If you’re reading this then you made it through January (high five!), one of the dreariest months of the year. Seasonal depression may have sunk in for many, or, for us who battle clinical depression, this time of year can exacerbate our symptoms. Spices and herbs have been used in medicine to help heal disease for centuries. I have put together a list of evidence-based spices, along with how to use them in recipes, for improving our mental health. I bet you already have many of these in your home!
The beautiful yellow spice may be one of the most-researched spices on the planet. Evidence suggests curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may be effective at treating depression. Curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters important for mood management. In addition, curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can help manage several chronic illnesses.
Adding this aromatic spice to meals can be helpful in alleviating anxiety and depression due to its ability to balance blood sugar levels. Even smelling cinnamon can enhance cognitive functioning. I add cinnamon to all my smoothies and oatmeal bowls as its ability to stabilize glucose levels can help keep our energy consistent through the day, as well as assist in lowering “bad” cholesterol, and decreasing triglyceride levels.
Fresh ginger can boost feelings of happiness by increasing serotonin levels. Also, it can help us stay focused and increase productivity by supporting our dopamine levels. Its adaptogenic properties can help regulate cortisol levels and alleviate symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Other health benefits include decreasing fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels.
While mostly known for its digestive health properties, fennel supplementation has also been shown to decrease anxiety in women with anxiety disorder. It can also relieve pain, bloating and cramps related to both PMS and menopause. Try this fennel tea by The Glowing Fridge.
The warming, soothing properties of nutmeg help promotes relaxation, digestion and may decrease anxiety and depression. If taken before bed in a warm drink it may help us sleep if we suffer from insomnia. Its high magnesium content helps reduce nerve tension and can stimulate the production of serotonin. In the brain, serotonin is converted to melatonin, the hormone responsible for our sleep and wake cycles.
Cumin seeds, also known as jeera, are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and known to improve digestion. They have a high amount of melatonin which can help treat insomnia and may also alleviate anxiety. Try this Creamy Spicy Bean Curry by The Writer Eats.
Related to both turmeric and ginger, cardamom has antidepressant potential as well as cardiovascular benefits. Research has shown it can help decrease high blood pressure by relaxing our arteries. It has also been reported to improve digestion and could inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells.
8. Teas: Matcha, Lavender & Chamomile
Matcha tea contains L-theanine which may relieve stress and improve cognitive function. I suggest matcha tea in replacement of coffee as it provides us with focused energy as opposed to anxious energy. It is very high in catechins which are antioxidants that help remove free radicals from the body preventing disease. Studies also suggest matcha tea may prevent blood glucose and lipid accumulation. Lavender is a soothing herb often used in aromatherapy for stress and anxiety. Culinary lavender is also edible in small amounts and lovely when steeped in tea. I often drink this in the evening or whenever I am feeling anxious. Chamomile tea is soothing for digestive issues but may also be helpful for people experiencing panic attacks, anxiety and/or insomnia.
I would love to hear how incorporating these spices in your meals impacts your mood, energy levels and focus, so let me know if you try any recipes! For more mood-boosting recipes, check out this post by Bhumika of The Writer Eats.