Spices have been used for thousands of years, lending their own unique aromatic and exotic flavors to foods. Asia, Arabia, and the Mediterranean regions have a longstanding history of spice trade with some spices valued as highly as gold. Spices have been used for many aspects of human culture throughout time and include embalming of the deceased, anointing oils, body ointments, and to fumigate homes. Spices were so highly sought after they became the catalyst for developing empires and waging wars during Roman times and throughout the Middle Ages. Trade routes were established during early European times and explorers embarked on long journeys to find spices indigenous to a region or culture, yet highly prized beyond for their flavor and medicinal value.

Today, the spice trade is still an influential commodity across many cultures and countries. The use of spices solely as a way to enhance food has largely disappeared. With the progression of science, many wonderful discoveries have been found in spices that lend excellent health benefits to the body. Super spices are being used as a supplement to personal wellness. The natural chemical properties in super spices have the ability to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, protect against harmful free radicals as well as bacteria and other pathogens.

Ginger is one of the oldest and most highly recommended spices for its flavor and overall health benefits. Though widely used in ancient Indian and Chinese cultures, ginger has been cultivated in Asia for well-over 3,000 years. Besides its effectiveness for reducing minor inflammation within the body, ginger helps to boost the immune system, reduce nausea, and relieve minor gastrointestinal issues. In recent studies, it was found that ginger helped lower LDL cholesterol levels and significantly reduced resting blood-sugar levels in those with type two diabetes by as much as 12%.

Used for centuries in Eastern cultures for medicine and dye, it is not surprising to find turmeric among the list of super spices for reducing inflammation. A member of the ginger family, turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties come from its main chemical constituent, curcumin. Not only is turmeric as powerful as over-the-counter medications for inflammation, it is a safer alternative without any side effects. The super spice is not only good for rheumatoid arthritis relief, curcumin has been shown to help the body eliminate mutated cancer cells as well as improve overall liver function.

Chili pepper imparts a wonderful “heat” spiciness in foods. A member of the Capsicum genus of plants, the heat that is exhibited comes from the chemical capsaicin. Widely used in creams and lotions, capsaicin is effective for relaxing muscles and relieving soreness. Chili peppers provide a thermogenic effect when ingested and helps boost metabolism through energy the body exerts to remove capsaicin from your system. Using the spice in food, or eating whole chili peppers, supplies the body with vitamins A and C, though in smaller amounts.

When it comes to cinnamon, there is some confusion about which type to use for overall health benefits. Two types are commercially available; cassia and Ceylon (or true cinnamon). Cinnamon obtained from cassia bark (Cinnamomum cassia) contains a higher percentage of the chemical constituent coumarin, which can become toxic in larger quantities. True cinnamon, which comes from Sri Lanka (Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum verum) is obtained from the bark of the tree within the laurel family, but is much lower in coumarin. Unfortunately, most of the cinnamon on store shelves comes from the cheaper cassia variety. Cinnamon is well-known for lowering blood sugar levels and also boasts a powerful anti-diabetic effect by helping to lower fasting blood sugar levels by as much as 29%. Essential oil from Cinnamomum zeylanicum or verum can is effective against dangerous viruses and bacteria when diffused environmentally or taken as an inhalation for colds and flu.

Cloves are the unopened flower buds of the clove tree, which is a small evergreen. The spice was highly regarded in ancient Chinese medicine to treat gastrointestinal issues, hernias, and other problems that required its exceptional antiseptic and astringent properties. Clove bud is a great addition to oral care regimens as it kills bacteria that leads to odor and infection. Use clove bud essential oil like cinnamon, and diffuse environmentally or inhale for colds and flu.

Michael Lausterer is master essential oil therapist and owner of Basic Earth Essentials located in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. He is also a professional chef and clinical nutritionist.