One of the downsides of eating more meals at home during the pandemic is that our food routines have become a bit dull and monotonous. Using more herbs and spices in your cooking is an easy way to add some variety, stimulate your taste buds, and liven up your meals. They have the ability to transform ordinary ingredients into nourishing meals packed with flavor, complexity, as well as beneficial health properties.
While herbs come from the leaves of plants and are used in both fresh and dried forms, spices are typically used dried and come from plant parts like roots, bark, seeds, fruits, and berries. Both herbs and spices are good sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals, and they are helpful for supporting the immune system. Several also have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Many spices have a warming thermal nature, which make them especially beneficially for Fall and Winter body types, and for all body types more generally as we enter the cooler seasons in the Northern Hemisphere.
Black pepper, cayenne, and chili peppers are some of the most warming spices, so they are beneficial for supporting yang and balancing yin. If you are sensitive to hot and spicy foods, there are a variety of milder spices that still warm and nourish the body without bringing the full heat or "picante.” Cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are warming, comforting spices that are often incorporated in seasonal baked goods and pumpkin pie. By using different combinations of spices, you can easily change the character of a dish while emphasizing different healing properties to suit your needs. For cooler body types, black pepper, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds help to warm the body while also reducing congestion and the accumulation of fluids. Parsley and thyme help to fortify qi, making them ideal for Indian Summer types, while caraway seeds, cardamom, fennel seeds, garlic, and turmeric improve the circulation of qi, making them beneficial for Spring types. Chamomile, ginger, and peppermint are beneficial for supporting digestion. Mint is one of the most cooling herbs and is helpful for soothing excess heat found in Summer body types.
Compared to fresh herbs, dried herbs tend to be more concentrated in flavor. Since they may lose some of their potency over time, they should be stored in a cool, dark location. Fresh and dried herbs and spices are ideal for infusing flavor into simmered dishes like soups and stews - they can be used whole, tied in a bundle, and removed at the end of cooking. To grind dried herbs and spices, you can use an electric coffee grinder, a mortar and pestle, or even something with a hard surface like a rolling pin or the back of a frying pan. Toasting spices in a pan over medium heat with a small amount of oil (and stirring constantly to prevent the spices from burning) can also help to release more of their flavors and aromatic oils. By adding new spices to your cooking routines, you can keep your meals fresh and interesting, engage your senses, and simultaneously support your health.
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