A generous dash of cinnamon on your oatmeal.
A pinch of powdered garlic on your favorite pizza.
Or maybe a bit of oregano to complete your pasta dish.
Herbs and spices make our food come alive with captivating tastes and aromas.
If you love cooking (and eating) you probably have a dedicated shelf just for them.
The right seasoning can truly turn a good meal into a great one.
But that’s not all:
In addition to their captivating flavors, herbs and spices also provide you with powerful health benefits.
In this post, learn about the 22 healthiest herbs and spices in the world.
That’s right, you don’t have to look anywhere else — these are the best the entire earth has to offer.
Whether you’re making a grand salad, barbeque or tortilla feast — there’s plenty to choose from here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Turmeric has been used as both a culinary and medicinal plant in India since ancient times.
Whether it’s used in its full form or as isolated curcumin, the plant boasts a huge laundry list of health benefits.
Without question, the biggest one is the anti-inflammatory effect it has in our bodies (study).
In fact, it is so potent that it’s been shown to match certain types of anti-inflammatory medications.
In Chris’ review of a turmeric extract, he goes into detail on how it helped him with his asthma and allergies.
The colorful root can also boost and protect your brain function, as well as improving detoxification of heavy metals.
Without a doubt, turmeric deserves its spot as one of the most potent medicinal spices on earth.
Jalapeños rank somewhere on the middle of the scale when it comes to hotness.
This gives them a broader appeal compared to other, spicier peppers.
Do you enjoy jalapeño-rich Mexican food?
If so, you’re in luck:
The green chili peppers can do much more than just “heating up” a meal.
Capsaicin is the component that creates a burning sensation when you eat the peppers.
Then, there’s the vitamin C content.
1 ounce of jalapeños (28 g) will give you a whopping 12.4 mcg (21% of RDV) of the essential antioxidant.
Ginger has been used as a common spice and folk medicine for thousands of years.
It was mostly used in ancient China and India, before reaching the Mediterranean region in the 1st century through trading routes.
Today, you can find the spicy root in pretty much every grocery store.
Ginger is closely related to turmeric, but still contains some unique compounds with different health benefits.
For example, the peppery root is often used as a natural remedy for nausea.
And science seems to back this up:
One study found that ginger reduced the level of nausea in chemotherapy patients.
A systematic review also concluded that the spice could be consumed by pregnant women to calm upset stomachs and reduce vomiting.
Additionally, ginger can be used to effectively lessen pain associated with menstruation.
In fact, one study showed its strength could be compared to mefenamic acid and ibuprofen.
Who doesn’t love cinnamon?
Put it on some whole-grain pancakes, in your coffee or (my favorite) sprinkled on some oatmeal.
There’s so many tasty ways we can use cinnamon.
Once seen as a rare and valuable commodity, it can now be found cheap and readily available in most parts of the world.
It’s not just good for making appetizing meals, though:
Cinnamon has incredibly strong antioxidant properties.
In fact, its so potent that a study measuring antioxidant activity of 26 spices placed it at the very top.
Saffron is often referred to as the most sought-after spice in the world.
Unlike most other spices, saffron is very hard to make.
To produce it, farmers need to carefully handpick the stigmas (pollen catchers) from the whole flowers of the plant.
Then, these stigmas have to be correctly cut and cured over the right amount of heat, to maximize their flavor.
This lengthy process contributes to making saffron the most expensive spice in the whole world — $500 or more for a single ounce!
Nevertheless, if you manage to get your hands on some, you can expect more than just a rare, exotic taste.
As little as one tablespoon of saffron will give you around 0.6 mg of manganese — 28 % of the daily recommended amount.
Balanced levels of the mineral has been found to be essential for proper brain function and development.
Additionally, a meta-analysis found that saffron could be effectively used as an anti-depressant — with no major side effects discovered thus far.
This popular food plant can be used as either a fresh herb or a dried spice.
Since it’s such a common sight, most people tend to gloss over it as just another condiment.
The reality, though, is that parsley can do a lot for your body — even when consumed in smaller amounts.
One of the main reasons to eat parsley is its amazingly-high levels of vitamin K.
Just 1 oz (28 g) of raw parsley will supply you with 460 mcg of it.
That’s about 5 times the needed daily amount! (don’t worry, though — there’s no definite upper limit).
The big K is an essential, but often overlooked, vitamin.
Sage is very popular among experienced herbalists and chefs alike.
It has a savory taste and pleasant aroma, combined with an interesting texture and aesthetic.
When it’s not used in the kitchen, it’s often spotted in gardens — acting as an elegant decorative plant.
If you’re into herbal medicine, you’ve more than likely come across plenty of recipes involving sage.
Regarding health, the plant has demonstrated the most impact when it comes to the brain.
A 6-week study examined the possible effects sage could have on dementia patients.
When the trial concluded, it showed that they experienced a reduction of their symptoms plus a significant increase in attentiveness.
Another study found that giving healthy people essential oil from sage resulted in heightened alertness, along with a stronger feeling of calm and fulfillment.
Looks like its name is quite fitting, wouldn’t you agree?
Rosemary is a woody herb of the mint family that’s native to the Mediterranean.
Its flowers come in white, pink, purple or blue, and the leaves look similar to curved pine needles.
Rosemary’s been used as a culinary and medicinal plant since the ancient Greeks, who called it “dew of the sea”.
It’s got a sharp taste and a piney scent — which I’ve found goes well with garlic and onion.
When it comes to health benefits, rosemary has been shown to be especially good at protecting against cancer.
A 2012 study found that the herb could prevent growth of ovarian cancer cells and even kill existing ones.
The researchers concluded that rosemary “holds potential as an adjunct to cancer chemotherapy”.
If you’ve eaten your fair share of pasta sauce, pesto or vinegar, you’re probably well familiar with basil.
This delicate herb has a sweet-but-savory taste.
It goes well with pretty much any meal involving tomatoes.
Basil can be eaten dried or fresh.
Note, however, that cooking destroys most of the taste and aroma of the herb.
Because of this, most chefs add it at the end of the cooking process, as a fresh condiment to liven up the meal.
Basil contains two flavonoids known as viceninare and orientin.
These are potent water-soluble antioxidants that help protect your white blood cells (which are essential for your immune system).
The herb is also full of phytochemicals that may be effective in prevention and treatment of cancer.
Basil has also shown potential as a complimentary treatment for mild diabetes.
Not to be confused with curcumin, one of the active compounds found in turmeric.
Cumin is a flowering plant native to the Middle East, India and some parts of the Mediterranean.
When we mention cumin as a spice, we’re talking about the seeds of the plant.
Cumin seeds are commonly used as feed for birds, but us humans can certainly enjoy them as well — both in ground and whole form.
The spice has a distinctive flavor that’s earthy, warm and a bit nutty.
It’s especially popular in India, where it’s used in curry dishes and different spice blends.
Traditionally, cumin has been used to alleviate indigestion, and recent research seems to back up the value of this practice.
One study found that cumin could boost the activity of certain digestive enzymes.
Another concluded that concentrated doses of the spice could be used as an effective treatment against irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Nutmeg is the seed of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia.
The spice is often associated with the Winter Holidays, since it’s used in various baked goods, puddings and even eggnog.
You don’t have to wait until Christmas to enjoy it, though!
Nutmeg’s mild, sligthly-sweet flavor can be used to create all kinds of deliciousness, all year ‘round.
In fact, its one of the essential ingredients of the pumpkin spice blend that’s so popular these days.
A big benefit of consuming nutmeg is the effect it can have on your dental health.
A study published by the Phytomedicine journal showed that macelignan (a compound found in nutmeg) could fight bacteria responsible for tooth decay.
The spice has also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity.
This is a good thing, since low insulin sensitivity results in glucose accumulating in your blood, which may eventually lead to diabetes.
Not many people know about the wonderful clove, but it’s actually one of the healthiest spices in the world.
As opposed to most spices, cloves are not made from the seeds or roots of a plant.
No, these are actual flower buds of an evergreen tree from the Myrtle family.
They are usually dried, and can be eaten whole or in powder form.
That being said, the whole cloves are tastier and more aromatic than the powder.
Cloves have a very strong and sweet flavor with a somewhat bitter aftertaste.
They’re often paired with nutmeg, since they complement each other so well.
Cloves have recently caught the attention of the medical community due to their potential anti-cancer activity.
One study found that the spice could be used to control the early stages of lung cancer.
Another one found that extract of the plant could inhibit tumor growth and promote normal cell function.
Ginseng is the root of plants belonging to the Panax breed.
The name Panax is Greek, meaning “all-healing”.
Ginseng has long been used in traditional medicine, especially in China.
The herb is usually eaten chopped up and cooked, or stewed in water to make soup and tea.
Much of the Western medical community have long been skeptical of ginseng’s healing potential.
There wasn’t enough evidence to support its traditional uses, they claimed.
Recent research, however, has begun verifying the root’s health-boosting power.
A 2010 study found that ginseng improved mood and working memory in healthy young adults.
In 2016, a meta-analysis revealed that ginseng consumption was associated with a significantly lowered risk of cancer.
Ginseng has also been shown to be beneficial for the immune system, controlling inflammation and resisting microbial infections.
Peppermint, like other plants in the mint family, has a particular sweet freshness to it.
Because of this, it’s often used in toothpaste, chewing gum and skincare products.
When it comes to food, the herb is usually added to baked goods and desserts.
If you want to take a healthier approach, though, you can also make tea out of it.
Peppermint has a bunch of science-backed benefits, such as improving oral, digestive and liver health.
The most impressive one, however, is the impact it can have on your respiratory system.
One study showed that essential oil from peppermint had a positive effect on the lungs of tuberculosis patients.
In a study from 2013, 12 healthy men drank 500 ml of water infused with peppermint every day for 10 days.
Researchers tested various physical markers in the men, in addition to their performance on a treadmill.
When the study ended, it was found that the peppermint-infused water gave the men a significant performance boost.
The scientists concluded:
“Relaxation of bronchial smooth muscles, increase in the ventilation and brain oxygen concentration, and decrease in the blood lactate level are the most plausible explanations.“
Pretty impressive for a simple herbal drink, right?
Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice, coming in right behind vanilla and saffron.
Thankfully, only a small pinch is needed to add flavor to a meal.
There are two main types of cardamom — green and black.
The two are very similar in flavor, though the black type can be said to taste a bit more smokey.
Both forms of cardamom are popular among chefs and health practitioners alike.
Though the spice is worth buying for its taste alone, it also comes packed with a long list of healthy properties.
In a study from 2017, cardamom was found to be protective against inflammation and oxidative stress.
The spice has also shown promise when it comes to boosting antioxidant activity, lowering blood pressure and improving overall heart health.
Thyme is an aromatic herb that can be used for many different things.
It was used by the Ancient Egyptians in embalming, by the Greeks for incense and bath infusions, and by the Romans to give their cheese and wine an aromatic flavor.
Many people also use it as an ornamental plant for their backyard, since the herb is quite appealing when it’s flowering.
Thyme is a natural antimicrobial — meaning it kills or stops the growth of harmful microorganisms like bacteria and fungus.
It’s been shown to be especially effective at fighting infections of the throat.
A study from 2011 even found that thyme was effective against bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics.
Thyme is also extremely high in certain micronutrients.
Just 1 fresh ounce (28 g) of the herb will cover about 75% of your daily vitamin C requirement, 27% of iron and 24% of manganese.
Coriander, also known as Chinese parsley, is often referred to as cilantro in the U.S.
If you’re a fan of Italian or Mexican food, you’ve more than likely tasted this herb before.
All parts of the plant are edible, but the leaves and seeds are the most used in traditional cooking.
To most people, coriander has a fresh, limey quality to it.
For some, however, it can actually taste like soap.
If you’re not one of the unlucky ones, though, there’s plenty of reasons to include coriander in your cooking.
When it comes to your health, the herb is especially good at boosting detoxification.
In particular, it’s been shown to speed up the removal of mercury deposits in the body.
Studies have also revealed that coriander has a very high level of antioxidant activity.
This makes it an excellent herb for fighting oxidative stress.
If you frequently visit pizza parlors, you probably recognize the taste and scent of oregano.
It’s an herb that’s usually tastier dried than fresh, which is rare.
Oregano has a warm, aromatic and somewhat bitter flavor.
Because of this, it goes very well with things like soups, pasta, curries, and tomato-based sauces.
Oregano has been proven to contain a number of phytonutrients that have antimicrobial properties.
This suggests that it could be helpful in protecting you against a wide range of harmful bacteria.
The herb also comes with two extremely potent antioxidants known as thymol and rosmarinic acid.
These compounds have been attributed to oregano’s ability to protect against oxidative stress (Study).
19. Cayenne Pepper
One of my personal favorites.
Cayenne pepper is normally used for cooking hot, spicy dishes.
It can be used whole, chopped up or in a powdered form.
Though it’s only considered moderately hot, things can get heated very quickly if you eat too much.
If you’ve never had it before, it’s best to introduce it carefully, so you can get used to the sensations.
One of the major benefits of cayenne pepper is the effect it has on our digestion.
For one, it helps your body produce saliva, which is important both for digestion and preventing bad breath.
A 2016 study actually found that the spice could be used to treat salivary gland dysfunction.
This makes it a great choice if you’re looking to shed some fat.
Fennel is a hardy herb that resembles celery and has an interesting, slightly-sweet taste — similar to licorice.
Since the plant is so adaptable, you can find it growing in a lot of different places.
In Europe and North America, it’s not uncommon to find it alongside roads and in pastures.
Though most people focus on the stalk and bulb, the seeds and leaves are edible as well.
Fennel is extremely rich in vitamin C — slice up one bulb of the herb and you’ll have 28.1 mg of it.
That’s 47% of the RDV right there!
Recent research has also shown that fennel can be a safe and effective way to reduce postmenopausal symptoms.
Never heard about fenugreek?
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.
The herb is probably the least known-about on this list.
However, that does not take away from its great potential as a culinary and medicinal herb.
Fenugreek has a wide range of uses.
The leaves can be put in curries or pasta dishes, the microgreens can be included in salads, and the seeds can be used to make pita bread and other baked goods.
A good way to describe the herb’s taste is “slightly-burnt sugar, in a good way”.
When you heat up fenugreek, you’ll notice a similar smell to that of maple syrup.
This is because of a compound known as sotolone, which is found in both.
Fenugreek has been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol.
22. Black Pepper
Last, but certainly not least, we have the mighty black pepper.
Dried ground pepper has been used as both food and medicine since ancient times.
It’s most popular in India, but can be found in culinary traditions all around the world.
After all, it’s one of the most traded spices in history.
Besides bringing a unique flavor to your meals, black pepper comes with a slew of health-boosting qualities as well.
For one, it’s been found to enhance the absorption of nutrients.
So, not only does it spice up your food — you’ll get more nourishment from it as well.
Black pepper is also full of powerful antioxidants.
A New Seasoning
There you have it — the 22 healthiest herbs and spices in the world!
With the great variety of tastes and aromas on this list, there’s really something for everyone.
Whether you like it mild and savory or flaming hot, you should be able to include at least a few of these items in your diet.
Now, get ready to expand your palate and boost your health— it’s time to spice it up!