My sweet and loving Mother who lived into her mid-90s used to call it “that achy-breaky feeling” to describe the pain and muscular weakness that seems to increase as we age. While many resort to anti-inflammatory medications, these can have unwanted side effects, so there has been increasing interest in the anti-inflammatory properties of culinary herbs and spices. Two known for their anti-inflammatory properties are ginger and turmeric.
For centuries, both ginger and turmeric have been used for their flavor and their medicinal properties. Traditionally, ginger was used to treat nausea and stomach upset, because it supports digestion and the passage of food through the stomach. It has also been used to help the body fight off upper respiratory infections, to soothe a sore throat, and to enhance circulation. Integrative physician and herbal specialist Tieraona Low Dog, MD, recommends fresh ginger tea to increase blood flow to help warm cold hands and feet and to ease menstrual cramps. But because of its “warming” and stimulant qualities, some experiencing sleep challenges may want to avoid ginger tea at night.
Turmeric is the major ingredient in curry powders and in mustards. It is a rich source of curcumin, a polyphenol (“plant protector”) with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is also found in ginger and lemon grass. The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin are enhanced when combined with black pepper, as in many curry mixtures. Turmeric has been used to reduce the pain associated with arthritis and to reduce the muscle soreness after acute exercise. And more recently, research has focused on the beneficial effect of turmeric on mood and memory. Despite the media focus on its beneficial properties, health authorizes caution against dosages above 3 grams (or 3,000 mg)/day of dried powdered root. This is equivalent to about 1 1/2 tsp/day of dried powdered root or about 1-2 tbsp/day of grated raw or about 1-2 inches fresh root. Since curcumin (the major active component in turmeric) can interact with certain medications, including antidepressants, it’s best to check with your health care provider before supplementing with turmeric or curcumin.
Focusing on “food as our best medicine,” I encourage you to incorporate more ginger and turmeric into your meals. You can make them into a tea or add them to a hot milk of your choice. You can also stir these spices into your morning oatmeal, add them to season rice pudding (as in Spicy Anti-Inflammatory Apple Coconut Rice Pudding) or fruit crisp (as in Gluten-Free Mango Crisp with Anti-Inflammatory Spices), include them in a chicken or fish dish (like Moroccan Fish with Cilantro & Paprika Sauce), or in a vegetable curry. Along with their vibrant color and flavor, you will also enjoy the anti-inflammatory benefits of these spices.