This is the last article in the series on spices, at least for this time. I have included spices that didn't suit into the previous articles, and some things not normally considered spices at all, even if their use can be spice-like.
Meleguetta, Aframomum meleguetta, is another relative to ginger and turmeric. It belongs to Zingiberaceae, and is known under many names, such as Guinea pepper (because it was originally growing along the West African “grain coast”), Alligator pepper, or the suggestive Grains of Paradise. It was traded along the caravan routes from West Africa to North Africa, from where it found its way into Europe during Roman Antiquity. There it was subsequently forgotten and didn't return to Italy until the Middle Ages, and further to Northern France and Elizabethan England. Its use in Europe has declined since then.
Meleguetta seeds are the consumable parts, usually ground, and unlike many other spices, the specific taste is not a result of its essential oils, but of aromatic ketones.
This spice has interesting medical properties. In it has been found a compound that is the strongest anti-inflammatory substance known so far. It is also likely that it protects wild lowland Gorillas from fibrosing cardiomyopathy, a heart ailment they are very susceptible to and often develop in captivity, where their diet is no longer their natural one. In their natural habitat, meleguetta is a major part of their diet.
Traditionally, the seeds have been used against many ailments, such as fevers and dysentery, and as an aphrodisiac. It is a natural antibiotic, which also has effects on fungi, such as Candida albicans.
Further, it has been (perhaps still is) used for divination and voodoo practice.
Scientifically, research on the medical properties of meleguetta is insufficient. No doubt, it is healthy to eat, to an extent. It kills bad microbes and has positive effects on cardivascular health. But it is also an irritant, a strong substance that could possibly harm stomach, liver and kidneys if used excessively. There are no studies of this and a safe daily intake is impossible to state. Don't be afraid to eat it, but use common sense.
Ferula asafoetida, devil's dung, food of the gods (!), giant fennel, hing, a Ferula species originally coming from Afghanistan and Persia. It must be heated to become useful for eating, raw its odour is terrible. The dried sap of the plant is used, often in form of powder.
Asafoetida is antiviral, in Taiwan they managed to kill swine flu virus with it, and anti-inflammatory. It also stimulates the growth of "good" intestinal microbes, helps digestion, and combats constipation. It has some effect as a contraceptive. In Indian medicine it is used for several ailments; e.g. respiratory problems, flatulence, stomach disorders, impotence, menstruation problems, leucorrhoea, high blood pressure, nervous disturbance, mycotic infections, parasites, and as an antidote to opium.
In several places asafoetida is used to keep away demons and spirits, but for some reason it attracts wolves!
As a spice it is used cooked, and then it resembles onion. A fact useful for those not eating onions, as followers of certain branches of Hinduism.
Celery (Apium graveolens and Apium dulce) is commonly used as a vegetable (the leaf stalk) and is very nutritious. Leaves and seeds can be used as spices.
The word celery is derived from a Greek word, selinon, which means parsley. It was used already in Old Egypt and by the Mycenaean Greeks.
Celery contains more than a dozen identified antioxidants, and it is anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure, makes the body more alkaline, reduces bad cholesterol, inhibits tumour growth, and stimulates the level of sexual arousal.
A warning, celery seeds can increase photo-sensitivity, making sunlight more harmful. Celery is also extremely prone to cause allergic reactions, so some precaution is justified.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic, also antifungal; it cleanses the blood, normalises blood fats and blood pressure, and much more. It's a versatile medicine, and regularly used it helps to prevent a large number of ailments, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Do not use odourless garlic capsules, their effect is small compared to the real thing. The odour is caused by allicin, a compound which is also responsible for many of the health benefits of garlic. The more it smells, the better for your health.
For full benefit, don't use capsules at all, the real thing is much better. But remember that garlic, as almost everything else, becomes less effective if it has been heated. Dried, however, is fine, when fresh is not available, and powder of dried garlic is adequate.
Unfortunately, garlic smells strongly, and you smell strongly after eating garlic. The smell from the mouth disappears relatively quickly, but the body might smell a whole day after ingestion.
Various claims circulate about other foodstuffs that would eliminate the smell, but they are totally unsubstantiated. I have tried many of them, but nothing helps at all.
One claim I once saw was that you smell only as long as you need garlic, that the odour disappears when your interior is so clean that you don't need it anymore. There is no reason to believe in that. Allicin would stink, no matter what. Garlic smells, period!
If you eat garlic yourself, you won't perceive the smell from others. So, if that can offer consolation: the only ones suffering from the smell are those stupid enough not to eat garlic themselves. But eat raw garlic, fresh or dried.
Broccoli has become famous for its anti-cancerous properties. This is due to glucosinolates, which increase the liver's ability to protect the body against cancer. Horse radish, however, contains 10 times as much glucosinolates as broccoli.
Horse radish also has a number of other health benefits, such as being anti-inflammatory and acting as a natural antibiotic, while also supporting a healthy microflora, and dissolving kidney stones. It might also help in protecting the body from environmental toxins, although that has not yet been scientifically proved.
Both root and leaves can be eaten, and shredded root serves as a good spice.
(This article is based on material previously published in TMA/Meriondho Leo and in my e-book “Spices & Herbs”, 2018.)
Copyright © 2005-2008, 2018, 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.
(The lead image shows celery. Photo by Beverly Buckley/Pixabay, CC0/Public Domain.)
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