By Leah Dudley
Spices and herbs are essential ingredients in the kitchen enhancing recipes to add layers of flavor. They are indispensable ingredient and component of taking your level of cooking over the top. If your culinary skills are limited just a few herbs and spices can liven up your meals to make you a cooking star in your kitchen.
The interesting factor of herbs and spices is not only the part they play in combining them with foods to enhance their flavor but their medicinal values and qualities. Many people do not realize the part herbs and spices play in modern day conventional and alternative medicine. Long before pharmaceuticals herbs and spices were prevalent in the treatment and curing of illness.
The following herbs and spices are the primary essentials of any pantry and can be used to make an amazing difference in your cooking.
Allspice comes from the Myrtle tree in Jamaica getting its name from the aroma of its fruit which are similar to cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and a slight peppery flavor. It is an antioxidant, prevents allergies, and aids digestion. It is good in baking pies, cakes, and cookies also can be added to beef and chicken to add an interesting layer of flavor.
Fresh basil leaves are one of the most aromatic herbs and used dried or fresh in cuisines of countries all over the world. It is a favorite in herb gardens and is also used in perfumes and body care products. It is known to restore immune function, as a diuretic, and even used for skin growths and parasites. It is great added to pastas, salads, vegetables, fish, and chicken.
Bay leaves are from the native shrub of Bay Laurel in the Mediterranean. Bay leaves can increase insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar, and retard weight gain. It enhances the taste of many stews, soups, sauces, and together with parsley and thyme in the flavorful blend known as Bouquet Garni often used in French cooking.
Peppercorns are the fruit of an evergreen climbing vine in the region of India. An antioxidant protecting cholesterol from changes that lead to calcification and formation of plaque, it prevents the spread of cancer cells, is a strong pain reliever, and antidepressant. It kills about 25% of bacteria leading to food spoilage and used in combination with garlic, allspice, onion, or oregano black pepper could kill almost all of the bacteria related to food borne illness. Black pepper can and should be used as a seasoning in all savory dishes to enhance flavor and for its health benefits.
Cayenne Pepper, Chile Powder and Chili Flakes
Cayenne, chili powder, and chili flakes are made from tasty hot peppers that are used in many cuisines. The sensation of pain and burning consuming hot peppers is related to the capsaicin content reaction of the central nervous system protecting your body from pain and tissue damage. The capsaicin in these peppers actually helps protect your tissues from damage and the pain of arthritis, shingles, cluster headaches, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain. It may help to protect the stomach against damage by aspirin, ibuprofen, and other pain relief medications and reduces the itching of psoriasis. Chili peppers are a synergistic ingredient in many conventional tonics, laxatives, sedatives, and allergy remedies. They are mainly used in all types of savory dishes but sometimes combined with chocolate for an interesting flavor.
Celery seed is basically used for flavor but recent research suggests that its compounds may stop the carcinogenic effect of toxins in the liver; it is anti-bacterial, a diuretic, and aids digestion. It is mainly used in salads, salad dressings, sauces, soups, and casseroles.
Cinnamon is one of the most familiar flavors and scents in the world. It has been used in many types of food, flavoring for many pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, and its oils are used for candles and aromas. It is an antioxidant, aids digestion, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. It has been used for over a thousand years around the world for chronic diarrhea, parasites, colds, cancer, hypertension, abdominal and heart pains. It can be used in many baking and savory recipes.
Cloves are a pungent spice used to flavor many spiced baked goods. It is an active ingredient in many over the counter toothache remedies with antiseptic and anesthetic properties and it is a strong germicide. Cloves are used to alleviate pain, prevent and treat bacterial infections, parasites, and relieve congestion. It is also used to sweeten bad breath and settle upset stomachs. Cloves are used in baking and are a wonderful spice for sweet sauces to accompany savory dishes.
Cumin is a small plant in the parsley family an essential ingredient in Mexican and Indian cuisines. It is a traditional herbal medicine used as a diuretic and to treat and promote a healthy digestive system. It is wonderful in any Mexican dish and many soups.
Anyone can grow dill in a flowerbed or garden. It is a perennial plant that produces many “seeds” which are actually the fruits of the herb and will come back year after year. Dill is an important ingredient in many cuisines and has been used as soothing remedy for colic, is anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. All parts of the green plant and the seeds are a tasty addition to breads, salads, and salad dressings.
Garlic is a superfood and should be used often in any savory recipe. Its properties have been used medicinally for infections, wounds, cancer, heart disease, detoxification, and parasitic infestations.
Garlic is also antibacterial, antifungal, cholesterol-lowering, and it reduces glucose metabolism in diabetics. It is used to flavor meats and vegetables, salads and dressings, soups and casseroles.
A tropical perennial Ginger is the most widely used and available herbal remedy on the planet, with billions of people using it every day as both food and medicine. Ginger is used either fresh or dried in nearly two thirds of all traditional Chinese and Japanese herbal formulas. It relieves dryness and heat, dampness and chill, warms the energy channels and stops bleeding, especially uterine bleeding. It is a detoxifier, protects the liver and digestive tract against toxins and parasites, lowers cholesterol levels, relieves allergies and asthma, arthritis, colds, and nausea. Ginger also decreases blood clotting, protects the lining of the stomach from alcohol damage, is especially useful in small doses in pregnancy. It is used in baking and savory recipes and is a very important superfood!
Juniper berries are the fruit of cedar trees. They are used in savory recipes with many diuretic, antibiotic, germicidal and antiseptic properties. Among the conditions that juniper berries have been used to treat are cough, fever, rheumatism, diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy, and toothache. The plant has chemicals that suggest it may help the body fight arthritis, asthma, cough, congestion, Hepatitis and muscle stiffness. I use Juniper berries in my poultry seasoning and to season beef and wild game meats.
Lemon peel is the yellow outer layer of the lemon. Lemon peel is a good source of Vitamin C and bioflavonoid that stabilize capillaries and reduce the risk of skin cancer. I use it for aroma and taste enhancement in many baked and savory foods along with the juice of the lemon.
Mustard is made by grinding seeds of the mustard plant in combination with vinegar to make a pungent tangy condiment. Mustard relives swelling, increases circulation, relieves pain, and stimulates breathing. Mustard is also used in sauces, salads, and dressings.
The nutmeg tree is a native of the Spice Islands in Indonesia. Nutmeg isn’t really a nut, but the kernel of an apricot-like fruit. It is antiviral, used in the treatment of flu, digestive disorders, headaches, joint aches, and congestion. It is used in baked and savory dishes and many spice blends. I prefer to use whole nutmeg to grate on a micro fine grater and store it in the freezer to maintain its freshness. It is a lovely addition to any white savory sauce for a flavorful dish.
With origins in China and cultivated in most every country the current orange production comes from Florida, California, and parts of the Mediterranean. It is a little known fact there are substantially more enzymes, flavonoids, and phyto-nutrients in peel of the orange rather than the fruit. These essential components are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-carcinogenic. It has been used for treatment in hypertension, to reduce pressure from cramping, and reduce phlegm in the lungs and throat. Orange peel is used in sweet and savory recipes and is an excellent addition to many sauces, salads, and dressings with the juice of the orange.
A slightly bitter warm and aromatic herb in the mint family. Quality oregano has a pungency that numbs the tongue and is grown in a warm, dry climate. It is a strong sedative with soothing effects to aid in restful sleep. Oregano is antiseptic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, and used for the treatment of colds, influenza, mild fevers, indigestion, stomach upsets and painful menstruation. It is good in a variety of savory recipes and spice blends.
A culinary herb paprika shares the medicinal qualities of most varieties of red pepper, the capsicums and is native to South America that was naturalized to Hungary and Spain. Paprika is often used as a garnish in egg and potato dishes, and to add color. Its spiciness varies depending on the proportion of seed, rind and fruit in the ground powder and other varieties have been developed including smoked or roasted Paprika which adds a nicely rounded and mildly smoked flavor to culinary creations.
While paprika does contain capsaicin, it’s one of the milder of the chilies, and is not often used medicinally. It is high in vitamin C and carotenids, making it a healthy addition to the diet.
A condiment and garnish parsley lightens the taste of garlic and the odor of fish and can be added to almost any food except sweets. Naturopathic practitioners often recommend fresh parsley as a detoxifier because of its concentrated chlorophyll. I use Italian parsley for a more intense flavor and it is a regular staple in my refrigerator.
Common garden sage has been known and used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. The low-growing evergreen shrub is popular in nearly every European cuisine. A valuable healing herb sage is used to treat ulcers and digestive problems; it prevents blood clots, relieves itching and has astringent properties. It is used variously to flavor and preserve meats, poultry, soups, cheeses, and vegetables. Its unmistakable peppery flavor makes it popular for use in poultry and pork stuffing, and to flavor and preserve sausage meats.
An aromatic herb in the mint family thyme is antibiotic, astringent, expectorant, and is antifungal. Teas of thyme can be taken orally to treat allergies, asthma, colds, and coughs. Inhaling the essential oil in the herb encourages coughing up of phlegm and stops spasms of the bronchial passages. The fragrance and flavor of thyme leaves have long been a favorite of cooks for seasoning meats, soups, and stews. Thyme is especially common in Mediterranean and French cuisine, and is an ingredient in the seasoning blend Herbes de Provence.
Turmeric is a tropical perennial plant in the same family as ginger, native to India, and cultivated throughout the tropics around the world. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory superfood that has significant abilities to prevent cholesterol buildup, treat diseases of the liver and to relieve inflammation. Turmeric helps prevent new cancers that are caused by chemotherapy or radiation used to treat existing cancers. It also helps prevent the pain of arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis. Curcumin in turmeric helps prevent hardening of the arteries in people who have diabetes, helps stop the loss of protein through the kidneys, increases the production of enzymes that digest fats and sugars, and stop cholesterol from forming gallstones. Turmeric prevents the release of histamine in the stomach, quelling nervous stomach and counteracting food allergies and it fights gum inflammation. Turmeric is used in spice blends and is a healthy and vital addition to any savory dish. I sprinkle it in many recipes and add a pinch to scrambled eggs, soups, and sauces.
Vanilla may be the most well known flavor in the world derived from the ripened fruit of a tropical orchid, It is the only orchid in the world that produces an edible fruit. In the wild, vanilla vines attach themselves to living trees and may grow to a length of 80 feet. The complex layering of sweet and spicy flavors have been used for centuries to flavor and enhance many baked goods and used in as a wonderful addition to chocolate and desserts. I keep a supply of vanilla beans on hand and make my own vanilla.
Spices and herbs can be very expensive but a wonderful alternative is ordering them in bulk. I keep small amounts in my pantry to use for cooking but store the bulk in my freezer to use as needed and refill my spice bottles. Vanilla beans are not to be frozen and kept in a dark cool place.
I order my spices and herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs and many of their varieties are organic.
1/4 cup dried Rosemary
2 Tablespoons dried Thyme
1 Tablespoon dried Sage
1 Tablespoon dried Basil
1 Tablespoon dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon Turmeric
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
If you have a food processor you can process for a few seconds until combined. If not…just mix together and store in bottle or jar.
1 bottle organic vodka
10 vanilla beans
Slice open 3 vanilla beans and with the remaining beans add to the bottle of vodka. Store in a cool dark place and shake bottle once a week for at least 4 months before using.
Citrus Turkey Brine
5 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary (3 Tablespoons dried Rosemary)
10 Sprigs Fresh Thyme (3 Tablespoons dried Thyme)
4 Bay Leaves
1 ½ cup Kosher Salt
3 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns (3 Tablespoons Black Pepper)
1 Tablespoon Juniper Berries crushed (optional)
5 large cloves Garlic roughly chopped
2 cups brown sugar
2 gallons water
In a large pot slice oranges, lemons, limes, and apples. Add the water and remaining ingredients. Mix well. Bring mixture to a boil on high heat and cook for three minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Unwrap turkey and remove bags of giblets and neck from cavity or turkey. Rinse under cool water and place turkey in a large brining bag or pot. Pour brine over turkey making sure it is submerged in the water. You can add more water if needed.
Refrigerate and let turkey brine for at least 8 – 12 hours or up to 1 hour per pound of turkey.
Remove turkey from brine. Wash turkey with cool water and discard brine solution.
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