Bland food doesn't typically get the mouth-watering response that robustly flavored dishes do - so I'm willing to bet that most of you have well-stocked spice racks. Which is why when you're wondering how to naturally treat an ailment like a cold or digestive upset - your spice rack is where you should turn to first.
In order to not get carried away, I'm starting with the 4 herbs I find to be most common in homes across the U.S., and that are potent, multiuse powerhouses (TBH: there are far too many uses for each of these herbs for this article...).
IMO, garlic is king of the culinary medicinal herbs. Numerous studies show that garlic kills or inhibits a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, and it may prevent you from getting sick in the first place by boosting your immune system. What's better, garlic prevails over pharmaceutical antibiotics in its ability to fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Garlic also fights against viral infections, whereas prescribed antibiotics do not (and the prescribing of such has contributed to the overuse of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria). To get the medicinal benefits, use fresh, raw garlic - if it gets rubbery, starts to sprout, or is cooked -it's potency severely diminishes. To reliebe a toothache and fight infection, crush a clove of raw garlic and apply it directly to the tooth. You can also swallow cut up pieces of crushed, raw garlic clove at the onset of cold/flu symptoms and continue until the symptoms subside (not to exceed 2-3 cloves, depending on your energetic state). Garlic used in this method also rids the digestive tract of parasites. A drop of warm garlic-infused olive oil can be applied directly to an earache, or rubbed externally around the sore area. This oil can double as an antifungal treatment.
Garlic Infused Honey makes an excellent cough syrup and it's easy to make:
GreenWitch Tip: Ferment the garlic in the honey to add probiotics and enzymes that build healthy gut flora.
I'm a firm believer that Thyme should be stocked in every spice cabinet and medicine chest because it's a go-to for so many common issues that people can manage on their own (rather than taking a trip to the doctor for unnecessary pharmaceutical medications). Because thyme is a nervine, it works on a portion of the nervous system that resides in the gut, aiding in digestion and easing anxiety and insomnia. Additionally, it's very effective for respiratory conditions where the body needs to purge excess phlegm and facilitate productive coughing. Thyme also strengthens the lungs and helps with shortness of breath. To use thyme medicinally, make a tea using 2 teaspoons of dried thyme per 1 cup of water, and drink up to 3 cups per day.
GreenWitch Tip: While the thyme is steeping in the boiling water, hover your face about 8-10 inches above the pot and inhale the vapors to soothe a sore throat.
Black pepper is one herb that's so common it's negligible to most. But in a society where digestive problems are central to so many people's health problems, it's essential to know how to use this culinary spice medicinally. One bite into a whole peppercorn let's you know immediately this spice is pungent and warming - which is a key indication that it's going to have a stimulating effect on the body. Once that warm pungency hits your taste buds, it triggers the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid - essential to protein breakdown. The warming stimulation boosts circulation in the body and can benefit those with chronically cold hands and feet. It's also an antioxidant with cancer-fighting actions that inhibit tumor growth. Now that you have this new information about black pepper, I'm sure you're compelled to rain the pepper down on your midday meal - but don't. Other than making your delicious whole foods meal unpalatable, black pepper in large quantities can irritate the mucous membranes. A moderate sprinkling on your prepared food, or a tiny pinch mixed in honey delivers all the pepper power you need.
GreenWitch Tip: Add black peppercorns to your olive oil or vinegar cruets for a spicy, medicinal kick.
If you Google the uses for Cinnamon you'll find this is another spice with a broad spectrum of uses; you'll find recipes to help everything from the common cold to erectile dysfunction. Indeed this moistening, warming spice is impressive and has numerous research studies to back up its broad capabilities. Firstly, cinnamon is packed with polyphenols making it an antioxidant superstar. Antioxidants are key for fighting the free radicals found everywhere in our factory-created environments that speed up the natural aging process. Cinnamon also shows to dramatically reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels, making it a powerful ally for those dealing with insulin-resistance health problems. To use cinnamon for insulin resistance, 1/2 - 2 teaspoons daily is recommended. For daily use, add a pinch of cinnamon to your herbal tea blend or coffee.
GreenWitch Tip: Not all cinnamon varieties are created equal: Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon is the variety you want to stock in your medicinal spice cabinet.