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The Herbs and Spices of Life
There's more to herbs and spices than taste and colour

Nutmeg was thought by the ancient Romans and Greeks to be a brain tonic. Chinese medicos in the dim dark ages used its properties as a natural sedative to treat inflammation, arthritis and stomach pain, but I understand this was prepared as an oil to be applied externally. When ingested, nutmeg is claimed to alleviate both constipation and diarrhea - I guess that covers all those bases! Used in the treatment of gum problems, it is an ingredient in many brands of toothpaste. I can't personally endorse any of these; but I love the flavour in sweet dishes, and often sprinkle it along with powdered coriander on steak prior to frying.

Oregano is loaded with fibre and can help promote digestion. It is also a natural form of omega-3 fatty acids which is a good type of cholesterol - well, that's what I'm told - and it detoxifies the body. An essential in Italian dishes, pretty much all of the plant can be eaten, either fresh or dried; and the flowers are especially aromatic.

Paprika, a particular type of dried, ground capsicum, contains, would you believe, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeanthin, plus other tongue-twisters that are good for arthritis, eye health, diabetes, and boosting the immune system. Wow! I just reckon it's great for stews, curries and chicken paprika which, with these other pluses, makes for a pretty healthy meal.

Parsley is a herb everyone knows. My Mum always claimed there was as much nutrition in a sprig of parsley as there was in a steak. I seriously doubt that, but it does seem to contain many vitamins and minerals that are necessary for good health, so why not eat it? Fresh is best - dried just tastes like tea leaves!

Rosemary as a plant is so easy to grow, even in a tub. It is supposed to boost memory, improve mood, stimulate circulation, aid digestion and increase production of red blood cells. It contains carnosol and carnosic acid which, it has been said, are linked to the reduction of inflammation in muscles and joints. A word of warning, though: don't swallow the oil, and only eat moderate quantities of the fresh or dried plant. And, if you are allergic to mint, this is from the same family.

I could go on, but I think that's enough herbs and spices for one day. They certainly seem to be beneficial for general health; and, as far as food goes, a little bit of something extra makes for a tastier meal, don't you think?

Keep an eye out for the follow-up article on the health benefits of fruits, roots and vegetables.

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