Spices as Medicines

(a reprise from 2012, updated in 2016, having added other herbs, foods, and supplements.)

I read news this morning about a new strain of Superbug that is plaguing India; the piece explains the NDM-1 gene and plasmids that allow easy bacterial mutations; more than I can fully grasp in a reading.  (The piece neglects to mention how much the same causes occur in the US, of course.)  But antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains other than MRSA seem to be brewing and causing increasing alarm among health care organizations.  Global pandemics are apparently not unlikely, and finding reliable cures in what they’re calling ‘a post-antibiotic era’ frightening at the very least.   Chief causes seem to be over-prescribed antibiotics, patients historically not having completed the prescribed round of antibiotics, and antibiotics in animal feed.

As can happen when you read reports like the above, you feel the Purple Itch coming on, as though disease might be stalking your poor defenseless self.  So I dug out this list of spices and a few foods that have medicinal and healthful properties from an earlier publication, thinking some of you might like to consider them, and sharing them might make feel more proactive against bug-thoughts.  Brrrrr.  ; )

There  have been studies indicating that colloidal silver (see below) has been efficacious with wiping out MRSA and other Superbugs.  I don’t know that it’s so, and please check further, but I do know that some nursing homes are starting to use it on stubborn bedsores.  This page is a starting point only.  We use Sovereign Silver brand; it seemed to have the best profile when I studied it a year or two ago.

Probiotics, especially multi-strain (see below) may help, but at the very least it’s better to have beneficial bacteria in your gut…than not, as in: fallow fields can be ripe for takeover by weeds.

If a product is foreign to you, even a spice, bingle it to see if you might have a condition or be taking a drug that might mean it’s potentially dangerous to you. These suggestions are only a starting point.  Add information or contra-indications at will.

*Turmeric: Indian spice (yellow) constituent of curry powder; contains curcumin (not cumin or in Spanish: comino) which is anti-inflammatory for joints and brain tissue; aids in protein digestion.  New research shows it is an anti-cancer agent, and studies are under way to test a tweaked version on bowel tumors.  It figures prominently in both Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cooking.

Cinnamon:  contains eugenol, relieves pain, cinnamaldehyde is sedative, helps stop diarrhea, thins blood, lowers blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity

Ginger: anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory; helps cough and colds, aids nausea, reduces gassy-toots and hangovers, cuts mucous; opens pores to aid in sweat-cleansing, new studies find it beneficial in the treatment of ovarian cancer, reacts poorly with the drug Warfarin; don’t know in what amounts.

Fennel: settles nausea and vomiting, neutralizes stomach acidity

Garlic: antiseptic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, contains high amounts of sulfur, some studies suggest it may help prevent arterial plaque formation, lowers blood sugar, may lower blood pressure, acts as an expectorant in coughs and croup.

Chile peppers:  contain high amounts of capsicum, improves blood flow, lots of vitamins E and A, reduces ulcers, may inhibit cancer growth, reduces blood sugar levels.

Cardamom: used in south Asia to treat tuberculosis and lung inflammation, stomach ache, and aid digestion, wards off the evil-eye. ; )

Basil: anti-inflammatory, helps colic (mild tea, or infusion)

Caraway seed:  diuretic, settles stomach

Cumin:  relieves gas, cook with dried beans to reduce fartiness.  Some say the seeds themselves are rich in iron and are thought to help stimulate the secretion of enzymes from the pancreas which can help absorb nutrients into the system. It has also been shown to boost the power of the liver’s ability to detoxify the human body.  Also, due to the presence of caffeine (the stimulating agent), the richly aromatic essential oils (the disinfectants) make cumin an ideal anti congestive combination for those suffering from respiratory disorders such as Asthma, Bronchitis etc.

Oregano:  herb, but especially in oil form has antiseptic and anti-microbial properties; rich in polyphenols, natural anti-oxidants, especially Mexican oregano

Dill: great and safe for colicky babies, high in anti-oxidants, great for new mothers to pass on to their babies

Celery seed: diuretic, lowers uric acid levels, can relieve gout; anti-inflammatory

Fenugreek: Stimulates milk supply in nursing mothers, lowers serum cholesterol and blood sugar, used in Chinese medicine to tonify kidneys.  tastes yummy especially in Indian cooking and in coffee (kinda like hazlenut).

Dark chocolate: lowers blood pressure, contains anti-oxidants, increases blood flow, contains enzymes which aid the digestion of tomato-based dishes, i.e. chili and red pasta sauce.

Note: I’d oddly failed to include garlic; here’s a page detailing its benefits.



Extra virgin olive oil: mechanically pressed, no chemicals in process, low-acid, high in polyphenol anti-oxidants, monounsaturated fats (oleic acid) which help vascular elasticity and help prevent heart disease, helps displace Omega-6 fats.

Live fermented pickles and sauerkraut: increase antibodies that fight infectious disease, strengthen the small intestine and helps inhibit pathogenic organisms (such as E.coli, salmonella and yeast overgrowth), high in antioxidants, generate omega-3 fatty acids.

Angostura Bitters: tincture of gentian root and flavoring herbs, eases stomach ache, indigestion, and cures hiccups

Other beneficial home health care products:

Probiotics and yogurt: restores beneficial strains of bacteria to the stomach and intestines, increases immune-response, may help diverticulitis, aids digestion and elimination, multi-strains are best. None of the shelf-stable capsules proved over time to be culturable, so we buy Greek Gods multi-strain now.

Large flake nutritional yeast: cultured on molasses/sugar cane, yeast high in protein and B vitamins, often B-12 is added to make it complete B-complex, extremely yummy and healthful speed-blended into OJ or on popcorn, or on fried tofu.

Celadrin, topical lotion and oral:  joint pain, soft-tissue elasticity, joint inflammation and immobility, arthritis, cartilage thinning or hardening.  I like Now brand the best for both, and I can’t say enough about its efficacy for non-structural joint pain.  They make one with a bit of menthol that feels extra-good.  One potential drawback to the oral form is that for some users, it seems to have a similar effect to aspirin on platelet aggregation, at least on rats.

Hyaluronic acid: joint pain, cartilage (and disc) problems and re-moisturization

MSM (methysulfonylmethane): Chrohn’s disease, joint pain and immobility, osteoarthritis, seasonal rhinitis, bladder interstitial cystitis

Glucosamine sulphate: joint pain and disease, cartlilage renewal

L-lysine (amino acid): herpes simplex (cold sores), shingles (herpes zoster); you may never have them again if you take some at the first tingle.

L-glutamine: (amino acid) extreme diarrhea; treats leaky gut syndrome.

GSE (grapefruit seed extract):  virus, bacterial infection, environmental disease, sensitivity to molds, mildews, and dust mites, sore throat or strep throat

Colloidal or ionic silver: infections, MRSA, viral diseases, earache, sinus infections;  Check for PPM, and particle size, read risks, I confess I take the heavy metal warnings with a grain of salt.

Stopain Extra Strength topical spray w/ MSM and glucosamine sulfate:  disc swelling, joint discomfort, inflammation.  We call it ‘the oil can’ at our house: a good way to start the day to ease crabby joints

Echinacea root:  colds, flu, cough

Osha root, tincture, spray or chewed root:  colds, flu, sore throat, respiratory infections

5-HTTP Amino acid preparation: depression, insomnia, more

Melatonin: insomnia

Oil of wild oregano: immune booster ,antiviral, antibacterial

[Good News Update]: Lechero brought news that a new study indicates that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric showed that it helps reduce the amyloid-beta protein  plaques that have been  implicated as causal in Alzheimer’s dementia.

[Second update]

Most corn (therefore corn syrup in so many processed foods) have been ‘modified’ with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensisthat was designed to bust the digestive systems of certain insects like corn borers and kill them.  In animals and humans, it seems to act like little pesticide factories in our guts, killing even the many sorts of beneficial bacteria required for good health.  It may be the same with Monsanto’s glyphosate (RoundUp) or 2-4D, and I dunno what all.

It’s inarguable that more and more of us are developing food, mold and dust mite sensitivities, allergies, neurological/neuromuscular/auto-immune symptoms, compromised immunity,  that a long-ago friend reminded me recently are now considered underpinned by Leaky Gut Syndrome, which are arguably directly related to transgenic foods. Sources said:  ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is a disorder which allows partially digested foods, toxins and bad bacteria to pass though the small intestine and into the blood stream. This event compromises the liver, the lymphatic system, and the immune response including the endocrine system.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating illness that affects adults and children alike. The illness is also known as chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

There are many schools of thought even in the naturopathic world, but my sense is that one needs to cleanse intestines, provide multi-strain probiotics (see the section above) regularly, and add L-glutamine amino acid to one’s system often to help restore the integrity of especially small intestines, thereby correcting some of the affects (and eat fewer GM products when possible).  Fresh fermented veggies as well (again, see above)… For intestinal cleansing we use Wally World’s Equate brand (it tastes like Tang, the breakfast of astronauts!) of ground psyllium seeds and husks, sort of the poor person’s Metamucil, and two or three times a year do more complete intestinal flushes with increasing amounts over a few days.  Psyllium (an arbitrarily chosen link) swells to 100 times its original size in liquid, and is rather slippery, and can get into intestinal nooks and crannies to allow for more complete elimination.  Drink it quickly once you mix it in water: it thickens nastily in a hurry.  You’ll want to check out any of these items and usages online yourself, of course.

I’d also neglected to mention pepitas (pumpkin seeds).  One source (EcoWatch notes, in part:

“Pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidants, iron, zinc, magnesium and many other nutrients. An ounce (28 grams) contains about 151 calories.

Pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants like carotenoids and vitamin E..

Antioxidants can reduce inflammation and protect your cells from harmful free radicals. Because of this, consuming foods rich in antioxidants can help protect against many different diseases (7).

It is thought that the high levels of antioxidants in pumpkins seeds are partly responsible for their positive effects on health.  Diets rich in pumpkin seeds have been associated with lower levels of stomach, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers

A study of over 1,400 men looked at the effects of consuming pumpkin seeds on BPH. After one year, men receiving them reported reduced symptoms and a better quality of life.

Pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium. This is important, since magnesium deficiency is common in many Western countries.

In the US, around 79 percent of adults had a magnesium intake below the recommended daily amount .

Magnesium is necessary for more than 600 chemical reactions in the body. Adequate levels of magnesium are important for:

The high magnesium content of pumpkin seeds may be responsible for its positive effect on diabetes.

An observational study involving over 127,000 men and women found that diets rich in magnesium were associated with a 33 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes in men and a 34 percent lower risk in women.”

So why take zinc and magnesium tablets tablets instead?

Sometimes I toss some roasted ones in to cook with rice, and when I was more able-bodied, I’d roast a zillion of them in dry skillets until they popped, then made (and froze) a rather complicated pepita sauce I’d found in a cookbook from the thrift store: Authentic Mexican Cooking.  It includes as well, garlic, onion, cilantro, jalapenos, comino (cumin), and a dash of cinnamon and cloves.  As I remember it, in one recipe the author had noted that it was the earliest recorded recipe in North America.

But we’re about to order another 5 pounds of the beauties from our local natural food store, as the new owner (as did the former owner who’d sai “Im a hippie, too!”) allows us to tag onto her order with a 10-15% surcharge..  I’ll grind them and use them in my traditional Mexican cooking dishes.

Ping!  Rick Bayless has a simple version of green pepita sauce using tomatillos as well.

Since Cannabis became legal in most states, research has increased exponentially, especially the high medicinal value of Cannabinoids (CBD, non- psychotropic).  We grow some of the gorgeous plants, and Mr. wd grinds it, caps it, and we take a few capsules a day.

But as times are forecast to get even harder soon, we all might want to consider stocking up on some of these items.

(cross-posted from Café Babylon)

17 users have voted.


wendy davis's picture

i'l be back tomorrow, as i've already exceeded out my Maximum Online Time today. ; )

9 users have voted.
QMS's picture

Much of this we grow, and others are stocked.
The amazing benefits of natural herbs and spices
cannot be overstated. (Don't let big pharma know) Wink

Thanks for your extensive list!

6 users have voted.
zed2's picture

and a bit earlier had some turmeric tea. Its delicious. It tastes a lot like ginger. Mmm..

One substance that should be on your list is Betaine or trimethylglycine.

@QMS, they already know. Where do you think the science of pharmacology originated?

5 users have voted.
zed2's picture

4 users have voted.
Shahryar's picture

too much of our medicine is synthesized when we have natural remedies available.

6 users have voted.
janis b's picture

for promoting wellbeing that can come from the meeting of spice and medicine. The flavours of natural plant products can contribute greatly to one’s sense and body of wellbeing ; )

6 users have voted.

Until about WWII, plants and some animals (e.g. cod liver oil) were the main sources of common medicinal treatments.

I've used medicinal plants for many years, but I'm not a purist -- I don't hesitate to use standard medical care when indicated. I met someone who died rather than take pharmaceuticals. Not me.

My favorite medicinal plants are garlic and elderberry. Strong antibacterial and antiviral properties. In the past, I've taken raw garlic and elderberry syrup (trade name Sambucol) at the first hint of a cold, and I haven't had a full-blown cold in ten years or more. That said: I DO NOT use elderberry during the pandemic. It works by stimulating the cytokine system iirc. The so-called "cytokine storm" is one of the ways that a covid infection kills; you really don't want to stimulate cytokines under covid. Garlic is also a potent insect repellent. I swallow pieces of raw garlic; it comes out through the skin and repels all bloodsuckers -- ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, no-see-ums. I've heard that the best medicinal properties of garlic are brought out by chopping the raw clove and exposing it to air for 15 minutes or so. Oxygen reacts with the enzymes released during chopping.

I've used walnut to temper elevated blood pressure.

Turmeric is much more effective when taken with black pepper. The piperine in the pepper vastly increases the absorption rate of the curcumin in the turmeric. I use this combo for inflammatory pains.

The spices in curry are a near-ideal medicinal combination. I always feel much better after eating curry. Indian food is spiced with Ayurvedic medicines.

I've been using ginseng for ~50 years. I credit it with getting me through 17 years of night college. Around 10 years ago, I found ~150 journal articles describing medicinal properties of ginseng, mostly peer-reviewed iirc.

An old Korean told me about "poor man's ginseng": honey, ginger and hot pepper.

I used silver salve (prescribed) for severe skin burns many years ago. I have been recently prescribed silver sulfadiazine (topical) for wounds. There have been cases of people turning blue from ingesting colloidal silver.

My favorite reference for plant medicines is The Green Pharmacy by the late Dr. James A. Duke (ethnobotanist). Until shortly before his death, he led medicinal plant tours in the Amazon. He has a long bibliography in wikipedia. His medicinal plant teaching garden in Maryland is still active.
Jim spent years compiling a well-referenced phytochemical database which lists the compounds in various plant parts and their medicinal activities. It was online at USDA; I'm not sure who hosts it now.
Jim was also a first-rate musician on guitar and bass: classical, jazz, country, bluegrass; he's on googletube.

And to quote and reinforce Wendy: "If a product is foreign to you, even a spice, bingle it to see if you might have a condition or be taking a drug that might mean it’s potentially dangerous to you." For example, Korean red ginseng can cause dangerously high blood pressure; I've spoken with a Chinese gent who told me it gives him nosebleeds - one reason American ginseng is popular in China. I think many of the Indian and Chinese compound medications are formulated to counteract side-effects. Just remember what Euell Gibbons died of:
"natural causes".
(I'll see my way out)

7 users have voted.
Dawn's Meta's picture

I've had trouble with respiratory track infections in the last fifteen years. In the last five, I have never gone to a doctor, I treat with steaming and inhaling essential herbs, drinking a tea made of fresh cut Tumeric, Ginger, Black Pepper and Cloves. Add fresh local Honey and possibly some Lemon, and you have a great tonic.

We make the tea about every four or five days. Long slow steep on the induction stove then store in the fridge. I leave the skins on unless they look bad. But all in.

We also make whole cream Kefir, add roasted nuts and dried cranberries. Prebiotics and good minerals.

5 users have voted.

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Allegedly Greek, but more possibly fairly modern quote.

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wendy davis's picture

we got a call that a member of our extended family committed suicide yesterday.

she was 20 years old, and the reason she gave in her note to her mum...has made it altogether more tragic and heart-piercing. surreal, even: "i'll never find love." one's mind reels...

they live about 400 miles away, so it's not as though we can deliver mum and son bereavement food like chicken soup.

thank you all for the comments and additions; when i'm a bit more grounded i'll come back to read them.

best to all; make community as you're able, and try and love the people you may not even like.

5 users have voted.
QMS's picture

@wendy davis

just happen to be brewing a chicken soup at this moment
we need to be careful of the effects this stressful time has
upon the more fragile ones. so sorry for her loss

4 users have voted.
wendy davis's picture


suicide decades ago, we seemed to have been deemed toxic to our friends. just death or her manner of death?

mr. wd and i forgot to be hungry, wouldn't kave remembered how to cook if we had, i think.

one friend did bring us a meal a couple days later and in my appreciation i'd vowed never to let the bereaved go hungry if i had the wherewithal.

chicken soup (and maybe a loaf of bread) sounded like just the thing. good on ya!

1 user has voted.

Glucosamine sulfate is not a good choice for glaucoma patients.

"To be on the safe side, patients with severe glaucoma should avoid glucosamine. Patients with mild-to-moderate glaucoma should be monitored for changes in IOP if they start taking glucosamine. Recommend checking IOP within 3 months of starting glucosamine. If IOP increases, glucosamine may need to be discontinued."

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"Without the right to offend, freedom of speech does not exist." Taslima Nasrin

wendy davis's picture

well as cautions. i'll add that i've been learning indian cooking (for the spices) even though i've never even tasted indian dishes. ;; )

bless you all; bless us all.

p.s. i never go to doctors, haven't been for 30 years save for mandatory knee surgery. woke up dumb as a box of rocks.

0 users have voted.

@wendy davis I first learned to cook curry from my father when I was 11 or so. He learned it in the eastern Mediterranean, Arabian style (seafarer). I've since had Indian, Nepali, Thai and Caribbean curry. It's a global thing. Endless variations. These days I take whatever the garden provides and lots of spices, no recipe. I like apple or pineapple or balsamic vinegar to sharpen it, I think that's an Indonesian thing. The warming spices (pepper, cayenne, ginger, turmeric, etc.) are great for inflammatory pain.

I've taken to cooking the rice with cardamom and fennel seed, aromatics to balance the savory.

Have fun with it!

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