Take one look in your kitchen, and you might find a plethora of herbs and spices on a rack waiting for you to add a dash of them to your food for flavour. But have you ever thought they offer benefits beyond simply adding excitement to bland foods?
The volatile oils in herbs and spices provide a therapeutic action on the digestive system and various other organ system in the body. Just about everyone seems to like herbs and can attest to how easy it is to grow and preserve them at home, however most spices naturally grow in the tropical or subtropical parts of the world, making it difficult to cultivate them in temperate regions. Fortunately, the heated interiors of our homes can allow low growing spices like ginger and turmeric to prosper.
Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, often called the father of Western medicine, once uttered the words: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
And with that, here are three spices you can try growing in the comfort of your own home:
Often referred to as ginger root, this underground stem of a perennial plant called Zingiber officinale originated in South China and later spread to other tropical areas, including West Africa and India. Ginger is popular in curry dishes, baked goods, and herbal teas. Ginger’s medicinal properties are impressively extensive, and include its ability to enhance immune function.
As the rhizome grows, it sends out new shoots and spreads. The plant can be propagated from 1” to 2” pieces of the rhizome with at least one growing bud, also known as an “eye.”
Fill a large tub with well-drained and rich potting mix. On the surface of the tub, lay several pieces of the ginger 6” apart, then cover with an inch of sand and press down firmly. Keep the tub in a well-lit area, and water when soil feels dry.
A coloured relative of ginger, turmeric’s bright golden yellow colour and spicy flavour makes it a bold addition to condiments and curries. Called Curcuma longa, this Indian native can also be grown indoors in the same way as ginger. The powerful compound within turmeric, called curcumin, is highly touted for its ability to control inflammation. In fact, a study published in the journal Oncogene found circumin to be the most effective anti-inflammatory, while aspirin and ibuprofen were the least effective.
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Because turmeric is typically used in its dried form, it may be difficult to source planting material, but if you can get a few pieces of the rhizome to begin with, they will multiply each year, which will leave you with an abundant amount.
Put pieces of turmeric into tubs or pots with well-drained and rich potting mix, cover with an inch of soil, and water well. Make sure to provide the plant enough light so the large leaves have a lush and green look.
Grow the plant outdoors in USDA zones 9 and up. Be sure to double-till the beds for proper root run and drainage. Harvest in the fall, when the leaves have begun to wilt. After harvested, bring the turmeric rhizomes to a boil for 35 to 45 minutes and allow to dry. You can store the dried stems or make into a turmeric powder.
Also referred to as Allium sativum, garlic is a member of the onion family, grown for use in cooking and for its many health benefits. It is high in a sulfur compound called Allicin, which is thought to bring most of the health benefits. Cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes are the world’s biggest killers, and high blood pressure is one of the main triggers of such diseases. Human studies have found garlic supplementation to be an effective treatment for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. In fact, one study used aged garlic extract at doses of 600-1,500 mg, and found it was just as effective as the blood pressure reducing drug Atenolol. Garlic is an extremely easy bulb to grow both indoors and outdoors.
You can start bulbs indoors any time of year, but for outdoor beds, fall planting is best. Keep soil evenly moist, but steer clear of water logging to avoid bulb rotting. You can use the leaves as an herb, but too much snipping will harm the size of the bulb. Once the bulbs have matured (leaves wilting in summer is an indication), you can harvest by digging up all the bulbs and drying them until the outer covering is papery. Braid the leaves and hang in the pantry or skin garlic cloves and place in vinegar for pickling. You can also make garlic powder after drying thinly sliced cloves in the sun or a food dehydrator.
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