Healthy Spices

11. May 2021

Their potential healing properties

Their potential healing properties

What would our food be without spices? Most meals would taste rather bland without these tasty ingredients. The list of the most commonly used spices today is long.

These include ginger, turmeric, horseradish, wasabi, onion, garlic, nutmeg, pepper, paprika, juniper berries, vanilla, caraway and aniseed as well as saffron, cloves, capers, cinnamon, dried herbs, bay leaves and kaffir lime leaves. Herbs include basil, fennel, coriander, lavender, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, mint, tarragon and the classics dill and chives.

Hildegard von Bingen, the herbal healer

Before we look at these healthy spices, let’s first take a look at the history of herbs and spices. The first herbal healer was thought to be Hildegard von Bingen back in the 12th century, who focussed heavily on herbs and spices for their healing properties

At that time, spices were processed in monasteries for medical purposes. The dried herb roots and seeds were pulverised and then simply sprinkled over soups, tea, wine or bread. 

Galangal

Hildegard von Bingen used galangal, also known as mild ginger, for treating fever, heart failure, respiratory illnesses and mucous in the nose and throat. Galangal is the most common heart medicine worldwide.

Hildegard von Bingen wrote: Whoever has pain in the heart area or is suffering weakness due to the heart, should immediately eat enough galangal and he will recover. A person with a burning fever should drink galangal powder in spring water to relieve the burning fever.

Nutmeg

Hildegard von Bingen used nutmeg to boost physical and spiritual wellbeing. She believed that it “opens the heart, purifies the senses and brings a good disposition”. Hildegard used water mint to treat bloating, flatulence, stomach cramps and indigestion. 

Cinnamon

Hildegard von Bingen described the effects of cinnamon as: “Cinnamon diminishes the bad humours, and brings good humours to whoever eats it often.” According to Hildegard von Bingen, it boosts the metabolism and, when used in warm wine, prevents gout pain.

Spearmint

For spearmint, she wrote: “Just as salt tempers all food, if too much or too little is added to foods it is bad, so too spearmint, added moderately to meat, fish, purees or other nourishment, offers a good flavour to that food, and is a good condiment. Indeed, eaten so it warms the stomach and furnishes good digestion.” She further wrote that “a cold stomach has poor blood supply and hinders digestion.” Spearmint helps with this. 

Caraway

Caraway is known for its anti-allergic effect. However, Hildegard von Bingen warned against the use of caraway for anyone suffering with heart disease and sickness. In healthy people it contributes to overall balance and clear thinking. Hildegard also wrote: “Anyone wanting to eat cheese should add caraway as a precaution.” 

Fennel

In Hildegard medicine, fennel plays a particularly important role as it is one of the few universally safe means of combatting stomach and intestinal ailments. “In whatever way it is eaten, fennel makes a person happy and brings to him a gentle heat (good blood circulation) and good perspiration, and makes his digestion good. Eating fennel or its seed every day diminishes bad phlegm and decaying matter, and keeps bad breath in check,” according to Hildegard von Bingen.

Modern science has proven that fennel helps combat cramps and flatulence in the gastrointestinal tract. It is a key ingredient found in kitchens as many amateur gardeners enjoy its slightly sweet, spicy flavour and fresh aroma.

Bertram

Bertram has versatile uses in the kitchen as a spice and is particularly healthy, as Hildegard von Bingen already knew. According to Hildegard, “eating bertram reduces bad juices, and multiplies the good in human blood, and promotes a clear mind.

For a patient who is physically run down, Bertram brings back his strength. It leaves nothing in humans undigested, and it prepares the body for good digestion when eaten diligently. It reduces the mucilage in the head, and leads to purifying juices, which purify the eyes.

Whether you eat it dry, or in cooked foods, Bertram is as useful to a sick person as to a healthy man. Bertram shoos illness from its host and prevents falling ill. It brings moisture and saliva back to the mouth, and returns us good health.”

Dittany

Dittany is a very rare plant and Hildegard von Bingen recognised its impact on kidney stones early on. The plant is now under nature protection and is grown in medicinal plant gardens. “When (kidney) stones begin to grow, pulverise dittany and eat the powder with wheat bread. This will prevent the stone from growing.”

More is known about the effects of dittany today. The root is used to treat arteriosclerosis, one of the most common causes of death in Western industrial nations. 

Gentian root

Hildegard even found something to combat depression and mood disorders – gentian root. “One who suffers heart pain, as if his heart is just barely alive, should pulverise yellow gentian and eat that powder in broth, and it will strengthen his heart,” wrote the healer.

Psyllium

Psyllium purifies and protects the gastrointestinal flora. Hildegard von Bingen describes the effects of psyllium in her nature encyclopaedia as follows: “It makes a person’s overwhelmed mind happy and helps restore the brain to health. One who has fevers in his stomach should cook psyllium in wine. Then he should pour off the wine and place the psyllium in a cloth. He should tie it over his stomach while it is still warm. It will chase away the fevers from his stomach.”

Hyssop

Hyssop is an aromatic herb used in cooking. “If the liver is sick because of a person’s sadness, he should cook young chicks with hyssop, and frequently eat the hyssop as well as the chicken,” according to Hildegard von Bingen.

The spice trade only began to prosper at the start of the 16th century

It was only upon completion of the sea route around Africa to Asia at the end of the 15th century/early 16th century when the spice trade sprung into action. This was the start of great wealth which was also protected by armed forces.

The journey to the Indian subcontinent and the spice islands of Farther India (Moluccas) via the so-called spice route became a lucrative business. In the Middle Ages, spices such as pepper were as valuable as gold. The extremely wealthy men at those times were therefore also known as pepper sacks. The most expensive spices today are vanilla, saffron and cardamom

Of course, food can be cooked without using spices but who wants to do that?In addition to their culinary significance, Hildegard von Bingen taught us that herbs and spices are also important for our health. 

Spices can reduce inflammation, increase metabolism, stabilise blood sugar levels and promote fat burning. They can even have anti-bacterial and antifungal effects. For many people, turmeric is seen as a superfood.This small root from Asia is now even touted as a miracle cure.

We will cover herbs and herb gardens in a future article. 

P.S. The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and are not intended for self-treatment. Consult your doctor in the event of any medical conditions.