Discover the best cooking spices for you

best cooking spices for you Ayurvedic approach

Welcome back! Today we’re looking at consciously curating a selection of cooking spices just for you, my friend. Spices are plant parts like buds, berries, seeds and roots that are used for flavouring and colouring foods. Herbs have the same purpose but tend to be leaves and are often used fresh while spices are usually dried which also makes them more potent.

They’re usually aromatic (‘ahhhhh’ nice smells wafting from the kitchen…) and provide lots of health benefits, particularly as antioxidants and preservatives. But that’s not all! As you’ll soon discover, spices are the next wave of herbal medicines being researched for everything from neurodegenerative disease to cancer. 

Spices! There are so many out there. There’s the ancient spices that seasoned dishes in ancient Greece and Egypt, the Indian spices in curries and chutneys and more, the South east Asian spices, the aromatic spices, the Australian spices like pepperberry, wattleseed, the myrtle plants and bush tomato …. So many. How do you choose? No wonder you need this article : )!!

But seriously, this is part of the holistic process, and part of the journey to wellness where you find the personalized medicines and diet that work for YOU. By the end of this article you’ll know what sorts of spices work for you and why. It’s not just about reading either, you can use my interactive quiz (link below) to find out the top three spices for your health based on your constitution. (The quiz is based on Eastern spices) Sounds awesome right?! So let’s get to it.

First up I’m going to tell you how a medicinal herbalist views spices and share the latest discoveries about spices and their therapeutic benefits. Then I’ll give you the gut-related benefits of popular spices. Then its over to you, time to jump on the quiz and find out which ones are best for you.

How a herbalist views spices

For thousands of years spices have been used to improve the taste and nutritive qualities of our food. Several therapeutic ‘actions’ have been identified for spices such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. These actions tell us what effects the spices have in our bodies. Anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation, and anti-bacterials fight infections. By adding them to our foods we boost the nutrient profile of what we’re eating and better yet, turn our food into a medicine.  

One of things I love about spices is how they balance us through the seasons. For instance, heating spices like ginger and turmeric warm us up in cooler seasons. They’re called ‘circulatory stimulants’ and they get your blood flowing and dispersing more easily which has the added benefit of increasing oxygen and nutrient delivery to your cells. This warming action also helps a sluggish digestion system too. Who doesn’t need that! Actually, that’s where the ‘carminative’ spices come in like fennel and cinnamon. They increase metabolic breakdown of food and calm down gas production while your food’s digesting. Thankyou nature!

which cooking spices are right for you

Grinding spices helps herbs release their active chemistry more efficiently by reducing their particle size and breaking open cells within.

Other spices have different qualities. Fennel, clove and caraway are great for calming spasm or colic while others like saffron and calendula petals (yes not just a flower but a flavouring and colouring agent!) can heal the mucous membranes of the digestive system which is so great for inflamed guts.

Traditional uses of spices as medicines are:

  • To boost immune function
  • To fight infective pathogens (bacterial, viruses, fungi, parasites)
  • To calm inflammatory disorders
  • To balance the body and constitution (as in Ayurveda)

They do all this and more…

Current research on spices

Over the past decade lots of research has emerged about spices as the next generation of antioxidants. With all this new evidence, we increasingly know more about their chemistry and their therapeutics. Here’s a summary of some popular eastern spices and what you can use them for digestion-wise. I’ve also popped in some examples of conditions that research is showing each spice can be useful in. You may be surprised to see a load of chronic illnesses pop up here. Humble kitchen spices no longer! Here we go…

Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)

Use this pungent and bitter spice to prevent or manage worm infestation, bacterial infection or viral infection in the digestive system. Research shows it’s useful in reducing blood glucose and cholesterol levels, treating cytomegalovirus, diabetes, weight gain, obesity (as it improves blood glucose balance) and neurodegenerative disease (acting as a neuroprotective). It’s even been evaluated for use in inhibiting COVID-19 with initial tests demonstrating it can act on receptor-binding sites for the virus to stop it taking hold in the body.

Try adding it into yoghurt, sprinkling on salads, lightly toasting and throwing into Dukkah or in stews and casseroles.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Use this warming and boosting spice to increase digestive strength and function, increase appetite and reduce nausea, bloating, abdominal spasm and flatulence. Research shows it boosts circulation, warms the blood, alleviates constipation and fights viral infection. It’s a well-known anti-inflammatory agent and studies reveal it lowers fasting blood glucose and cholesterol in diabetes patients. It’s been reported as useful in metabolic disease, obesity, asthma, osteo-arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, painful menstruation, to reduce chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting as well as migraine and colorectal cancer.

Try sucking on a slice of fresh ginger rhizome in the mornings to wake up your digestive system, or adding a couple slices to your herbal teas (including black tea). When sauteeing onions, add a little fresh ginger in for flavour and medicinal benefits. Ginger goes well in stir fries, curries and slow cooks. You can even add extra ginger to your next chai or cup of tea.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

Use this sweet, warming spice to warm up a sluggish and damp digestive system. It warms and dries so it’ll be great where you have symptoms like bloating, belching, candida, white coating on the tongue or fullness in the belly. Research shows it’s useful in treating amenorrhoea (no periods), neurodegeneration, Alzheimers (as an antioxidant), high blood glucose (as an anti-diabetic agent), thrush and candida, recurrent infections and high cholesterol. It’s been shown to anti-carcinogenic and immune boosting too.

Try adding it into….well everything, particularly lattes, teas, smoothies and desserts. Or try waking your digestive fire in the mornings with a cup of cinnamon and ginger tea sweetened with honey. Hmm hmm.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Use this warming, astringent spice for abdominal pain and distension, sluggish digestion, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome or simply to bring flavour and mild heat to rice, curries, casseroles or even baked potatoes. I also like making Turmeric chocolate with Turmeric and cacao butter as the base, very yum! Its anti-inflammatory activity is well established but research also shows it’s effective in neurological conditions like Alzheimers, rheumatoid arthritis, herpes virus infections, hepatitis, pancreatic cancer, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, psoriasis, uveitis and amenorrhoea. Its protective activity on the brain and liver are a good sign that this herb suits an anti-inflammatory diet (which is what Lee does so well, and what I get all my chronic digestive disease clients on).

Try sprinkling a tsp of Turmeric into your next pot of lentils, stew, creamy soup or curry or try it in a latte.

Cayenne (red) Chilli (Capsicum annuum)

Now we’re talking warming! Use this heating and pungent spice to revitalize a sluggish, heavy and slow digestive system. The sort of digestive symptoms that benefit from chilli include upset stomach, candida, bloating, flatulence, distension and stomach fullness. Rich in vitamins A, C and E, it’s an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, circulation booster and an anti-microbial that helps us fight infections. Research shows supplementation with chilli significantly lowers bad cholesterol levels in patients with metabolic syndrome and may assist in weight loss. It’s been given the status of an anti-diabetic agent. It suppresses the production of glucose of the liver, helping to reduce blood glucose levels. Studies into the use of chilli as an anti-tumour agent looking promising. It prevents oral cancer and inhibits cancer cell proliferation in leukemia, breast, pancreatic and skin cancers. (Most studies are in vitro so far.)

Try it on freshly roasted corn with a squeeze of lemon juice when you’re watching your weight, or add in small amounts to curries and cooked foods. Herbalists swear by a decoction of garlic, ginger, thyme, chilli and lemon juice for flu and colds.

Yes it can irritate, so if you’ve got any active inflammation, pain or damage to the mucosa in your gut (think colitis and the like) then go easy (or not at all) with heating and drying spices like chilli.

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)

Use this sweet and fragrant spice for digestive conditions with pain such as abdominal spasm or pain, nausea, upset stomach, pain around menstruation, flatulence and colic, candida infection or parasites. Preliminary in vitro studies suggest it may be useful in fighting colorectal cancer. If you suffer from tooth decay or gum disease, try rinsing with a clove infusion after brushing. Studies show clove kills bacteria and reduce plaque formations in the mouth and on the teeth while offering some pain relief with their anaesthetic action. Research also shows that clove is an anti-fungal, anti-rheumatic and anti-diabetic agent. A 2019 study revealed that 12 days of supplementation with clove lowers fasting blood glucose levels in type two diabetes patients.

Try it in your next latte/chai or add a little ground clove powder to desserts and sweet breads. Every June I whip up a batch of elderberry syrup to fight colds, and there’s always a good amount of clove in there to soothe a sore throat and fight bacterial infection.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

This sweet, aromatic, flavour-enhancing spice is a great base for curries and warming, winter casseroles when combined with cumin seed. We call it a seed but it’s actually a fruit which holds the seed inside (sorry, botany teacher, can’t help myself!) Coriander’s a ‘carminative’ which means it reduces any adverse symptoms that arise while we’re digesting our food. Use it to reduce flatulence, abdominal bloating, stomach disorders, nausea and vomiting as well as to treat worm infestation. It’s also a diuretic that stimulates fluid removal (great when you’re on a weight loss mission) and a diaphoretic to help you sweat out toxins. Like many other spices, coriander improves cardiovascular health. Research shows it lowers cholesterol, insulin, fasting blood sugars and raises total antioxidant levels in diabetic patients. Other purported uses include bacterial infections and rheumatoid arthritis.

Try it as part of a personalized curry spice blend or grind it up for use in all sorts of cooked meals. Add some into a dukkah blend with other seeds and spices and sprinkle over avocado on toast for a snack. It even goes well in honey with cumin.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Use this cooling, aromatic spice to relieve spasm in the gut and symptoms like flatulence and bloating. It’s one of the classic herbs used in natural infant colic preparations. It’s been used to assist in weight management and fight parasitic infections as well as influenza. Research reveals it improves age-induced memory, lowers anxiety, improves sleep, reduces excessive androgen levels and it also alleviates symptoms of the menopause like hot flushes and vaginal atrophy. It’s antioxidant, anti-viral and protective to the liver. Thinking this spice likes women? You’re right! Two recent systematic reviews (2020 and 2021) found it equally as effective for painful periods as conventional drugs.

In terms of the ‘seed’ (again, actually a fruit), you can throw it into both savoury and sweet foods, although it really has a sweeter taste. Try it added to other spices in potato and meat roasts, soups, stews, stock-making, curries and quiches.

Cardamom (Elletaria cardamomum)

Use the sweet, aromatic seeds of the cardamom pod to protect your digestive system against excessive heat. It’s wonderful for gut symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, indigestion and teeth and gum infections in the mouth. It also demonstrates an inhibitory action on Helicobacter pylori infection in in-vitro studies. Research shows cardamom seeds lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure in hypertensives making them a useful ally in preventing ischaemic heart disease. They also modulate immune function and may be useful in auto-immune conditions.

Hubby’s spent a lot of time in India and enjoys a good cup of tea, and his secret: always add some ground cardamom and ginger. Try cardamon in sweet breads, desserts, cookies, pastries, ice creams, sweet yoghurt, basmati rice, sweets, chai, coffee and tea, herbal teas or make your own simply syrup with cardamon (green) pods and use it to add flavour and spice to any beverage, anytime!

Many spices have been found useful in diabetes. In fact, lots of spices beyond here have been studied as anti-diabetic agents. Most promising spices for diabetes are cinnamon, ginger, fenugreek, garlic, black pepper, anise, coriander and cumin. Good news for the 578 million people expected to have diabetes by 2030 (that’s a whopping 10.2% of the global population).

You’ll also notice lots of spices being cited as anti-Alzheimers agents. Interest is particularly strong in saffron turmeric, the pepper family, ginger and cinnamon for neurodegenerative disease. Often it’s the antioxidant activity that comes in helpful here to prevent the breakdown of important brain chemicals like acetylcholine.

Below: Spiced Cauliflower Soup topped with Nigella seeds and White Sesame Seeds with a side of fresh alfalfa sprouts helps warm you from the inside out.

the best cooking spices for you

Want to discover which of these spices specifically suits you? Head to my one minute quiz here to find out:

Once you’ve done the quiz, pop on back and read up on the spices that came up for you. The next step from there is to start bringing your selected spices into your daily diet. Think about easy ways to do this and you’ll be bringing extra nutrition and flavour to your food and drinks.

Perhaps use your selected spice to inspire a personalized spice blend to use in curries, rice, stewed fruits or lattes. Or you could add your selected spices into your favourite herbal tea blend or chai.

One more tip, always buy certified organic spices for best effects.


Hey there! Welcome to my world of totally natural and powerful healing medicines. Medicines from nature. Medicine from Source. I’m a naturopath and herbalist with extensive clinical experience working with a range of health conditions including hormonal, metabolic, mental health, sleep and more.

I’ve brought together years of clinical and teaching experience, academic skill and curiosity to bring you this blog. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

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