do know, however, than doses of one-third of an ounce or more can be toxic. Since saffron is so expensive, it is rarely used as a medicine, and overdose would be even rarer.

Culinary Uses: Saffron's dark orange stigmata, called threads in the culinary world, have a rich, briny flavor. Traditionally, they have been used to flavor French bouillabaisse, Spanish paella, cakes, breads, cookies, and the cuisines of East India, the middle East, and North Africa. Saffron mingles well with mild cheeses, eggs, rice, lamb, fish, shellfish, poultry, pork, duck, cream, corn, sweet peppers, onions, shallots, garlic, and oranges.
If you cook with it, use just a pinch in soups and stews that serve four to six. Too much saffron can give a medicinal taste. Soak saffron in hot water or stock before adding to recipes. Then add the saffron and the water. This allows the color to disperse throughout the food. Add a pinch of soaked saffron to cheese souffles, savory cheese custards, tarts, and pies before baking. Add saffron threads to vinegars flavored with garlic and thyme. The combination is wonderful in fish salads and marinades. It is available commercially in whole threads and ground, but whole threads are preferable. Don't mistake safflower for saffron, or you'll be disappointed in the taste.

In conclusion, Both Turmeric and Cayenne have many medicinal properties. But Saffron you have to watch out for, because too much of it, especially if you are trying to self-medicate yourself, can be toxic and deadly.
So, for safety's sake, don't use saffron as a medicinal herb. There are much better options when you wish to help fight colds, tumors, smallpox, insomnia, and cancer. And these are only folk recommendations. Researchers still don't know the true extent of saffron's healing powers.

If you wish, look into investing in Cayenne pepper capsules, and beginning to add Turmeric to more dishes. They do wonders for the body.

Alright! So there you go!
Next up: Three herbs.
What herbs would you like to see me review next?
Post below and let me know!!

Be Well!


Mizz Ali said... mom loves this! She LOVES cooking so I've printed this out for her!

Calandreya said...

bay leaves

Thank you for the fine work on the spices! I hope you don't mind if I share your work on FB.

Rae Hitchings said...

Nope Nope! Go ahead and share! If it can help or inspire someone with their cooking, then I'm all for it! ^_^

@Ali - I'm glad you can use them! If you or your mum ever want me to look up an herb, plant, or spice, let me know. I'll be happy to do so! :)
And Robin, I'll file that away =P I think I'll try to do one Health in Focus a week.

Rae Hitchings said...

Oh. And Robin. What kinds of mint? There are Chocolate, Black, peruvian, peppermint, spearmint, red mint, lemon mint, and other mint crosses and species.
The most common variety that usually grows in gardens is peppermint and spearmint. But chocolate is also pretty common in some recipes.

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