Herbs and Spices — One Big Healing Family

by Dr. Connie Hernandez, ND

Herbs and spices – what’s the difference?

People often differentiate between herbs and spices. We think of cloves as a spice, cilantro as an herb.

Dr. Connie Hernandez, ND
Dr. Connie Hernandez, ND

Yet when we talk of spices, we’re actually speaking of any aromatic substance of plant origin. Thus “spices” includes leafy herbs such as cilantro, as well as cinnamon, turmeric, and peppercorns.

Never mind. After all, what’s in a name? Far more relevant is what these wonderful substances can do for our palate and our health.

Healers, housewives, and cooks of all cultures and all times have appreciated the value of spices for seasoning, soothing, purifying, and healing.

Thousands of years before the advent of Western medicine, shamans and healers depended on the healing properties of native herbs to treat all manner of conditions.

In ancient times, spices were very rare and expensive. Ancient trading routes were established to connect the spice-growing lands of Northeast Africa, the Middle East, and Asia with markets in Europe and the Near East.

Ancient spice trading routes.
Ancient spice trading routes.

Caravans undertook long, difficult journeys across vast deserts and high mountain passes to deliver their precious aromatic cargo to far-away destinations.

Today, spices remain a mainstay of traditional medicine, including Ayurveda, Chinese and Japanese medicine, and other ancient healing systems.

As recently as two hundred years ago, Western medicine relied heavily on readily available botanicals, as well as hydrotherapy and manipulation. Spices were used in teas, tinctures, poultices, and ointments.

Apothecary at work.
Apothecary at work.

They still are, even though Western medicine downplays their efficacy, preferring chemicals and pharmaceuticals extracted from herbs. These medicines are nearly always much more expensive, and available only by prescription.

It’s sad that so much of “health care” is now relegated to pharmaceutical medical management conducted by specialists.

Instead of treating an ear infection (very effectively) with an infusion of garlic oil, the uninsured must visit the emergency room and pay hundreds of dollars.

Instead of giving chewing gum to a patient with a sluggish small intestine to stimulate peristalsis, patients are fed through nasogastric tubes until the small intestine kicks in.

Patients are taught that folk remedies are ineffective and unreliable unless and until they can be proven by double-blind studies. The left brain knows best.

Foraging and cultivating our own herbs, and preparing medicines from our garden provides wonderful benefits. At a basic level, it gives us the opportunity to commune with the natural world, to be actively engaged in healing ourselves and our families, and to exercise a measure of control over our health care.

Vivid colors of spices.
Vivid colors of spices.

Is it a coincidence that cultures that emphasize spices in their cuisines have lower incidences of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer?

Simple ailments can be treated in simple, nourishing ways. We can administer peppermint tea for intestinal cramping, chamomile tea or lavender flowers for calming irritated nerves, ginger for nausea, clove oil for toothaches.

Nature’s healing pharmacy gives us a long, effective list of healing remedies. We urge you to learn and experiment with spices for yourself.

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Read more about the medical services Dr. Connie offers here: http://www.naturopathichealthconsultations.com