Top 12 Anti-Inflammatory Spices and Herbs

Holli Ryan RD, LD/N

Top Spices with Anti-Inflammatory PropertiesLike fruits and vegetables, many spices and herbs have been shown to have biologically active compounds that benefit human health. One major benefit is attributed to their ability to reduce inflammation. The inflammatory process is complex, but many health experts agree that chronic inflammation is a common denominator among many chronic diseases.

Cooking with Anti-Inflammatory Spices and Herbs

Since many spices and herbs have anti-inflammatory properties, the bioactive compounds found in plants are often included in dietary supplements and standardized to ensure an amount that has been researched to show benefit. Cooking with these same spices and herbs that are used as supplements, tinctures, teas, and oils can contribute to your overall intake of these healthful plants. There are probably some of these anti-inflammatory seasonings in your spice cabinet right now, but before you get cooking, we have outlined some information on this topic to help you learn more:

What are Spices?

A spice is a plant substance used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Turmeric is a spice that is commonly used in the condiment mustard and can play all of the roles just mentioned. Parts of the plant that are used as spices:
  • Seed
  • Fruit
  • Root
  • Bark

What is an Herb Versus a Spice?

Herbs are also plants, and like spices, they are also used for flavoring or as a garnish. Certain herbs such as rosemary are also used for preserving food because of their antioxidant properties. The terms ‘spices’ and ‘herbs’ are sometimes used interchangeably but are distinct botanically and in culinary use. Parts of the plant that are used as herbs:

  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Stems

3 Common Herbs with Anti-Inflammatory Properties:

1. Rosemary1
2. Basil2
3. Sage3

What are Anti-Inflammatory Spices?

Anti-inflammatory spices contain active compounds that have been shown to reduce one or more markers of inflammation. Some markers and mediators of inflammation used in research and diagnosis include:

TNF-α, NF-κB and interleukins are cytokines (signaling proteins involved in triggering the inflammatory response). For example: fat tissue, especially the type of abdominal visceral fat seen in obesity, can secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines leading to systemic inflammation in people with obesity.

9 Spices with Anti-Inflammatory Properties:
  1. Sesame has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in preclinical and clinical studies.4,5 
  2. Turmeric (and its main bioactive constituent, curcumin) is a very popular anti-inflammatory spice with many studies demonstrating efficacy. Clinical and preclinical studies indicate that turmeric and curcuminoids like curcumin may help manage atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and more.6-8
  3. Ginger was shown to reduce CRP and inflammatory cytokines in participants with diabetes and osteoarthritis.9-11
  4. Saffron has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in preclinical studies.12 In participants with allergic asthma, saffron reduced CRP levels.13
  5. Garlic has anti-inflammatory activity in preclinical and clinical studies.14 In a study of overweight and obese women with osteoarthritis, garlic improved pain and reduced the pro-inflammatory adipocytokine (a cytokine produced by fat cells) called resistin.15
  6. Caraway has some data that it may be beneficial in inflammatory bowel conditions like colitis.16
  7. Cardamom has several clinical and preclinical studies demonstrating anti-inflammatory effects. In obese participants with fatty liver disease, cardamom reduced levels of CRP and inflammatory cytokines.17 In overweight and obese pre-diabetic women, cardamom reduced CRP.18 Cardamom may exert its anti-inflammatory effects through inhibiting the NF-κB pathway.19
  8. Nutmeg has some preclinical data indicating it may have potential as a pain reliever due to its inhibition of COX enzymes, a mechanism similar to some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.20,21
  9. Paprika prevented an inflammatory response from UV damage to skin in people.22 Paprika also suppressed TNF-α and resistin in adipocytes (fat cells).23

sesame anti-inflammatory spice
turmeric curcumin anti-inflammatory spice
ginger anti-inflammatory spice

caraway anti-inflammatory spice
garlic anti-inflammatory spice
saffron anti-inflammatory spice

paprika anti-inflammatory spice
cardamom anti-inflammatory spice
nutmeg anti-inflammatory spice

Cooking with spices and herbs is a great way to add flavor to your food and expand your palate beyond table salt. Different cultures often have a set of spices associated with the particular cuisine. In addition to isolated spices, you can find spice blends designed for seasoning specific types of cuisine or proteins in your grocery store, at your local farmers market, or even at dedicated spice stores.

About the Author: Holli Ryan is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist, health and wellness advocate, and blogger/writer based in South Florida. She is a Florida International University graduate and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her focus as a dietitian is disease prevention and management of health through nutrition education and customized suggestions. Holli believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications, from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease.

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  2. Li H, Ge Y, Luo Z, et al. Evaluation of the chemical composition, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of distillate and residue fractions of sweet basil essential oil. J Food Sci Technol. 2017;54(7):1882-1890.
  3. Poulios E, Giaginis C, Vasios GK. Current Advances on the Extraction and Identification of Bioactive Components of Sage (Salvia spp.). Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2019;20(10):845-857.
  4. Afroz M, Zihad S, Uddin SJ, et al. A systematic review on antioxidant and antiinflammatory activity of Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) oil and further confirmation of antiinflammatory activity by chemical profiling and molecular docking. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2019;33(10):2585-2608.
  5. Khadem Haghighian M, Alipoor B, Malek Mahdavi A, Eftekhar Sadat B, Asghari Jafarabadi M, Moghaddam A. Effects of sesame seed supplementation on inflammatory factors and oxidative stress biomarkers in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Acta Med Iran. 2015;53(4):207-213.
  6. Hay E, Lucariello A, Contieri M, et al. Therapeutic effects of turmeric in several diseases: An overview. Chemico-biological interactions. 2019;310:108729.
  7. Li C, Miao X, Li F, et al. Curcuminoids: Implication for inflammation and oxidative stress in cardiovascular diseases. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2019.
  8. Kocaadam B, Sanlier N. Curcumin, an active component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), and its effects on health. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017;57(13):2889-2895.
  9. Shidfar F, Rajab A, Rahideh T, Khandouzi N, Hosseini S, Shidfar S. The effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on glycemic markers in patients with type 2 diabetes. J Complement Integr Med. 2015;12(2):165-170.
  10. Mohd Sahardi NFN, Makpol S. Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) in the Prevention of Ageing and Degenerative Diseases: Review of Current Evidence. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM. 2019;2019:5054395.
  11. Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Naderi Z, Dehghan A, Nadjarzadeh A, Fallah Huseini H. Effect of Ginger Supplementation on Proinflammatory Cytokines in Older Patients with Osteoarthritis: Outcomes of a Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. J Nutr Gerontol Geriatr. 2016;35(3):209-218.
  12. Zeinali M, Zirak MR, Rezaee SA, Karimi G, Hosseinzadeh H. Immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of Crocus sativus (Saffron) and its main active constituents: A review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2019;22(4):334-344.
  13. Hosseini SA, Zilaee M, Shoushtari MH, Ghasemi Dehcheshmeh M. An evaluation of the effect of saffron supplementation on the antibody titer to heat-shock protein (HSP) 70, hsCRP and spirometry test in patients with mild and moderate persistent allergic asthma: A triple-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial. Respir Med. 2018;145:28-34.
  14. Shang A, Cao SY, Xu XY, et al. Bioactive Compounds and Biological Functions of Garlic (Allium sativum L.). Foods (Basel, Switzerland). 2019;8(7).
  15. Dehghani S, Alipoor E, Salimzadeh A, et al. The effect of a garlic supplement on the pro-inflammatory adipocytokines, resistin and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and on pain severity, in overweight or obese women with knee osteoarthritis. Phytomedicine. 2018;48:70-75.
  16. Keshavarz A, Minaiyan M, Ghannadi A, Mahzouni P. Effects of Carum carvi L. (Caraway) extract and essential oil on TNBS-induced colitis in rats. Res Pharm Sci. 2013;8(1):1-8.
  17. Daneshi-Maskooni M, Keshavarz SA, Qorbani M, et al. Green cardamom increases Sirtuin-1 and reduces inflammation in overweight or obese patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrition & metabolism. 2018;15:63.
  18. Kazemi S, Yaghooblou F, Siassi F, et al. Cardamom supplementation improves inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers in hyperlipidemic, overweight, and obese pre-diabetic women: a randomized double-blind clinical trial. Journal of the science of food and agriculture. 2017;97(15):5296-5301.
  19. Souissi M, Azelmat J, Chaieb K, Grenier D. Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) extracts: Potential therapeutic benefits for periodontal infections. Anaerobe. 2019:102089.
  20. Zhang WK, Tao SS, Li TT, et al. Nutmeg oil alleviates chronic inflammatory pain through inhibition of COX-2 expression and substance P release in vivo. Food & nutrition research. 2016;60:30849.
  21. Zhang CR, Jayashre E, Kumar PS, Nair MG. Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Compounds in Nutmeg (Myristicafragrans) Pericarp as Determined by in vitro Assays. Nat Prod Commun. 2015;10(8):1399-1402.
  22. Nishino A, Sugimoto K, Sambe H, Ichihara T, Takaha T, Kuriki T. Effects of Dietary Paprika Xanthophylls on Ultraviolet Light-Induced Skin Damage: A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study. J Oleo Sci. 2018;67(7):863-869.
  23. Maeda H, Saito S, Nakamura N, Maoka T. Paprika Pigments Attenuate Obesity-Induced Inflammation in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes. ISRN Inflamm. 2013;2013:763758.

Top 12 Anti-Inflammatory Spices and Herbs