People have been using herbs1 and spices for thousands of years. Generally, herbs come from the green leaves of plants or vegetables. Spices come from other parts of plants and trees. For example, cinnamon comes from the hard outer cover of cinnamon plants. The spice ginger comes from the part of the ginger plant that grows underground.
Some herbs and spices are valued for their taste. They help to sharpen the taste of many foods. Others are chosen for their smell. Still others were used traditionally for health reasons.
Some herbs and spices may be gaining importance in modern medicine. For example, American researchers say red pepper could help people seeking to lose weight. They say this could be especially true for people who do not usually add spices to their food.
The researchers said turmeric may reduce evidence of damage in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease. For this reason, the researchers designed a study that examined results from a mentalperformance test of older Asian adults. The study involved curry, which contains turmeric.
The adults were 60 to 93 years old. None had severe memory losses. Those who sometimes ate curry did better on the tests than individuals who rarely or never ate curry. This was also true of those who ate it often or very often.
The work of the Mayo Clinic and its medical experts is world famous. In its Health Letter several years ago, the Mayo Clinic provided more evidence that herbs and spices can aid health. Its experts said spices could reduce salt use for people with health conditions like high blood pressure.
The experts said some plant chemicals are high in antioxidants. In addition to turmeric, these include cinnamon, ginger, oregano, sage, and thyme.
The experts also said antioxidants like garlic, rosemary, and saffron have qualities that could fight cancer. They also said limited evidence shows that cinnamon, fenugreek, and turmeric may affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.