Herbs and Spices (Culinary) A-C
The following information is a brief introduction to the most common culinary herbs and
spices along with some of their health benefits.  
Caution:  Since all herbs and spices
contain medicinal properties, they should be used in moderation.   
Ground allspice is not, as some people believe, a mixture of spices. Rather, it is the
dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant.  It is especially used as a seasoning for meats,
soups, and deserts.   Allspice contains quercetin, a nutrient that helps to prevent
allergies.   Allspice also helps to provide relief from indigestion and flatulence.   

Anise is an annual plant with a strong licorice flavor.  It is used as a seasoning to
compliment both sweet and savory foods such as cakes, biscuits, seafood and poultry.  
Anise contains medicinal properties that help to relieve congestion from allergies, colds,
and flu.  It has also been used to treat digestive problems and to help relieve menstrual

Caution:  Allergies are possible, but rare.  Not recommended while pregnant or nursing.

Arrowroot Starch
Arrowroot powder is the edible starch that comes from the rhizomes (rootstock) of
the arrowroot plant.   It is used as a thickening agent in many foods such as puddings,
sauces, gravies, jellies, fruit pies, and biscuits.  Due to its great digestibility compounds
arrowroot starch is used as a primary ingredient in infant cookies instead of wheat
flour.  The starch helps to soothe digestive conditions such as irritable bowel

Basil is a tender low-growing herb that is prominently featured in Italian and Southeast
Asian cuisine.  It is commonly used fresh in cooked recipes, and added at the last
moment because cooking quickly destroys its flavor.  There are several varieties of
basil including sweet basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, and holy basil.  Basil is currently being
studied due to its possible health benefits for alleviating conditions such as digestive
problems, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, arthritis, and several others.  

Caution:  The safety of the herb has not been established for pregnant women, nursing
mothers, or children under six.

Bay Leaves
Bay leaves are the aromatic leaves of the Bay Laurel Shrub.  Fresh or dried bay leaves
are often used to flavor soups, stews, braises and pâtés in Mediterranean Cuisine.   Bay
leaves have been used medicinally for lowering blood sugars and slowing weight gain.

Caution:  Although bay leaves are safe to eat, they remain very stiff even after
thorough cooking.  Because of this, bay leaves are not considered culinarily acceptable.  
Eating whole bay leaves may also pose a risk of general injury to the throat. This is the
reason why all recipes that use bay leaves will recommend their removal after the
cooking process has finished.

Black Pepper
Black pepper comes from the dried fruit (peppercorns) of a flowering vine.  It is used as
a spice and seasoning in many cuisines around the world.  When the peppercorns are
ground into a powder it is referred to as black pepper, white pepper, red/pink pepper,
green pepper, and very often simply pepper.  Recent scientific investigations indicate
that the piperine in black pepper acts as an antioxidant, a pain relief agent, and it might
help to prevent the spread of cancer cells.   Ground pepper is eliminated from the diet
of patients having abdominal surgery and ulcers because of its irritating effect on the

Caution:  Avoid excessive use of black pepper (more than 1 teaspoon per day) if you
take prescription digoxin (Lanoxin) or phenytoin (Dilantin). Too much pepper may slow
the rate at which the liver clears these medications from the bloodstream.

The Caraway plant has been used for a variety of purposes dating all the way back to
3000 BC.   Caraway seeds, also referred to as the fruit, are used to give a distinctive
flavor to rye bread, cabbage, sauerkraut, sausage, cheese, and soups.  It has been
used as a remedy for menstrual cramps, gallbladder spasms, loss of appetite, digestive
disorders, and to dispel worms.

There are two species of cardamom, Elettaria and Amomum, also known as green and
black cardamom.  They are both used as spices for foods and drinks.   Cardamom
helps to prevent flatulence and may also help to prevent Colon Cancer.  Cardamom is
especially used in cuisines such as pilafs, various rice dishes, meat and vegetable

Cayenne peppers are members of the Capsicum family along with bell peppers,
jalapeños, paprika, and pimento.   The word cayenne usually refers to any type of hot
ground chile pepper.  Cayenne is actually from a specific type of chile pepper.  To
compare the relative heat of chile peppers, the Scoville scale assigns a number between
0 and 300,000 heat units. Each unit represents the amount of “hotness” a person
would experience when consuming a chile or chile product. The higher the number, the
hotter the pepper.  Sweet bell peppers are rated 0 because you experience no heat
when consuming them. On the other hand, cayenne pepper is rated at 30,000 -50,000
Scoville units.  Cayenne is used medicinally and also as a seasoning for spicy, hot
dishes.  It contains a pungent substance known as capsaicin, which is responsible for
the burning hot sensation that people experience after eating the pepper.   Cayenne
pepper is used commonly as a thermogenic and to improve blood circulation and
general circulatory health.

Caution:  Don't touch your eyes with your hands after you have handled capsaicin
cream. Excessive use internally may result in gastro-intestinal upset.

Celery Seed
Celery is used around the world as a vegetable, either for the crisp petiole (leaf stalk) or
the fleshy taproot.  In temperate countries, celery is also grown for its seeds.  Celery
seeds can be used as flavoring or spice either as whole seeds or, ground and mixed
with salt, as celery salt. Celery salt can also be made from an extract of the roots.  
Celery salt is sometimes used to season tomato and vegetable juices, meat roasts,
and seafood.  Seeds intended for cultivation are not suitable for eating as they are
often treated with fungicides.  Celery seed is a traditional remedy for nervous stomach
and for relieving flatulence.  

Caution:  A few people have severe allergic reactions to celery.   For people with celery
allergy, exposure can cause potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

Chervil is a delicate annual herb related to parsley.  It is used to season mild-flavored
dishes.  Sometimes referred to as "gourmet's parsley", chervil is used to season
poultry, seafood, and vegetables. It is particularly popular in France, where it is added
to omelettes, salads and soups.  Chervil has been used medicinally as a blood purifier, a
digestive aid, for lowering high blood pressure, and infused with vinegar it has been used
as a cure for hiccups.

Caution:  Safety not established during pregnancy or nursing or for children under the
age of 6.

Chili powder
Chili powder is a generic name for any powdered spice mix composed chiefly of chili
peppers, usually either red peppers or cayenne peppers, which are both from the
Capsicum family.  The spice mix may simply be pure powdered chilies, or it may have
other ingredients included such as cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and salt.  Some
mixes may even include black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, mace, nutmeg, or
turmeric.  As a result of the various different potential additives, the spiciness of any
given chili powder is incredibly variable. As a rule, the purer the chili powder is, the
spicier it is.  Chili powder is regularly used in traditional Indian cuisine.  Today it is
especially popular in American cuisine, where it’s the primary flavor ingredient in chili con

Caution:  Don't touch your eyes with your hands after you have handled capsaicin
cream. Excessive use internally may result in gastro-intestinal upset.

Chives are the smallest species of the onion family.  They are a common household
herb, frequent in gardens as well as in grocery stores.  Chives can be added to foods
such as fish, potatoes, oomelets & scrambled eggs, and soups.  Their insect-repelling
properties make them valuable as a pest control in gardens.   Chives help to lower
blood pressure.  They are also rich in vitamins A and C, and contain trace amounts of
sulfur and iron.  Since chives are usually served in small amounts and never as the main
dish, negative effects are rarely encountered, although digestive problems may occur
following over-consumption.

Cilantro is the leafy portion of the same plant that gives us coriander seed, but the two
bear little resemblance to one another in terms of flavor characteristics.  Cilantro
resembles parsley in appearance, and is commonly called Chinese parsley or Japanese
parsley.  It is used as a seasoning in many foods around the world.  It adds great flavor
to chutneys & relishes, soups & stews, curry dishes, and stir-frys.  Like many herbs,
cilantro’s flavor diminishes with prolonged heat so add it to your dishes in the final five
minutes of cooking.  Cilantro is antimicrobial.  It has also been used to settle upset
stomach in Latin American herbal healing traditions.   

Cinnamon powder and sticks are derived from the bark of tropical evergreen trees.   
The name cinnamon is correctly used to refer to Ceylon cinnamon, also known as "true
cinnamon".  However, the related species, Cassia, Saigon Cinnamon, and
Cinnamomum burmannii are sometimes sold labeled as cinnamon.  There are two main
varieties of the bark: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia.   Cinnamon can be used as a
flavoring agent for many foods including baked goods, squash & sweet potatoes, Indian
curries, and beverages such as tea.   Cinnamon has traditionally been used to treat
toothache and fight bad breath.  Its regular use is believed to help prevent the common
cold and aid digestion. Cinnamon is high in antioxidant activity.  The essential oil of
cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties that can help to preserve certain foods.

Caution:  It has been noted by the German Commission E that some people are in fact
allergic to cinnamon, with side effects ranging from an allergic skin reactions to mucosa.
It is not recommended for medicinal uses during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a small evergreen tree that is native to the
Molucca islands of Indonesia.  Cloves have historically been used in Indian cuisine as well
as Mexican cuisine.  In north Indian cuisine, the spice is used in almost all dishes, along
with other spices.  It is also a key ingredient in tea along with green cardamom.  Cloves
can be added to many foods including pilafs, pumpkin pie, and various rice dishes.  
Cloves have been used to alleviate pain, prevent and treat bacterial infections, settle
upset stomach, ease toothaches, treat worms, and relieve congestion.   Since cloves
contain anesthetic and antiseptic properties, they are the active ingredient in many over
the counter toothache remedies.   

Caution:  Large amounts should be avoided during pregnancy.  Cloves can be irritating
to the gastrointestinal tract, and should be avoided by people with gastric ulcers, colitis,
or irritable bowel syndrome.  In overdoses, cloves can cause vomiting, nausea,
diarrhea, and upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage.   People who have kidney or liver
disorders and those with a history of seizures should avoid the use of cloves.  Severe
overuse can lead to kidney failure, changes in liver function, dyspnea, loss of
consciousness, hallucination, and even death.

Coriander is the seed of an annual herb in the family Apiaceae.  The leaves are known
as cilantro, particularly in America.  All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves
and the dried seeds are the most commonly used in cooking. Coriander is commonly
used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, South Asian, Mexican, Latin American,
Chinese, African and Southeast Asian cuisine.  Ground Coriander is ideal for curries and
spicy sauces.  It can be added to other foods such as Asian salads, stir-fries, stews, and
potatoes.  In holistic and some traditional medicine, it is used as a carminative and for
general digestive aid.

Caution:  Coriander can produce an allergic reaction in some people.

Cumin is the dried seed of a small plant in the parsley and carrot family.  It is the
second most popular spice in the world after black pepper.  Cumin seeds are used as a
spice for their distinctive aroma and pungent taste.  Cumin powder is a popular
ingredient in many cuisines from around the world.  It can be added to curries,
enchiladas, tacos, chili, and other Middle-Eastern, Indian, Cuban and Mexican-style
foods.  It is also commonly used in traditional Brazilian cuisine.   Medicinally, cumin has
been used as a diuretic and to treat stomach upset and flatulence.  In herbal medicine,
it is classified as being a stimulant, carminative, and antimicrobial.

Caution:  Be forewarned that cumin stimulates the appetite and may increase lactation
in nursing mothers.

Curry powder
Curry powder is a spice mixture of widely varying composition.  It is a classic of Indian
cuisine.  In the Western world, curry powder mixtures tend to have fairly standardized
taste, whereas in its original India there are many different curry flavors available to be
experienced for the true gourmet.  Most curry powders contain coriander, turmeric,
cumin, and fenugreek in their blends. Depending on the recipe, additional ingredients
such as ginger, garlic, fennel seed, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, green cardamom,
black cardamom, mace, nutmeg, red pepper, long pepper, and black pepper may also
be added.  Curry powder can be added to several foods including meat and vegetable
dishes, noodles, couscous, stir-fries, and marinades.  


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