The home kitchen: herbal medicine, reducing hypertension and why fresh is best

Why spices?

For centuries fresh and dried spices have been used to not only enhance the culinary experience but also by traditional healers around the world for their natural therapeutic benefits. The medicinal properties of spices can provide relief from common ailments such as arthritis, common colds and flus, allergies, menstrual difficulties and digestive issues due to the bounty of actions they posses. Just a few of these actions include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, circulation-stimulating, carminative (calming the gut), bitter (enhancing digestion and liver function), nutritive and warming effects.

How can using spices help to reduce hypertension?

Today, salt (also known as sodium) is found in almost all savoury and sweet processed foods, as well as many store bought condiments, pastes, stocks, canned goods, and other cooking staples. Most of the time the salt in these products is not in its natural mineralised form and is refined into pure sodium chloride for that salty taste we all know and often crave. Sodium chloride aka table salt is highly refined, demineralised, bleached, finely ground, and mixed with anti-caking agents. These removed minerals include potassium, magnesium and calcium that act as electrolytes and assist healthy body processes like nerve conduction, heart function, muscle relaxation, waste removal and acid/alkaline balance.

Excess sodium intake is a common contributor to high blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and when using regular table salt we are missing out on some of those wonderful minerals our body uses for a plethora of metabolic processes. So how can you reduce your sodium use in cooking without compromising on taste?

  • Boost flavour and nutritional value by experimenting with new recipes and spice combinations
  • Swap pre-packaged stock and pastes with garlic, onion, minimal good quality salt, and ground spices
  • Choose non-refined salt e.g. Celtic sea salt, fleur de sel, Himalayan rock salt, black salt (Himalayan salt with herbs, seeds, bark and charcoal)
  • Reduce the amount of overall added salt during cooking and taste your meal before adding more salt 

Why use whole spices over pre-ground?

The active compounds found in fresh herbs and spices are vulnerable, especially the essential oils (also known as volatile oils) of spices that give them incredible aroma, flavour, and colour. When ground, the smaller surface area maximises exposure to air and light, each of which increase oxidation and reduce therapeutic value. By buying spices that are whole and organic where possible and grinding them at home just before cooking (use a coffee or spice grinder, grate, or shave them) the risk of oxidation is reduced while potency and flavour is noticeably savoured. This method also eliminates the possibility of buying ground spices with added anti-caking or bulking agents and long-travelled, low-potency, low-flavour spices. If grinding your own spices doesn’t sound appealing choose local spices contained in dark packaging.

So add some spice to your life! Experiment, learn the beauty of freshly ground spices and wholesome salt, and increase medicinal value. Most importantly, enjoy flavour with every spoonful.

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Katrina Schilling is based in Adelaide, South Australia where she is finalising her Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) at Endeavour College of Natural Health. Katrina’s keen interest in herbal medicine and nutrition is founded strongly on a balance of evidence based medicine and traditional therapies. Stemming from positive personal experience Katrina is also pursuing mindfulness meditation teaching for mental illness, chronic pain, and general wellbeing support. Katrina believes that through an individualistic and realistic approach to wellness everyone has the innate ability to feel good and function healthfully to live a happy and thriving life. 

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