Want to Rock Your Meals? Embrace the Spices of Life

By Jill Leslie
Owner and Founder
Kitchen Alchemy

Whether you realize it or not, there is an incredible pharmacy in your kitchen — your spice rack. In fact, common herbs and spices have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries.

My Russian grandmother knew this. She donned her apron with dignity, acknowledging that her role in our family was — first and foremost — to be our health care provider. Her tools against what might ail us were all in her pantry.

Chicken soup to cure a cold or flu? Definitely. She knew that a generous use of parsley in the soup, dill with our potatoes, cinnamon and raisins in our oatmeal, would keep us healthy.

Similar examples are found in cultures and cuisines the world over. Indian grandmothers have been sprinkling turmeric into food for centuries. Scientists are now validating the fact that this fragrant yellow spice is a wonderful way to reduce inflammation. Cinnamon is a natural remedy for lowering cholesterol. Ginger is a great choice to heal the symptoms of colds and the flu.

Ancient wisdom

Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old medical system from India, reminds us that what we digest becomes part of our bones, skin, organs, and the tissues that make up our body. The herbs and spices in our pantry, which are rich in vitamins and minerals, also improve our body’s ability to digest the food that we eat.

Of course, there is a proverb that says, “If food is wrong, medicine is of no use. If food is correct, medicine is of no need.”

So incorporate some ancient wisdom into your life with these simple, delicious recipes. It’s sure to rock your body, mind, and soul.

Sweet Stewed Fruit. This dish makes a lovely breakfast, snack, or dessert. It is high in iron and helps with a sluggish digestion and constipation.

What you’ll need:
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup dried turkish apricots
1/2 cup Thompson raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
¼ tsp cardamom
Pinch of clove & nutmeg
2-4 cups water

Here’s how: Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy. The liquid makes a lovely and nourishing warm tea.

Multivitamin Pesto. This pesto is packed with nutrients. The pumpkin seeds add protein; olive oil provides essential fatty acids; sea salt adds minerals; and ginger and black pepper aid in digestion. Not only that, but garlic strengthens immunity, and the almighty herb basil staves off infections, decreases anxiety, improves digestion and circulation, and enlivens your palate.

What you’ll need:
3 bunches fresh chopped basil
3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds or walnuts
8-12 oz. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime
1-2 inch fresh grated ginger root
1-2 cloves garlic
Himalayan sea salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste

Here’s how: Place seeds and oil in food processor, and blend for a few seconds. Add herbs and blend again. Then add in the remaining ingredients until the mixture becomes a creamy rich paste. Continue adding oil until you have the desired consistency.

Spiced Milk. Also called the bedtime elixir, this tonic is a great cure for insomnia because nutmeg is nature’s sedative. Drink it warm before going to bed. Sweet dreams!

What you’ll need:
1 cup whole milk
1 cup filtered water
¼ tsp. nutmeg powder
6 strands saffron threads

Here’s how: Bring water, milk, and nutmeg to a boil. Turn the heat down, add the saffron threads, and simmer down to 1 cup.

Healing Tea Tonics

Ginger Tea. Known as vishwabheshaja in Ayurveda, ginger is believed to relieve indigestion, gas pains, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. It also helps relieve pain and reduce inflammation because ginger stimulates blood circulation, detoxifies the body, relieves menstrual cramps, and is the number one choice for colds, fevers, and respiratory problems.

What you’ll need:
1 large piece of ginger
3 cups of water

Here’s how: Wash, peel, and thinly slice about 2 inches of fresh ginger. Place in a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 30 minutes, and strain. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Turmeric Tea. Turmeric is one of nature’s most powerful healers. It is an excellent antibiotic, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory medicine. It is useful for pain, strains, injuries, and trauma because it strengthens digestion, helps lower cholesterol, aids circulation, detoxifies the liver, and boosts immunity. Turmeric has also been used by women for centuries as a way to make the skin glow.

What you’ll need:
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cups boiling water

Here’s how: Add turmeric powder to boiling water, and let steep for 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cinnamon Tea. It is now known that cinnamon reduces cholesterol and blood sugar, aids in digestion, and improves circulation. This ancient spice is also used to treat colds, clear congestion, and lower fever. And did you realize that cinnamon has been traditionally used for both female reproductive issues and male infertility?

What you’ll need:
1-2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups of boiling water

Here’s how: Break a cinnamon stick into pieces and place in a cup. Add boiling water, and cover to steep for 10 minutes. You can keep adding hot water to the cup to enjoy all day long. Use more or less cinnamon depending on the strength you prefer.

About Jill Leslie and Ayurveda Alchemy

Jill Leslie is a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, herbalist, wellness chef, and yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who, for more than two decades, has been immersed in the study and practice of natural healing.

The entrepreneur, who has owned her own businesses since graduating from the University of Maryland in 1986, founded the award-winning retail shop Milk & Honey in Sebastapol, CA, in 1999. She sold it in 2006 so that she could delve deeper into her study of yoga and Ayurveda.

As she discovered the life-changing wisdom of these ancient practices, she began sharing her knowledge at wellness retreats, yoga studios, and through cooking classes. Her passion for herbal medicine and nutrition, and her love of sweets, inspired her to found Ayurvedic Alchemy, in 2008.

In addition to hosting classes and events, and providing consultations and dietary advice about Ayurveda, she has created a line of healthy and delicious confections, which are available online at Kitchen Alchemy Treats. “When I learned the adage of Ayurveda, ‘Let your food be your medicine,’ I put on my apron and said, ‘Let your medicine be delicious,’” she says. Learn more at www.AyurvedaAlchemy.com.