BEAT THE BLUES AND SPICE UP YOUR LIFE, THE BEST HERBS AND SPICES TO GIVE YOUR MIND AND BODY A REST
By Sheila Frampton
Self-care has never been more important. Many of us are experiencing anxiety and stress and this is taking a toll on our health causing headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, sleeplessness and more.
Of course, keeping well means taking regular exercise, eating well-balanced and having enough sleep. Vitamin supplements could help but it’s possible to overdose on some vitamins if you take large doses over a longer period so do check with your doctor.
One way to beat the blues and improve your emotional and physical well-being could be to introduce more herbs and spices into your life. Whilst there may not be any scientific proof of the healthful properties of many herbs and spices, for centuries people have used them to promote well-being and they are easy to add to food.
Have you ever thought about using more herbs and spices in your drinks? Or to create your own soothing herbal bath?
Some herbs and spices are not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women or for young children. If you’re using essential oils, don’t take them internally or use undiluted on your skin and make sure you select pure, natural essential oils rather than synthetic oils.
One of my favourite herbs is lavender – light, refreshing and versatile, used for over 2,000 years as a perfume, for easing migraines/headaches, treating acne, relieving pain and insomnia – it’s also a good insect repellent. If you have a friend suffering a loss or bereavement, a gift of lavender is thoughtful and practical. Try an aroma-pillow, heated body or neck wrap or a pillow spray. Lavender also adds flavour when used sparingly in cookery – lavender cookies are delicious!
How do I create a herbal bath?
There are several ways to create a lovely herbal bath which offers a relaxing experience, soothing the mind and smoothing the skin. Choose herbs that stimulate the circulation, ease the muscles or combat infection and make sure your bath is warm rather than hot. .
How to create your own herbal bath:
- Take dried or fresh herbs, put them in a sachet or porous bag and place in a hot bath. Leave the water to cool until comfortably warm. To make your own porous bag, cut the toes off an old pair of tights or pop socks, put the herbs in and then tie a knot. This stops the herbs sticking to the skin and blocking the drains.
- One of my favourite methods is to make a herbal ‘tea’ solution – put the herbs or spices in a pot or pan and add water. Bring it up to the boil and leave for up to an hour to give the herbs time to infuse before pouring the ‘tea’ into your warm bath.
- Make your own bath salts – mix ¾ cup of Epsom salts or pink Himalayan salts with ¼ cup of baking soda. Add 5 drops of essential oil to a small amount of carrier oil and mix well. Add the oil to the salt/baking soda mix, stir well to break up any lumps. This is sufficient for one bath but adjust the amounts and store the excess in an airtight container.
- Make a milk bath – put a couple of cups of milk or milk powder into a container, add a few drops of essential oil and some honey, shake for a few seconds and add to the warm bathwater.
Our 10 Best herbs for your bath:
- Chamomile: this has a sweet, mild scent and is a relaxing herb that can be used with other bath herbs such as lavender (avoid if you are sensitive to ragweed).
- Basil: if you’re looking for a stimulating and energizing bathing experience, choose basil – and add some orange peel. You’ll emerge feeling awake and refreshed.
- Eucalyptus makes for an invigorating bath and is perfect to clear head congestion if you’re suffering from a cold or have allergies.
- Fennel is favoured by those with problem skin – such as acne or oily skin.
- Lavender is one of the best bath herbs – relaxing, soothing and perfect to combine with other herbs.
- Lemon Balm is stimulating when in a bath because of its sharp, lemony scent.
- Rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and is thought to help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation. It makes an ideal bath for anyone with tired muscles, aches and pains.
- Calendula can be used for those with dry skin or healing wounds – if you have eczema or mosquito bites, it’s very soothing.
- Peppermint – this is best used in oil form in a bath – put 2 or 3 drops into the water and stir well. Peppermint is also soothing in a foot bath.
- Ginger – grate some ginger to use in your infusion or in your porous bag and your bath could help improve your circulation.
Can we add herbs and spices to drinks?
We only have to look at the vast array of herbal teas available to confirm the popularity of herbs in drinks – from lemon and ginger to apple and cinnamon, there are countless delicious blends but have you ever considered adding spices to a smoothie – either your own blend or one of the ready-made varieties found in the supermarket?
What about spice added to hot or cold milk?
There’s nothing as nice as a healthy, warming, non-alcoholic cocktail in winter or a refreshing spiced mocktail in summer.
The best way to add herbs/spices to drinks is to make a syrup base and then add this to still or sparkling water, milk, smoothie or hot drink.
To make a syrup:
Heat one cup of sugar and one cup of water to simmering point in a pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved – (adjust quantities as required).
Remove from heat and add your herbs or spices – try a cinnamon stick, a few springs of fresh rosemary or lavender or dried herbs, grated or ground ginger. Leave the syrup for up to an hour to allow the herbs or spices to infuse.
Sieve the mixture – and that is your syrup to add to your chosen ‘base’ drink.
Our 10 best herbs and spices for drinks
Whatever drink you decide on, choose spices which help digestion, improve the mood, benefit the circulatory system and blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon: a warming spice which is thought to help manage blood sugar levels, aid detoxification, help reduce inflammation and boost metabolism. Cinnamon milk is a delicious way to enjoy cinnamon. Pour milk into a saucepan, add sugar or honey and ground cinnamon and heat. Or make cinnamon apple cider by combining brown sugar, allspice, a teaspoon of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and apple cider in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes before sieving to remove spices.
Ginger: commonly believed to help upset stomachs and nausea, aiding digestion. Whether you use ground or raw ginger, make sure you only use a little. Make a lemon ginger fizz using sparkling water, caster sugar and the juice of two lemons. Make the syrup as before using the lemon juice and sugar and then add chopped ginger. Put into a jug when cool and add sparkling water and ice.
Turmeric: has been used for centuries in alternative medicines to reduce pain linked to osteoarthritis and relieve the itching caused by kidney disease. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is used to whiten teeth. Add to milk, lemon water, smoothies or tea or make your own smoothie using 1 cup of frozen or fresh mango, 1 tablespoon of coconut milk, ½ banana, 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon of chia seeds and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and just pop in your blender.
Cardamom: sweet, spicy and slightly lemony, this is great blended with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. It is reputed to help with gastric upsets and indigestion but only use a little. Add to coconut milk or a berry smoothie or to add a rich flavour to your coffee – stir a little ground cardamom into your cup of coffee or crush cardamom pods and add to your coffee maker. A Cardamom Lemon Sparkler is very refreshing. Make your syrup using cardamom, put in a glass, add mint and stir. Fill up with ice and top with lemonade – San Pellegrino Limone is ideal. Garnish with mint leaves and serve.
Coriander: a popular spice believed to bring digestive and detox benefits. Ground coriander is sweeter than the whole seeds – add it to cocoa or a vanilla-based smoothie or mix with vanilla protein powder or just shake on top of a smoothie. Make a tomato surprise – blend 2 ripe deseeded and diced tomatoes (or tomato juice) with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground coriander.
Cloves: give the wonderful flavour of Christmas and believed to relieve nausea and stimulate digestion. Whole, fresh cloves or ground cloves are equally good to use – and you only need a little. Clove tea is often recommended by people trying to lose weight. If you can grind fresh cloves, that’s ideal – so use 1 tablespoon of whole cloves or ½ tablespoon of ground cloves. Grind the whole cloves, bring 2 pints of water to the boil in a pan, turn off the heat, put the cloves in and steep for 20 minutes and strain the tea. Add freshly ground or ground cloves to a vanilla based drink or to a coconut and banana smoothie.
Lavender: believed to ease headaches or migraine, calms stomach upsets and to act as a sedative to promote sleep. Try a Lavender Sparkler by preparing the Lavender syrup as above using 3 tablespoons of dried lavender or a few springs of fresh lavender and adding ¼ cup of honey to the cooling syrup. Put the syrup in a jug with 2 cups of lemon juice and 5 or 6 cups of sparkling water or soda water and topping up with ice and lemon slices.
Rosemary: commonly thought to help the immune system, prevent indigestion and stimulate the blood flow to the skin. To make a Rosemary Refresher, add your spicy syrup to a jug and top up with 5 to 6 cups of water (still or sparkling) 1.5 cups of freshly squeezed grapefruit and 1.5 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice, along with some ice. Add your rosemary syrup ½ cup at a time to make sure it’s not too strong.
Nutmeg: is believed to have many benefits, including promoting digestion, oral health, detoxification, aiding sleep and having antidepressant properties. It’s also a source of copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium but should only be taken in small doses. One of the best and simplest ways to use nutmeg in a drink is to sprinkle it on top of your latte coffee or hot chocolate.
Peppermint is calming and good for digestion, relaxing the body and the mind. It’s delicious as peppermint tea – just infuse leaves in hot water and add honey or sugar if you need a sweeter drink. Make a peppermint cordial by preparing the syrup using a handful of peppermint sprigs and then add sparkling water or soda water to taste.
Treat yourself to the best of both worlds – enjoy a wonderful herbal or spiced drink whilst relaxing in your herbal bath!