Imagine going to your doctor with joint pain and leaving with a prescription for ginger.
Before the advent of synthetic drugs, that might have happened. Herbs and spices have a long history as folk medicine, and not without merit.
Today, researchers are working to quantify their health benefits.
"We don’t have enough evidence to say herbs and spices are 100-percent disease-preventing, but several have positive outlooks," says Milton Stokes, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Oregano: The strongest health benefit for oregano, shown at left, is that it’s been linked to food preservation. In 2003, researchers found that applying a concentrated oregano extract to prepared meats may destroy Listeria bacteria. "The same chemical constituents that give herbs and spices their pungency are also powerful bacterial inhibitors," says Catherine Donnelly, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont. "Oregano is one of the best bacteria killers." Its phenols — a type of antioxidant — destroy the cell membranes of bacteria.