More spices with super-healing powers
It's hard to imagine continental cuisine without the aromatic addition of thyme. But its antimicrobial properties are what get researchers excited.
If you've used Listerine or a similar mouthwash -- or even some green household cleaners -- chances are it contained thymol, a volatile oil component of thyme. A 2004 study showed that thyme oil was able to decontaminate lettuce with Shigella, a particularly nasty type of food poisoning, and other studies suggest it's also effective against staph and E. coli.
Thyme is also a good digestion aid, helping to reduce gas and other discomfort, says Duke's Beth Reardon, and it's good for the scalp and hair.
How much: Use a teaspoon of fresh thyme or quarter to half a teaspoon of dried thyme about three times a week.
Serving suggestions: Thyme is sort of the savory version of cinnamon -- you can pretty much put it on anything. It's great with chicken, fish, and root vegetables. It also goes well with lemon, including in summery cocktails.
Tip: Fresh thyme should keep about a week in your refrigerator's vegetable drawer, especially if wrapped in a damp paper towel inside an open plastic bag.
Ginger has been used in both ancient and modern medicine for its stomach-settling properties. In a series of human and animal studies, ginger has been shown to help quiet nausea, speed food through the digestive tract, and protect against gastric ulcers.
Small studies have also shown that ginger can help with pain, including menstrual cramps, muscle pain, and migraines. Ginger is also a powerful COX inhibitor, Reardon says, so it's a great choice for anyone with osteoarthritis or other chronic inflammatory conditions.
It's best to check with your doctor before ingesting large quantities of ginger, though, since it can cause heartburn and gas, worsening of gallstone issues -- and it may interact with some medications, including warfarin.
How much: If your doctor approves it, it's best to use ginger daily.
Serving suggestions: Ginger's strong, bright taste is an essential component of most Asian and Indian cooking. Try a pinch of ginger in milky black tea, along with cinnamon and cardamom, for a heady chai-like beverage, or dice it and add to a zesty Thai soup. It's also great in baked goods, from gingerbread to gingersnaps. Try adding chunks of candied ginger to pear or apple muffins for an extra zing.
Tip: Like turmeric, it's best if you can use fresh ginger instead of powdered. If the big-name supermarket near you doesn't stock fresh ginger, try an Asian market.
Rosemary has been associated with memory since ancient Greece, when students would wear it in their hair when studying for big exams. Modern science agrees: Carnosic acid, a component of rosemary, is thought to protect the brain from free-radical damage and therefore to lower the risks of stroke and Alzheimer's.
Rosemary is also full of antioxidants; a recent study from the American Association of Cancer Research linked carnosol, another component of rosemary, with inhibiting cancer growth.
Like any herb, feel free to use rosemary in moderation. But check with your doctor before rushing out to buy rosemary supplements. In large quantities, it's been linked to seizures and inefficient iron absorption. And avoid serving a rosemary-heavy dish to a pregnant woman, since it's traditionally been used to induce abortion.
How much: "A little bit of rosemary goes a long way," says Reardon. Aim for a teaspoon of rosemary a few times a week.
Serving suggestions: Rosemary is another spice that easily bridges the sweet-savory gap. Sprinkle some on roasting chicken or vegetables, or add some to summer fruit crisps and crumbles.
Tip: "When herbs and spices are used together, they actually have even more benefits," says Reardon. Try using rosemary in combination with thyme and sage for increased health benefits and added flavor.