Certain spices have been touted as good for our health. For example, cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar…ginger eases indigestion…and garlic can lower high blood pressure.

What most people don’t realize: Several other commonly used spices are just as healthful (if not more so). Here are four “secret” super-spices with healing powers…


Black pepper is rich in piperine, the pungent compound that triggers a sneeze when it hits the nerve endings inside your nose. Hundreds of studies show that piperine also triggers healing—energizing and protecting nearly every organ and system in your body. Two standout benefits…

Cancer. Cellular and animal research demonstrates that piperine fights ­cancer. In a test of 55 natural compounds, piperine scored number one in killing triple-negative breast cancer, the most virulent type. In another study, it killed aggressive HER2 breast cancer cells—and even stopped the deadly HER2 gene from activating. Other research shows that piperine can slow, stop or kill prostate, colorectal, lung, cervical, liver and stomach cancers. Piperine also slows angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels that feed tumors. It even enhances the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy.

Arthritis and gout. Piperine is anti-inflammatory—and studies show that it can stop destructive inflammation in cartilage cells (loss of cartilage is the cause of osteoarthritis) and reduce inflammation associated with gout. It also reverses the symptoms of arthritis in lab animals.

How to use: For the highest level of piperine, buy whole black peppercorns and grind as needed. (Green and white peppercorns are not as rich in piperine, and once the peppercorn is ground, piperine begins to decrease.) Add freshly ground black pepper liberally and often—in cooking and at the table. Try to add freshly ground pepper at the end of cooking because the benefits break down the longer the spice is heated.

Also helpful: Studies show that just smelling black pepper (in the form of black pepper oil) can cut nicotine cravings in smokers and strengthen “postural stability” in older people (thereby helping to prevent falls). Put a drop of oil on a tissue, and inhale for two minutes, two to three times a day. Black pepper oil is available at Amazon.com and other online retailers.


Two major components of oregano—thymol and carvacrol—have been proven to have healing powers…

Heart disease and stroke. In a study published in Journal of International Medical Research, people with high LDL (bad) cholesterol were divided into two groups—one group ingested oregano extract with every meal and one group didn’t. Three months later, the oregano group had greater decreases in LDL, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a biomarker of artery-damaging inflammation) and greater increases in arterial blood flow.

In other studies, researchers found that oregano is more powerful than any other spice in stopping the oxidation of LDL—the breakdown of cholesterol by unstable molecules called free radicals that drives the formation of arterial plaque. Oregano also stops the activation of cytokines, components of the immune system that attack oxidized cholesterol, sparking the inflammation that worsens heart disease.

Infections. Oregano is antimicrobial. It can kill the parasite giardia more effectively than tinidazole, a prescription antiparasitic drug. It decimates Candida albicans, a yeast that can multiply in the intestinal tract and trigger a range of health problems, such as arthritis and depression. And it can neutralize Staphylococcus aureus, a common hospital-acquired infection.

How to use: You can buy oregano fresh or dried. I recommend using the dried form because it concentrates the therapeutic compounds. It often is used in salad dressings, marinades, chili and in Italian and Greek dishes. For optimum benefits, try to use at least one teaspoon of dried oregano daily.

Also helpful: During the winter, consider using oregano oil in supplement form to prevent colds and flu. Follow the directions on the label.


Basil is a traditional medicine in Ayurveda, the more than 5,000-year-old natural healing system from India, where it’s used to treat diabetes, digestive disorders, skin problems and infections. The variety native to India is holy basil, and there are at least 30 more varieties worldwide. All of them contain basil’s four main healing components—the antioxidants orientin and vicenin and the volatile oils eugenol and apigenin—that can help regulate blood sugar.

Type 2 diabetes. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who included more basil in their diets saw an average drop of 21 mg/dL in fasting blood sugar and a 15.8 mg/dL drop in postmeal blood sugar. In a similar, smaller study, three people with type 2 diabetes had ­remarkable decreases in fasting blood sugar levels when they added basil to their diets three times a day for five weeks—from 250 to 110 mg/dL, from 200 to 80 mg/dL, and from 230 to 90 mg/dL (99.9 mg/dL and lower is normal…100 to 125.9 mg/dL is prediabetes…126 mg/dL and higher is diabetes).

How to use: Dried basil has a larger concentration of the health-giving volatile oils than fresh. I recommend one-quarter to one-half teaspoon daily. Use dried basil in full-flavored sauces. Fresh basil still is rich in health-giving compounds. An easy way to enjoy fresh basil is to toss a handful of leaves into your favorite hot pasta and dress with extra-virgin olive oil.


The botanical name for sage—Salvia ­officinalis—comes from the Latin salvare, meaning “to save” or “to cure.” And sage lives up to its name…

Memory problems. One hour after people took a supplement of sage oil, they had better memory, more focused attention and more alertness, reported researchers in Journal of Psychopharmacology. In another study, people who smelled sage had a stronger memory and were in a better mood.

Anxiety. In a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, people who took a supplement of dried sage leaf were less anxious and felt calmer and more content than when they took a placebo.

Why it works: Sage may block the action of cholinesterase, an enzyme that destroys acetylcholine, a brain chemical that plays a role in memory, attention and alertness. Sage also might improve the functioning of cholinergic receptors on brain cells that receive acetylcholine.

How to use sage: Because of its robust flavor, sage is best used in hearty dishes such as pot roast, meat loaf and stuffing. It also goes well with squash, sweet potatoes and apples.

However: The amounts that improve mental and emotional functioning aren’t easy to get with diet, so you may want to take a sage leaf supplement. I often recommend the herbal extract from Herb Pharm because it’s made from the whole leaf that has been grown organically. Follow the directions on the label.