Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices: Recipes

Dr. David Wiss

January 4, 2022

Nutrition

The importance of polyphenolic compounds for mental health cannot be overstated. Polyphenols are organic compounds that can donate electrons to scavenge free radical oxidants (unstable atoms which can damage cells) in the body, hence the term “antioxidant.” One important category of polyphenols includes flavonoids, which have begun to receive considerable attention in combating inflammatory processes associated with depression [1].

One potential pathway is through reducing processes by which inflammation can travel to the brain, known as neuroinflammation. There are several pathways linking the gut and brain (i.e., the “gut-brain axis”) that may be involved in connecting nutrition and mental health. Food’s effect on the brain is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves! This article will provide some easy steps toward anti-inflammatory eating.

Mechanistic pathways by which flavonoids and other polyphenols can be neuroprotective start in the gut. These phytonutrient compounds are the next frontier in prebiotics [2]. In conjunction with a high-fiber diet, these biologically active compounds support the presence of beneficial gut bacteria [3,4] and can modulate the immune system [5]. The molecular basis by which plant polyphenols may benefit neurodegenerative pathologies such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s has recently been reviewed elsewhere [6].

Rather than focusing on why each of the herbs and spices below should be included in your routine, it will be much more helpful to describe some ways how to get them in! In this article, we make recommendations for how to include more herbs and spices into your routine, and some recipes to go along with it! The recipes will help you get the best fiber for gut health and reduce chronic inflammation. 

First and foremost, fresh herbs are more potent than dried herbs in terms of nutrition. Dried herbs contribute flavor but don’t provide the full antioxidant benefit. However, having fresh herbs can be inconvenient since they can be expensive and tend to spoil quickly. So don’t buy too many and let them spoil in your fridge. It might be best to chop fresh herbs and store them in a glass container (make sure to dry them off with a paper towel before storing them). Buy one or two at a time and rotate through them for the full range of benefits. If you are using dried herbs, make sure they have not been sitting in your cabinet for years! Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking to get a richer flavor and use dried herbs in dishes that are cooked longer. Note: some herbs can be frozen and added to soups, stews, and dressings.

 

Cilantro

A flavor that people love or hate (generally, those that dislike cilantro have a genetic variation that promotes the perception of a soapy taste, so it’s nothing personal). Fresh cilantro can spoil quickly, so use it in large amounts and put it everywhere: salads, soups, and even sandwiches (yes, you can put herbs in sandwiches). Eat the leaves and stems. Cilantro can also be juiced. One great way to use this herb is to make Mexican-style black beans with cheese and hot sauce and top them with loads of fresh cilantro. Cilantro is key to delicious salsa! Peruse some recipes with cilantro.

 

Parsley

This is another herb that can be added to nearly anything. This herb can also be juiced. Or make a salad with cilantro, parsley, various microgreens, and skip the lettuce altogether! Parsley can be used to create a pesto, infused into olive oil, and in most cooked vegetables dishes. Have you tried parsley on roasted potatoes yet? Peruse some recipes with parsley.

 

Dill 

Fresh dill weed is packed with a tangy flavor but may be less versatile than cilantro and parsley. A small amount can go a long way and is good to use as a garnish or in sauces. Many people associate this herb with pickles and the unique flavor of homemade ranch. To store longer, keep dill in a jar or glass of water (like flowers). Peruse some of our recipes with dill.

 

Mint

Mint adds a fresh, fruity, and aromatic flavor to foods and tea. This should be a staple in your fridge. Both peppermint and spearmint go great in fruit salads, yogurt, and especially smoothies! Have you had a mint smoothie yet? Mint is well known for its use in tea and can even be eaten alone as an herbal remedy for an upset stomach (it can calm the digestive tract and alleviate indigestion, gas, and cramps). Peruse some of our recipes with mint.

 

Basil

This herb is in the mint family and is packed with antioxidants. It is delicious in a Caprese salad with tomato and mozzarella, or pesto sauce. It has a distinct and sharp flavor and is most well-known for its use in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Like most herbs, it can be chopped finely and added to salads, sandwiches, and grain dishes. It is also delicious in chilis and soups. Is it time to work basil into your routine? Peruse some of our recipes with basil.

 

Oregano

This herb has a robust flavor and adds fiber to your dietary intake. It can be more intense when used dried rather than fresh. Oregano is a staple in Spanish cuisine and can also be enjoyed in salads or desserts. Oregano pairs well with tomatoes. It is also from the mint family, providing potent antioxidant benefit. Oregano has increased in popularity in recent years due to oregano oil, which may have antimicrobial properties, but we suggest using fresh (or dried) oregano in your home-cooked meals! Be careful because too much can make a dish bitter. Peruse some of our recipes with oregano.

 

Thyme

A relative to oregano, thyme is also in the mint family and is indigenous to the Mediterranean region. Fresh thyme may not always be available in stores, but it can be bought frozen. If you cannot find (or store) thyme sprigs, it is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried. Much like oregano, its essential oil may contain antimicrobial properties. Are you ready to start sprinkling some fresh thyme leaves onto your dishes? Peruse some of our recipes with thyme.

 

Rosemary

A fragrant herb with needle-like leaves that is also part of the mint family, rosemary is most well-known for its addition to beef and lamb dishes. The fragrant scent given off by rosemary will make your house feel like a home! In Mexico, rosemary is sometimes burned to ward off mosquitos. This herb is best consumed in small doses (don’t juice it!). Peruse some of our recipes with rosemary.

 

Sage

This flavorful herb is also part of the mint family. It has a savory, slightly peppery flavor with a lemony zest and appears in many European dishes. This is another herb that may create a bitter taste if used too heavily. Have you tried cooking with sage yet? Peruse some of our recipes with sage.

 

Ginger

A root rather than an herb that goes great with Asian-inspired dishes and packs a punch! Ginger contains compounds called gingerols that have incredibly potent anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice. We highly recommend adding fresh ginger to vegetable juices. The flesh should be moist and firm, not dry and stringy. Ginger is known for its potential to alleviate nausea and morning sickness, as well as treat chronic indigestion. Fresh ginger tea is a real treat! Peruse some of our recipes with ginger.

 

Turmeric

Turmeric has been used in some parts of the world for thousands of years as a medicinal spice. It contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound supported by high-quality studies showing benefits for the body and brain [7]. Much like ginger, turmeric packs a punch and should be used sparingly in most dishes. For the full benefits, curcumin should be consumed with black pepper, which contains piperine, enhancing its absorption significantly [8]. Curcumin is also fat-soluble, which means it’s good to consume with fats for maximum absorption. Are you ready to add fresh turmeric to your dishes? Peruse some of our turmeric recipes.

 

Cinnamon

The inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree is a household favorite for oatmeal, smoothies, or homemade ginger tea. Cinnamon may help improve some people’s insulin sensitivity, which in turn improves blood sugar regulation [9]. Most importantly, cinnamon is delicious. Look for Cinnanomum verum, which translates to “true cinnamon” if you can find it! You can even throw a cinnamon stick into your water to improve the taste and get some of the benefits. Peruse some of our indulgent recipes with cinnamon.

 

Cayenne

A chili pepper with a moderately hot, spicy flavor thanks to a compound called capsaicin. We recognize that not everyone loves spicy foods, but cayenne can be used in small amounts. Cayenne peppers are especially rich in provitamin A carotenoids and vitamin C, as well as flavonoids. Cayenne can be consumed fresh but is most often consumed in a powder or in hot sauce. Cayenne powder can add a lot of flavor to your food without the need for added salt. Peruse some of our recipes with cayenne.

 

Cumin

A spice with a rich, full-bodied, and earthy flavor that is part of the parsley family. Goes great in soups, stews, corn, and Mexican and Indian dishes. Cumin is available as whole seeds or as powder. If you are looking to fall in love with your home-cooked meals, this is undoubtedly a staple to have! Peruse some of our recipes with cumin.


Summary

If you’re looking for how to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, look no further! Herbs and spices are a potent source of nutrition for depression, anxiety, and addiction recovery, and may help offset some of the biological ramifications of trauma. We are committed to giving you all the tools you need to step into a new chapter with grace!  

References

1. Ali S, Corbi G, Maes M, Scapagnini G, Davinelli S. Exploring the Impact of Flavonoids on Symptoms of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Antioxidants. 2021;10(11):1644.

2. Nazzaro F, Fratianni F, Feo VD, Battistelli A, Cruz AGD, Coppola R. Polyphenols, the new frontiers of prebiotics. Adv Food Nutrition Res. 2020;94:35–89.

3. Marín L, Miguélez EM, Villar CJ, Lombó F. Bioavailability of Dietary Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Metabolism: Antimicrobial Properties. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:1–18.

4. Aravind SM, Wichienchot S, Tsao R, Ramakrishnan S, Chakkaravarthi S. Role of dietary polyphenols on gut microbiota, their metabolites and health benefits. Food Res Int. 2021;142:110189.

5. Yahfoufi N, Alsadi N, Jambi M, Matar C. The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1618.

6. Leri M, Scuto M, Ontario ML, Calabrese V, Calabrese EJ, Bucciantini M, et al. Healthy Effects of Plant Polyphenols: Molecular Mechanisms. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(4):1250.

7. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92.

8. Shoba G, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas P. Influence of Piperine on the Pharmacokinetics of Curcumin in Animals and Human Volunteers. Planta Med. 1998;64(04):353–6.

9. Wang J, Wang S, Yang J, Henning SM, Ezzat-Zadeh Z, Woo S-L, et al. Acute Effects of Cinnamon Spice on Post-prandial Glucose and Insulin in Normal Weight and Overweight/Obese Subjects: A Pilot Study. Frontiers Nutrition. 2021;7:619782.