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Nature’s basket > Spice Route
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The next time you wonder or whine why most Indian food items are more spicy than others, pause a while and rewind to the ancient culinary sciences where every spice in your list of ingredients works as more than just a flavour enhancer. This month we pick five common kitchen spices and dish out the health secrets behind each one.

While a lot is usually said about the fat-filled content of our cuisine, there is ample evidence that supports the health benefits of traditional Indian spices. Meticulously measured to the teaspoon (much like a doctor’s prescription), spices not only add an extra punch to the taste buds but, heal and cure several bodily discomforts and diseases. Here’s a quick glance at a few everyday condiments that find space on your kitchen shelf.
Star Anise:
This star shaped fruit of an evergreen tree has more to it than its pleasant aroma and sweet anise-like taste. Used in pickles and curries across the country, the seed within the fruit forms an indispensable part of the garam masala and is also used in Chinese, Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Of course, it also seems to find its way into the manufacture of liquor and chewing gum (not quite the health snack). But, surprisingly, is also used in some pharmaceuticals, backing its health benefits even more.
Known as Chakra Phool or Anasphal, Star Anise helps digestion, and can also ease flatulence in a person. It is also an antioxidant and is known to help prevent deposition of cholesterol in the arteries. Providing relief from cough, colic, constipation, and rheumatic pains, this little spice is quite the star it looks like!
Try this: The next time you’re in the mood to drink some tea, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of crushed seeds to the boiling water and let it brew for a while. You may add chamomile or other herbs to it for improved digestion or relief from cough.
While the gentle fragrance and warm taste of Cinnamon makes it a popular condiment in India, this spice also has several health benefits to its credit. Used abundantly in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, the Cinnamon bark can be added to food, whole or as a powder.

The healing powers of this spice come largely from the essential oils in it. Research today proves that even half a teaspoon of Cinnamon in your daily diet can go a long way in reducing cholesterol, especially LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and is also said to be beneficial in the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. It’s nearly the same amount that’s added to your everyday home cooked meals, which means there’s more to your family’s hand-me-down recipes than just the flavour.
Try this: A combination of honey and Cinnamon is known to cure many diseases. Try substituting your jam intake during breakfast with a honey and Cinnamon spread. This helps reduce cholesterol in the arteries and keeps your heart healthy. A little powdered Cinnamon to boiling water with honey and a pinch of pepper is a beneficial blend for the body if you’re suffering from malaria. You could also boil a Cinnamon stick in water and use this water to brew herbal teas in case of a bad cold.
This tiny little spice packs in big benefits for your system. Also known as Jaiphal, Nutmeg is found largely in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Carribean.

The antibacterial properties in the spice works wonders for dental hygiene fighting germs that cause cavities. When used in small quantities Nutmeg aids digestion, helps improve appetite and combats asthma. It is also prescribed in cases of vomiting, nausea, and is said to be beneficial in the early stages of leprosy. There are records that suggest Nutmeg can help cure freckles and when mixed with a little honey, also induces sleep.

Interestingly, the spice is also known to be an aphrodisiac, increasing sexual activity without reporting any side effects. However, it is often advised that would-be mothers and nursing mothers should avoid its use.

Try this: For better sleep, mix about a teaspoon of nutmeg, ground in a cup of boiled milk. Drink this at night before sleeping. You could also boil half a teaspoon of ground Nutmeg in a cup of water, filter it and drink the infusion for about a week to notice a difference in the quality of your sleep.
Popularly known as Methi, Fenugreek is used as food and its seeds are used as culinary spice. From the Indian subcontinent to China and Egypt, Fenugreek finds place in everyday cooking in many different forms and its cures are varied too.

A widely used galactagogue, Fenugreek boosts production of milk in nursing mothers and is also available today in the form of capsules. The advantages of this spice dates back to ancient Egypt when it was used to reduce fevers. Like many other spices, it helps treat diabetes by lowering the blood sugar levels. And if sprinkled on food or cooked with it, the seeds also help balance cholesterol. In the past, Fenugreek infusion was administered to patients suffering from small pox, as a coolant.

Be it gas, indigestion, diarrhoea or chronic cough, this spice lends its magical healing touch to several illnesses. In cases of liver or spleen enlargement, piles, oral ulcers, or even for post-natal care among women, Fenugreek serves as a great home remedy.
Try this: For skin related problems like eczema, boils, burns and inflammation, grind a spoon of Fenugreek seeds and mix it with warm water. Soak a clean cloth in this mixture and apply it on the affected area. Roasted seeds infused, and used in sweets is usually given to women during the post-natal period.
Red Chilli
The benefits of this spice are perhaps a little more controversial than others. While some find its use detrimental to health, many others believe it holds treasured secrets to a better life.

We all know a little Red Chilli powder is more than enough to add flavour and a kick to your food. But did you know it helps burn fat and consequently, lose weight? Consuming Red Chillies stimulates a heat producing reaction in the body. This speeds up the metabolism rate helping you lose weight fast. Recent studies suggest that it is useful in both pancreatic and prostrate cancer.

Try this: In case of arthritis, it is said that including Red Chillies in your daily diet gives relief from pain and inflammation. Apparently an ancient home remedy to treat dog bites involves Red Chillies too- apply a mixture of this powder and water on the affected area. It induces sweating that removes the poison from the body.
Bay Leaf
Whether crushed or whole, Bay Leaf lends a subtle flavour to food preparations and is used across India and in Mediterranean cuisines. Medicinally, it is said to be useful in treating migraines, gastric ulcers and lower blood sugar levels. In the past, the uses of this leaf have even included treatment for hysteria!

The oil from the leaf eases sprains. And the antioxidants and antibacterial properties in it are useful in bacterial or fungal infections. Bay Leaves also protect against heart diseases and help regulate the menstrual cycle.

Try this: Cure Ringworms with this easy home remedy- add water to a paste of Green Bay Leaves and apply it on the infection. It reduces swelling and soothes the skin.
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