Herbs and Spices (Culinary) D-V
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.
Dill weed isn’t a weed at all. It is actually a sturdy, delicate-looking annual that’s been
cultivated as far back as 3,000 BC. Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called "dill
weed" to distinguish it from dill seed) are used as herbs. Dill seed is used as a spice,
with a flavor somewhat similar to caraway, but also resembling that of fresh or dried dill
weed. Dill weed’s flavor is mild and sweet, with slight hints of anise and parsley. Dill
weed is said to be best when used fresh, because it looses it’s flavor rapidly if dried. If
using dried dill weed, it is recommended that it be added towards the end of cooking or
in recipes with low or no heat so that it retains its flavor and aroma. Dill can be added
to many foods including potato salads, vegetable dips, salad dressings, fish and poultry
dishes, and omelets. Both dill weed and dill seed help to settle upset stomach and are
Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb. It is generally considered indigenous to
the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalized elsewhere. It may
now be found growing wild in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the
sea-coast and on river-banks. Fennel can be added to many foods including soups,
Italian sausages, pasta, salads, and tomato dishes. Fennel has been used to treat
digestive problems such as stomach cramps, added to laxatives to ensure gentle
action, used in teas to break up congestion caused by colds and allergies, and fennel
seed tea is helpful in treating babies with colic (please see precautions).
Caution: Fennel seed teas are helpful for colicky infants, but fennel seed oil should
never be given to infants or young children because of the danger of spasms of the
Garlic is a species in the onion family. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek,
and chive. Garlic cloves are used as seed for consumption (raw or cooked), and for
medicinal purposes. The leaves, stems, and flowers are also edible and are most often
consumed while immature and still tender. The papery, protective layers of "skin" over
various parts of the plant and the roots attached to the bulb are the only parts not
considered palatable. Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavor as a
seasoning or condiment. It can be added to many savory foods including curries,
meats, potatoes, salad dressings, and gravies. Garlic is claimed to help prevent cancer
and heart disease (including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure).
Garlic is also being studied for its ability to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Ginger is the underground stem (root) of the ginger plant. It is used as a spice and is
also consumed whole as a delicacy or medicine. The juice from ginger roots is
extremely potent and is often used as a spice in Indian recipes and Chinese cuisine to
flavor dishes such as seafood or mutton and vegetarian recipes. Powdered dry ginger
root (ginger powder) is typically used to spice gingerbread and other recipes. Ginger is
also made into candy, is used as a flavoring for cookies, crackers and cake. It is the
main flavor in ginger ale—a sweet, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage. Ginger can also
be added to winter squashes, carrots, teas, couscous, and spiced preserves. Studies
have shown that ginger offers a wide range of medicinal actions including: lowering
cholesterol levels, and relieving allergies, asthma, arthritis, colds, and nausea.
Marjoram (sometimes called sweet marjoram) is a perennial herb in the mint family. It
provides the flavors of sweet pine and citrus. It is used for both culinary and medicinal
purposes. Oregano is a close relative of marjoram and is sometimes called wild
marjoram. Marjoram is milder and provides a more subtle, savory, and less peppery
taste than oregano. Marjoram helps to prevent spasms in the digestive tract.
Caution: Women who experience heavy menstruation should avoid marjoram. The
herb is not recommended for infants and small children.
Mint herb divides into two major groups, spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint is most
often used for culinary purposes and peppermint is used for its medicinal properties and
also to flavor sweets and breath fresheners. The leaves, fresh or dried, are the culinary
source of mint. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint when storage of the
mint is not a problem. The leaves have a pleasant warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor
with a cool aftertaste. Mint leaves can be added to beverages, teas, jellies, roasted
meats, syrups, candies, and ice creams. Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to
treat stomach ache and chest pains. It is commonly used in the form of tea as a home
remedy to help alleviate stomach pain. Mint leaves are often used by many campers to
Mustard seeds are the small seeds of the various mustard plants. There are three
varieties of mustard: black, brown and white. The yellow in the common mustard
condiment comes from the addition of tumeric. Although mustard seeds are some of
the smallest of all seeds, the mustard plant can grow to a very large size. Ground
mustard seeds are the recommended choice when dispersing the spice into foods.
Whole mustard seeds can be boiled with vegetables or used in pickling. Mustard seed
can be added to several foods including pickling spices, marinades, salad dressings,
barbecue sauces, and roasted red meats. Mustard paste can be made by combining
mustard seed powder with water/vinegar and some seasonings. It can be used as a
condiment. Mustard is known to be very helpful for digestion, and can help to speed
up the metabolism. Mustard seeds are a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids as
well as calcium, dietary fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, protein,
selenium and zinc.
Nutmeg is an evergreen tree indigenous to the Moluccas (The Spice Islands) of
Indonesia. Two spices are derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the
actual seed of the tree and mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering of the seed. This is
the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices. Nutmeg and mace have
similar taste qualities, but nutmeg is slightly sweeter and mace has a more delicate
flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it
imparts. Nutmeg adds a tasty addition to cheese sauces and is best when grated
fresh. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog.
Nutmeg can be added to several foods including cookies & cakes, cooked squashes,
milk & rice puddings, cheese dishes, and sauces. In herbal medicine nutmeg powder is
used to relieve or prevent flatulence and to break up chest congestion.
Caution: Nutmeg is a very weak hallucinogen; caution and moderation should be
Onion powder is a spice made from finely ground dehydrated onions. It is mainly made
with the pungent varieties of bulb onions, which causes the powder to have a very
strong smell. Onion powder comes in a few varieties: white onion powder, red onion
powder, yellow onion powder, and toasted onion powder. Onions are an important
ingredient in almost every culture’s cuisine. Onion powder combines well in sauces,
soups and spice blends without adding unwanted texture. It can be added to many
dishes including meatloaves, soups & sauces, casseroles, and vegetables. In traditional
herbal medicine, onion is a gentle herb for relieving toxicity and breaking up “clumps” of
infections (sores or abscesses). Onions can also be used to induce perspiration to
‘sweat out a cold,” and relieve nasal congestion. Onions can also help to relieve
Caution: Onion powder is toxic to dogs. Also, avoid using this product when there is
Oregano is an aromatic, slightly bitter herb in the mint family. It is often used in tomato
sauces, with fried vegetables, and with grilled meats. Together with basil, it contributes
much to the distinctive character of many Italian dishes. Oregano combines well with
pickled olives, capers, and lovage leaves. It also works well with hot and spicy food,
which is popular in southern Italy. Oregano is a popular ingredient in Greek cuisine. It
adds flavor to Greek salads and is usually used separately or added to the lemon-olive
oil sauce that accompanies many fish or meat barbecues and some casseroles.
Oregano can be added to many dishes including pasta sauces & pizzas, Italian &
Mexican dishes, roasted vegetables, salsas, hearty soups & stews, and flavored oils &
Oregano is high in antioxidant activity, due to a high content of phenolic acids and
flavonoids. Additionally, oregano has demonstrated antimicrobial activity against food-
borne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes. Both of these characteristics may
be useful in both health and food preservation. In the Philippines, oregano is not
commonly used for cooking but is rather considered as a medicinal plant, useful for
relieving children's coughs.
Caution: Safety of use during pregnancy is unknown.
Paprika is a spice made from the grinding of dried Capsicum (such as bell pepper). In
many European countries, the word paprika also refers to bell peppers themselves. The
seasoning is used in many cuisines to add color and flavor to dishes. Paprika flavors
vary widely from country to country ranging from spicy to sweet. It is used as an
ingredient in a broad variety of dishes throughout the world. Paprika is mainly used to
season and add color to rice dishes, stews & soups, and meats. It is often smoked in
order to draw out additional flavors. Paprika can be added to meat rubs, deviled eggs,
Hungarian goulash, egg salad, and as a garnish for any casserole. Paprika is unusually
rich in vitamin C and is also a good source of carotenoids. Capsicum peppers used for
paprika contain six to nine times as much vitamin C as tomatoes by weight. High heat
leaches the vitamins from peppers, thus commercially-dried peppers are not as
nutritious as those that are sun-dried.
Parsley is a bright green herb that is very common in Middle Eastern, European, and
American cooking. Parsley is used for its leaf in much the same way as coriander
(which is also known as Chinese parsley or cilantro). Parsley has a milder flavor than
coriander. Two forms of parsley are used as herbs: curly leaf and Italian, or flat leaf.
Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish. Parsley can be added to many foods
including egg dishes, mashed potatoes, tabouleh & other salads, pastas, and
vegetables. The most common use of parsley is as an edible breath freshener.
Naturopathic practitioners often recommend fresh parsley as a detoxifier because of its
Caution: Parsley should not be consumed as a drug or supplement by pregnant
women. Parsley as an oil, root, leaf, or seed could lead to uterine stimulation and
preterm labor. Also, parsley is high in oxalic acid, a compound involved in the formation
of kidney stones and nutrient deficiencies.
A poppy is any of a number of showy flowers, typically with one per stem, belonging to
the poppy family. The seeds of the opium poppy are widely consumed in many parts of
Central and Eastern Europe. The sugared, milled mature seeds are eaten with pasta, or
they are boiled with milk and used as filling or topping on various kinds of sweet pastry.
All parts of the poppy plant can contain or carry the opium alkaloids. Eating foods, such
as muffins, that contain poppy seeds can result in a false positive for opiates in a drug
test. The test is true positive in that it indicates the presence of the drug correctly; it is
false only in the sense that the drug was not taken in the typical manner of abuse.
Poppy seeds can be added to several foods including breads & rolls, strudels & pastries
crusts, fruit salad dressings, curries, and Vegetables. Poppy seeds are rich in linoleic
acid and oleic acid, and unsaturated fatty acids.
Caution: If taking a drug test, be sure to declare the consumption of poppy seeds
before taking the test, because they may show up.
Rosemary is a small evergreen shrub and a member of the mint family. The fresh and
dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter,
astringent taste, which complements a wide variety of foods. Rosemary can be added
to many foods including dumplings, breads, meats, and potatoes. Rosemary is a rich
source of iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6. It contains several antioxidants, and it can be
used as an antiseptic.
Caution: Avoid consuming large quantities of rosemary if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Rosemary in culinary or therapeutic doses is generally safe; however, precaution is
necessary for those displaying allergic reaction or prone to epileptic seizures.
Saffron is a spice derived from the dried stigma threads of the saffron crocus flower. It
has a very rich aroma and taste. It smells very musky and flowery and it tastes earthy
and warm with a lingering bitterness. Saffron contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which
gives food a rich golden-yellow hue. These traits make saffron a much-sought after
ingredient in many foods worldwide. Saffron has a reputation for being the most
expensive of herbs and spices. Saffron powder is the ground form of stigma threads.
Saffron can be added to several foods including Indian rice dishes, seafood dishes,
chicken dishes, couscous, Italian risotto, and Spanish paella. Saffron also has medicinal
applications. It has been used in the treatment of depression, epilepsy and menstrual
Sage is an herb that comes from an evergreen bush in the mint family. It is considered
to have a slight peppery flavor. In Western cooking, sage is used in marinades to flavor
meats, and it’s also used to flavor cheeses and some drinks. In French cuisine, sage is
used when cooking chicken and also in vegetable soups. Germans often use sage in
sausage dishes. Sage is also common in Italian cooking. It is often sautéd in olive oil
and butter until crisp, then plain or stuffed pasta is added (burro e salvia). In the
Balkans and the Middle East, it is used when roasting mutton. Sage can be added to
several other foods including various soups, casseroles, and bread stuffings. Studies
show that sage is an anhidrotic, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic,
estrogenic, hypoglycemic, and a tonic. It has been used to prevent blood clots from
forming, and it has a long tradition of treating digestive problems.
Caution: Avoid taking excessive amounts of sage. The plant and tea made from sage
should be avoided by pregnant women. Its long term use is not recommended.
Sea salt is obtained by the evaporation of seawater. Generally more expensive than
table salt, it is commonly used in gourmet cooking and specialty potato chips such as
the kettle cooked variety. Historically called bay salt, its mineral content gives it a
different taste from table salt. Table salt is pure sodium chloride, usually highly refined
from mined rock salt (halite) or sea salt. Natural sea salt is rich in trace minerals, and is
delicious without being overpowering or too salty. Unrefined sea salt contains many
minerals that regular iodized table salt does not contain such as magnesium, sulfate,
calcium, and potassium. Sea salt generally lacks high concentrations of iodine, an
element essential for human health. Iodized forms of sea salt are now being marketed
to address this concern. Sea salt can be used instead of table salt where the recipe
calls for salt. It can be added to potato dishes, salads, roasted meats, soups & stews,
and virtually any other dish imaginable.
Savory is a genus of aromatic plants related to rosemary and thyme. There are about
30 species called savories, of which summer savory and winter savory are the most
important in cultivation. Both summer savory and winter savory are used to flavor
food. Winter savory is preferred by cooks. It has a stronger, sharper flavor than its
summer cousin, but it still blends well with thyme, sage and rosemary as well as most
mints. The herb imparts a spicy, peppery flavor to dishes in which it is used. Savory
plays an important part in Italian cuisine, particularly when cooking beans. It is also
used to season the traditional Acadian stew known as fricot. In herbal medicine, winter
savory has been used for flatulence and digestive problems such as colic, diarrhea and
indigestion. Its antiseptic and astringent properties make it a good treatment for sore
throats. It has also been used as a remedy for excessive thirst in diabetics.
Caution: Savory should not be used in medicinal doses by pregnant or nursing women.
Sesame is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum. Numerous wild relatives of sesame
occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. Sesame is grown primarily for its oil-rich
seeds, which range in colors from cream-white to charcoal-black. In general, the paler
varieties of sesame seem to be more valued in the West and Middle East, while the
black varieties are prized in the Far East. The small sesame seed is used whole in
cooking for its rich nutty flavor (although such heating damages their healthful
polyunsaturated fats). Sesame seed oil comes from the cold pressing of sesame
seeds. Sesame seeds can be added to several foods including breads, rolls & bagels,
noodles, salads, sautéed vegetables, and ice cream (sprinkle on after toasting).
Sesame seeds are rich in manganese, copper, and calcium. They also contain vitamin
B1 (thiamine) and vitamin E . Sesame seeds are a good source of lignans, including
sesamin, which are phytoestrogens with antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Among
edible oils from six plants, sesame seed oil had the highest antioxidant content.
Sesame seeds also contain phytosterols associated with reduced levels of blood
cholesterol. The nutrients of sesame seeds are better absorbed if they are ground or
pulverized before consumption, as in tahini.
Caution: Avoid consumption of sesame seeds if you are experiencing symptoms of
Tarragon is an aromatic herb cultivated for its sweet, anise-like flavor. The fresh leaves
and stems are used in cooking. There are two species of tarragon that exist, Russian
and French. Both are shrubbery herbs but the leaves of French Tarragon are dark green
and have a more pungent flavor and aroma. French Tarragon is more commonly used
commercially in its dried form. Tarragon can be added to several foods including
flavored vinegars and oils, egg dishes, fish, and salad dressings. It’s use in soups is not
recommended because the flavor is too strong. Although tarragon has medicinal
properties its most common use is as a culinary herb. Tarragon has an aromatic
property reminiscent of anise, due to the presence of estragole, a known carcinogen
and teratogen in mice. The European Union investigation revealed that the danger of
estragole is minimal even at 100-1000 times the typical consumption seen in humans.
Thyme is an aromatic herb in the mint family. It is widely cultivated for its strong flavor,
which is due to its content of thymol. Thyme retains its flavor upon drying better than
many other herbs. The herb is often used to flavor meats, soups and stews. It has a
particular affinity to and is often used as a primary flavor with lamb, tomatoes, and
eggs. Thyme, while flavorful, does not overpower and blends well with other herbs and
spices. In French cuisine, along with bay and parsley, it is a common component of the
bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence. Thyme releases its flavor gradually so add it
early in the cooking process. Thyme can be added to several foods including
casseroles, herb crusted meats, pates, tomato dishes, sausages, and cheeses.
Thymol, an antiseptic, is the main active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash. Thyme is a
strong antiseptic used externally for infected cuts and scrapes and internally for oral and
respiratory infections. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, it was used to medicate
bandages. Bath washes made from teas of thyme allowed to cool treat fungal
infections such as athlete's foot and also vaginal yeast infections. Teas of thyme can be
taken orally to treat allergies, asthma, colds, and coughs.
Caution: Thyme oil should never be taken internally. Women who are pregnant or
nursing should not drink thyme tea, although small amounts for culinary use do not
cause adverse effects. Do not take medicinal doses of thyme if you have a duodenal
ulcer or if you have thyroid disease.
Turmeric is a rhizomatous plant in the ginger family, native to tropical South Asia.
The plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes. The rhizomes are boiled for
several hours and then dried in hot ovens. Then, the boiled rhizomes are ground into a
deep orange-yellow powder (tumeric powder) commonly used as a spice in curries and
other South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Turmeric is very robust in taste and
aroma. It can be added to several foods including stir-fried chicken, rice dishes,
seafood, and vegetables.
In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric is thought to have many medicinal properties and many
in South Asia use it as a readily available antiseptic for cuts, burns and bruises.
Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine say it has fluoride which is thought to be essential
for teeth. It is also used as an antibacterial agent. It is taken in some Asian countries
as a dietary supplement, which allegedly helps with stomach problems and other
ailments. It is popular as a tea in Okinawa, Japan. Studies show that the antioxidants in
turmeric kill cultures of cancer cells from the skin, bloodstream, and ovaries.
Caution: Turmeric should be used in moderation. It should not be used for extended
periods of time, because it can cause stomach distress. Turmeric is one of the herbal
ingredients in Ayurvedic birth control formulas, so women who are trying to become
pregnant should limit their consumption of the herb, and it should be completely
avoided while pregnant. Excessive use of turmeric should also be avoided by people
who have congestive heart failure.
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from the ripened fruit of the tropical vanilla orchid. It is the
only orchid in the world that produces an edible fruit. The long, thin pods of the vanilla
orchid are actually the mature fruit of the orchid plant. Vanilla is the second most
expensive spice after saffron, due to the extensive labor required to grow the seed
pods (vanilla beans) that are used in its manufacturing. Beans from each region have a
unique flavor profile, but Bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar are considered by
many to be the world’s finest. The warm, moist climate and rich soil produce vanilla
with a deep, creamy flavor. Vanilla seeds or vanilla extract can be added to several
foods including baked goods, icings & frostings, custards, ice cream & frozen yogurt,
and fresh fruit salads.
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