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Spice it up

The amazing health properties of some of the most common spices in your kitchen. By Hannah Dare from health store and café Organico in Bantry, Co Cork

Black Cumin Seed
Black cumin seed has been shown in studies to lower cholesterol. It is incredibly high in antioxidants and contains compounds that are thought to be anti-cancer. It's also anti-inflammatory and has liver protection properties. You can take the seeds or take it as an oil, and it's also known as kalonji.

Cayenne can be a miracle worker if you are in pain, as it contains an active ingredient called capsaicin that reduces the number of pain signals sent to your brain. It works on pain caused by arthritis and diabetes-related nerve damage. You can apply capsaicin creams directly on joints and muscles, and you can also take it internally to help with stomach ulcers as it has been shown to help reduce the bacteria that cause these ulcers.

Cinnamon gives a sweet taste to foods without adding sugar and has warming and blood sugar balancing qualities. If you are taking it medicinally though look out for Ceylon Cinnamon – it's fantastic for helping to keep your blood sugar balanced. Cinnamon supplements have been linked to improved cholesterol levels, and it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Clove essential oil can be used for dental first aid, to reduce pain if you can't make it to your dentist in time, and clove capsules also act with anti-parasite and anti-fungal properties.

Cloves contain an anti-inflammatory chemical called eugenol. Compounds in cloves also appear to improve insulin function.

Garlic is beneficial for your heart, circulation, and of course immunity. A sulphur compound called allicin is believed to be responsible for most of garlic's medicinal benefits. Some studies have shown it to benefit blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Ginger is one of my favourite spices, both for cooking and also for medicinal use. You can make a wonderful stomach-calming tea from fresh ginger slices steeped in boiling water; it relieves nausea instantly. Ginger is also a wonderful anti-inflammatory, and it you feel cold all the time, ginger tea is your friend. Ginger can be mixed with turmeric in cooking and in hot drinks, and also comes in capsule and tincture forms for medicinal use.

Ginger is rich in phytonutrients called gingerols which give it anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Ginger in your diet can help with arthritis, migraine, asthma, heart disease, heartburn and nausea.

Nutmeg is a delicious spice for baking, warming and comforting, but it also has health benefits. The best flavour comes from the whole nut grated. Nutmeg contains eugenol, a compound that may benefit the heart.

Oregano oil is powerfully anti-fungal and anti-viral, however it's important to take care when taking it internally and make sure you have a product that is certified for internal use, as it is powerful and it's easy to take too much. Oregano is useful for treating candida overgrowth, and people take it for respiratory infections as well.

Rosemary can help soothe gastrointestinal complaints, relieve stress and anxiety, promote hair growth and treat respiratory problems. It can be drunk as a tea or the diluted essential oil can be used topically.

I think of sage as a women's herb, but in actual fact, it can help anyone who has too much heat to regulate their temperature. It comes in tablet and drop form. Red sage makes a great tea for sore throats. Add some fresh thyme for a chesty cough.

Sage has been shown to protect the brain from memory loss and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Thyme is used in cough medicines and has even been shown to reduce menstrual cramps. It contains vitamin C for immune support, potassium for healthy cells, and manganese for bone development and blood clotting.

Turmeric is so powerful it is a worthwhile daily addition to everyone's diet. Fresh turmeric can be used in cooking, and it comes in many supplement forms as well.

Curcumin is an extract of turmeric, concentrated for more effective anti-inflammatory action.

Turmeric and curcumin have been shown to help with allergies, memory loss, arthritis, colitis, eczema, gum disease, macular degeneration and high blood pressure.

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