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13 Aug

Top 10 Favorite Herbs and Spices

This article was originally published last year following the release of the Primal Blueprint Publishing book Rich Food, Poor Food. I’m reprinting it here today to coincide with a very special offer. As many of you may know, it’s my life mission to help 10 million (or more!) people take control of their health for good. As a small effort to that end, I’ve teamed up with Buck Books over the last few weeks to give select Primal Blueprint Publishing books away for under a buck. The response has been absolutely incredible. These one day sales have helped get life-changing information to tens of thousands of people that desperately need it. So today, I’m doing it again. Through midnight tonight you can get Rich Food, Poor Food on Kindle for just 99 cents. It’s the ultimate grocery purchasing guide, with detailed analysis and recommendations for all food groups. So have a look at Buck Books, and grab your Kindle copy before time runs out. Enjoy!

SpicesFollowing is an excerpt from the Caltons’ popular new book, Rich Food, Poor Food. I’ve chosen their section on herbs and spices because I learned more details about how to choose the best herbs and spices, and what benefits they offer, from reading their material. If you notice on my Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid, herbs, spices and extracts occupy a nice little triangle at the top. You’re not consuming mass quantities of them as a big calorie source, but they make an important contribution to a healthy diet nevertheless. Besides adding flavor and protecting against microbes, herbs, spices, and extracts provide outstanding levels of antioxidants – some of the highest values found in any food.

Yep, I’m a big fan of herbs, spices, and extracts…and after reading Rich Food, Poor Food and having follow up discussions with the Caltons, I’ve tossed most of the stuff in my cupboard! Why? Because most of the jars found in my own home were not organic, and/or have been in there longer than a year. According to the Caltons, most conventional spices you find in the grocery store have been irradiated during their processing. This compromises their nutritional value and introduces health risks, which are detailed in the following excerpt.

Sorry, herbs and spices do not get better with age (maybe you’re confusing them with the Primal Blueprint indulgence of red wine?); in fact, they lose their potency and become bottled up free radicals when they linger too long on your shelves. For kicks, I asked several folks in the office to go home, take a look at their spice rack or cupboard, and guesstimate how long the stuff has been in there. One realized that her spinning tabletop rack was a holiday gift from seven or eight years ago! Here’s more on the subject from Rich Food, Poor Food, including a nice promo for their gold medalist (and one of my favorites) in the spice category: turmeric.

Rich Food, Poor Food – Excerpt from Herbs and Spices Section

Most grocery store spices are irradiated. Irradiation is the process of exposing food to radiation in order to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food. While irradiation works to kill bacteria, it also disrupts the structure of everything it passes through. Specifically, irradiation breaks up a food’s DNA, vitamins, minerals, and proteins and creates “free radicals” (atoms, molecules, or ions that contain unpaired electrons and crash into each other, multiplying exponentially), which contribute to many degenerative diseases, including heart disease, dementia, cancer, and cataracts.

Additionally, irradiation destroys the essential micronutrients that can help you reach micronutrient sufficiency. Your spice rack has so much to offer, that is, when you buy the Rich Food option, which is always the non-irradiated organic spice – our top pick. Here’s a rundown on the benefits of some of our favorite spices:


Dill: Helps your Digestion. A teaspoon a day can reduce 80 percent of bloating in only three days. Its antibacterial oils not only kill any possible stomach bugs but also help in the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins.

Uses:  Feathery texture is sharp-tasting. Great on fish, in chicken and potato salads. Used in pickling.


Tarragon: For Heart Health. One teaspoon daily lowered LDL cholesterol more than 40 percent while increasing good cholesterol nearly 30 percent. Tarragon contains a chemical called rutin, which boosts circulation and reduces plaque in the arteries.

Uses:  Flavor of anise, licorice, mint, hay, and pine. Try it in Bernaise sauce.


Oregano: Bacteria Be Gone. Due to the high levels of antibacterial compounds and antioxidants, oregano is just as effective at killing E.Coli and staph bacteria as penicillin.

Uses:  Tastes Robust. Best in tomato dishes, usually of Mediterranean or Mexican origin.


Bay Leaf

Bay Leaf: Natural Pain Reliever. Eliminates headaches and migraines. Bay leaf is rich in eugenol, a natural anesthetic that alleviates pain.

Uses:  Tastes woody. Perfect in soups, sauces, stews, and pot roasts.



Rosemary: The Brain Booster and Fatigue Fighter. With just one sniff, the phytochemicals found in rosemary can rev up your mind by increasing production of beta waves. Carnosol, a nutrient unique to this herb, fights fatigue by flushing out energy-sapping toxins from the body.

Uses:  Smell rosemary sprigs to increase alertness in only five minutes. Intense pine flavor. Great on grilled meats; adds an interesting boost to chocolate desserts.


Cayenne: Appetite Suppressant and Metabolism Booster. Capsaicin, found in cayenne, has thermogentic properties that increase your blood flow and metabolism. Individuals who only use cayenne infrequently also find it reduces hunger.

Uses:  Sweet heat. Works well with meats and cheeses.


Cinnamon: Controls Glucose Levels. Cinnamon contains antioxidants called polyphenols that boost levels of three key proteins responsible for insulin signaling, glucose transport, and inflammatory response. Sprinkle one half teaspoon on your food to slow carbohydrate absorption by 29 percent.

Uses: Sweet and Savory. This spice is found in almost all world cuisine. From stews to pies this spice doesn’t discriminate.


Cardamom: Treats Indigestion. Chew one teaspoon of these seeds to soothe a sour belly. The aroma and therapeutic properties of cardamom are due to the volatile oil in its seed, which contains cineol, terpinene, limonene, sabinene, and terpineol.

Uses:  Pungent and sweet. This fragrant spice is used in rich curries and milk-based preparations, as well as in spice cakes and desserts.


Sage: Memory Minder. Both the phytonutrients and volatile oils in sage maintain levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that supports memory.

Uses:  Piney with eucalyptus notes. Lovely addition to stuffing and pork dishes.


And our favorite Rich Food spice is . . . Turmeric


This mildly woody spice is a key ingredient in many Indian, Persian, and Thai dishes. This “poor man’s” saffron is rich in benefits. The active ingredient, curcumin, is so powerful that it is commonly made into expensive nutraceutical capsules. According to Ajay Goel, Ph.D., Director of Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention at Baylor Research Institute in Dallas, “Curcumin is a complete well-being tonic – it benefits every organ in the body… It shows promise of fighting nearly every disease.” Dr. Goel suggests that curcumin aids in the prevention of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and depression.

Why not just cook up a cure in your kitchen tonight?

Curcumin Controls Blood Sugar: It switches on the liver genes that keep glucose levels in check. It improves the pancreas’s ability to make insulin and helps slow down the metabolism of carbohydrates after meals.

Curcumin Fights Cancer: It inhibits the genetic switches that allow for cancerous cell growth to occur.

Curcumin Speeds Up Metabolism: USDA research shows that is enhances cellular energy to speed metabolism.

Curcumin Clears Plaque: It removes amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s.

Making Cents

Let’s face it, organic spice jars are small and pricey, and it can take along time to use up some of these specialty ingredients. Your best bet is to buy your organic spices in the bulk section of your local health food or specialty spice store, where you can buy smaller amounts of the spices you need right away. This guarantees that your spices are fresh, loaded with flavor, and saves you money when a recipe only calls for a pinch. Buy your own glass jars online or wash out old spice jars and transfer contents from store baggies into convenient glass jars. Store them in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidative damage from light and oxygen.

Read an extended excerpt below, and check out the Buck Books offer to get a Kindle copy of this book for just 99 cents here.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Is Penzeys spices irradiated?

    AB wrote on February 20th, 2013
  2. I had no idea about the effects of tarragon on cholesterol levels. Is that a teaspoon of fresh tarragon, or dried?

    Kristin wrote on February 20th, 2013
  3. I see there are already many on here who know of the wonders of Penzey’s! Every so often I apply to work there, but so far, they don’t want me. Darn, seems like a dream job, and who would mind coming home smelling like THAT?

    Beth wrote on February 20th, 2013
  4. lol pretty sure my mother still has spices from the 70s somewhere

    Wulf wrote on February 20th, 2013
    • My mom still had spices from the 60’s in her cupboard until last year! I finally (a few years of nudging) talked her into dumping them out and refilling the tins with fresh herbs that she actually uses on a daily basis.

      Stephanie D wrote on August 13th, 2014
  5. We use the seeds from the dill plant to make tea. Great for upset stomach, particularly for kids who don’t like ginger tea. Dill seed tea is very mild and is one of the main ingredients in gripe water.

    Happycyclegirl wrote on February 20th, 2013
  6. Turmeric–I love the stuff. Goes into my salad dressing, on my eggs, etc.

    This is the United States of Turmerica, damnit!

    Steve Gardner wrote on February 20th, 2013
  7. Don’t forget to take it all with some lemon/lime juice.

    That is how I take my Turmeric and ginger put it in mouth and wash it down with the juice.

    john B wrote on February 20th, 2013
  8. I live in Maine and still manage to have a nice little perennial herb garden. I grow oregano, thyme, French tarragon, sage, mint & lemon balm. In the spring I plant parsley & dill. I have a hard time growing basil here.

    I use all my herbs often in the summer, and in the fall I either dry or freeze them.

    I buy my spices from Penzey’s. Does anyone know if they are organic?

    Caroline wrote on February 20th, 2013
  9. I use thyme on just about everything cooked. It’s great in omelets, whole grain pastas, on meats, even in meat wraps with mustard. I think Mark may even be responsible for my infatuation with it. I’m pretty sure I read about it in one of his books.

    Al wrote on February 20th, 2013
    • Thyme is my go to herb for almost any dish. :)

      Energy! wrote on August 14th, 2014
  10. I have been buying organic herbs from Mountain Rose Herb Company and encapsulating them myself for 8-9 months. Had warts on my hands for years and they all just disappeared. Caught the cold that had every one down for two weeks and it was extremely mild and gone in two days.Check former big pharma chemist All formulations are herbal based.

    Tracy wrote on February 20th, 2013
    • Where do you get the empty capsules? I asked at my local CVS and got a suspicious look along with a “No.”

      Energy! wrote on August 14th, 2014
  11. Turmeric is fat soluble. So when you spill some and can’t get the stain out, try working in some oil to absorb the turmeric and then wash the oil away with detergent. It also goes through a dish better if it is allowed to absorb into an oil first eg fry the spice blend briefly before adding the meat like in most asian cultures.

    Piperine in black pepper is one of the things that improves turmerics bioavailabilty.

    Go the curry!

    Lyn wrote on February 20th, 2013
    • Totally agree. Fat soluble spices should be bloomed with heat. Indian dishes use heat and ghee to bloom/develop the flavor.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 20th, 2013
  12. Fresh ginger is the best!

    Angela wrote on February 20th, 2013
  13. has lots of PubMed articles indexed on turmeric (amazing tumor fighter) and other herbs. Try cutting up cauliflower, toss with olive oil, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and roast in the oven a few minutes. I am not a big cauliflower fan but like it this way.

    CWaldman wrote on February 20th, 2013
  14. FYI – In Rich Food, Poor Food, the Caltons offer coupons for organic spices from companies like Simply Organic and Frontier.

    Mark Sisson wrote on February 20th, 2013
  15. if you want to avoid the little plastic bags from the bulk section at the health food store just bring your own jars from home and get a tare weight for them before filling…keeps your spices from being stuck to plastic and less waste!

    Lakina wrote on February 20th, 2013
  16. My parents have spices in their cupboard that are older than me. And I’m 30. But they’re hoarders and I doubt they actually use those spices.

    Stephanie wrote on February 20th, 2013
  17. On the freshness tip. I’m actually starting a dried herb exchange club, wherein we have a group of people who are each growing one herb and then we get together and swap. It’s less bother than maintaining a large herb garden, but we all get the benefit of diverse, locally grown and freshly dried herbs.

    jj wrote on February 20th, 2013
  18. I usually buy my spices in bulk from Whole Foods. I would assume they aren’t irradiated, but does anyone know for sure. Also, how long before you should throw spices out – in other words, what is their shelf life?

    Cheryl wrote on February 20th, 2013
    • I go by smell. No smell, no flavor.

      Energy! wrote on August 14th, 2014
  19. An article from states that preliminary research shows tumeric has strong anti viral properties. It interferes with the virus’ ability to replicate and spread through cells in the body. I personally have used it twice this year when I felt a cold/flu developing. I put a 1/4 tsp in a cup of hot water, added a sprinkle of cinnamon for taste, and drank before bed. Felt fine the next morning.

    TruckerLady wrote on February 20th, 2013
  20. Grow your own spices. I grow oregano (Greek & Italian), choc mint, thyme – all perenials – and plant basil, parsley & sage &/or dill every yr. I dry them in dehydrator & store in glass jars kept in fridge so they stay fresh for a very long time (still have some from last summer & hasn’t lost scent or flavour).

    Suzanne wrote on February 20th, 2013
  21. I’m putting in my own raised gardens this summer (making them out of cinder block). Can anyone suggest a good website or book on planning an herb garden and zones for the different herbs?

    Beccolina wrote on February 20th, 2013
  22. Woops! I had no idea that spices expired and that expired spices could actually be harmful to you. Oh geez, I need to clear out my cupboards. =/

    Suziee Shin wrote on February 20th, 2013
  23. Some herbs and spices will give a negative reaction if you use it daily, and some will have a diminishing return, so it’s best to do a lot of research on which ones you choose to use. After using Cayenne daily for about 7 years it gives me diarhhea now.
    Use them wisely and you can say adios to your doctor. They are also good to get rid of the sweetness addiction. Your senses of taste and smell will gradually improve.

    Michael wrote on February 20th, 2013
  24. Very nice and interesting post, anyway I want to just add something more info. Like, too much could deplete your muscles because of too much protein as well as mineral deprivation. Moreover, too much intake of the tea that is a laxative may irritate and also damage the colon’s nerve ending.

    ego e-cig wrote on February 20th, 2013
  25. Some of these herbs and spices are anti-bacterial, so I assume they also kill off our good bacteria? I have heard that cinnamon doesn’t kill the good bacteria, only the bad, but can’t seem to find any reference to that. Has anyone else heard that?

    Christine wrote on February 21st, 2013
  26. For anyone in the UK wondering whether their spices are irradiated – the Food Standards Agency states that any irradiated foods have to be very clearly marked as such, and most supermarket spices aren’t, so should be safe to use. Check your spice rack before throwing out perfectly good spices for fear of nasty radiation

    BTW, I think but do check, that the wider EU has similar irradiated food labelling standards

    More info at the FSA website:

    Chris wrote on February 21st, 2013
  27. Love all these herbs and spices, but Tumeric makes my mouth numb! Very strange…

    Sam wrote on February 21st, 2013
  28. Cilantro tastes like soap to some of us… YUK!

    Barb wrote on February 21st, 2013
  29. Cheap way to buy spices!!!

    Was attempting Better Butter Chicken from Sarah Fragoso’s cookbook (insanely delicious btw) but could not find some of the needed spices at my staple Trader Joes or World Market. So….I “hiked” over to Whole Foods – ok it was only four blocks away but I hiked very briskly – swearing quietly to myself about how expensive buying spices there was going to be.

    Anyway this WF has a bag your own spices section (not sure if this is in all WF) I try to only go into WF as a last ditch option (sorry walking into WF kinda makes me feel like I’m back in HS & and I’m not in the popular crowd…anyone else???).

    So I “bagged” my own cardamom, coriander and fenugreek seeds.

    Total price (and I got enough for at least 10-15 more dishes),
    Organic coriander $.07 (yes it was 7 FREAKING cents)
    Organic cardamom $1.50
    Fenugreek Seeds $.82

    Final conclusion if you have a WF in your neck of the woods this is a totally unexpected cheap option.

    **two quick notes if you want to try this recipe – WF only had the seed version of fenugreek however the recipe calls for powder of all three ingredients. I used my coffee bean grinder to turn the seeds into powder. (kinda cleaver right?) Which could be why my Butter Chicken slightly made me feel like I was at Starbucks…umm.

    Lastly if all WF do not have the bag your own spices option the one I went too for my fellow urban paleo folks is on North and Kingbury in Chicago.

    Hope this helps – I just started Paleo about 7 weeks ago after being a certified bread & milk addict and have never felt better! Yippee!

    Alexandra Suntrup wrote on February 21st, 2013
    • WF is actually cheaper than many grocery stores on a lot of things. Between their house brand and what I’m guessing is a volume discount they can get on organics, you’d be surprised. I priced the Pacific brand soup in a carton at four stores and the from most expensive to least it went: Harris Teeter, Lowe’s Foods, Target, THEN Whole Foods which was a little more than a dollar cheaper than Harris Teeter.

      Funny your comment about feeling uncomfortable shopping there and not feeling like you are in the popular crowd. My sense is that WF is usually staffed with folks who weren’t in the popular crowd in high school. More like the “freaks and geeks”/hippies, if you will. Which is probably why I AM comfortable shopping there!

      ps. I will definitely be cruising by the bulk spice section more often! Making a note to save my spice bottles so I can reuse them.

      Tina wrote on February 21st, 2013
    • OMG I have done this before too! It’s genius! And you can actually do this at any grocery store that offers this – I used to save SO MUCH money by doing this with cinnamon and cilantro! :)

      GiGi wrote on February 21st, 2013
  30. Love the site, and I plan on incorporating a lot of these spices in the future. However, I really dislike some of the specific claims made in this article with no backing.

    “A teaspoon a day can reduce 80 percent of bloating in only three days.”

    “Sprinkle one half teaspoon on your food to slow carbohydrate absorption by 29 percent.”

    Considering 43% of statistics on the internet are made up, I think your site would retain more credibility without such claims.

    Brian wrote on February 21st, 2013
    • I think it’s 57% of the stats on the web are made up… but I just made that up! {wink}

      Elenor wrote on February 22nd, 2013
  31. Love fresh dill in my homemade chicken soup!

    Louise wrote on February 21st, 2013
  32. Can I add turmeric, dill and oregano to my green smoothie daily? Or is it better to cook with these herbs and spices?


    Carla wrote on February 21st, 2013
  33. Rural Northumberland UK is a really hard place to find fresh herbs, in bulk or otherwise. While I grow Rosemary, thyme, sage, anything more exotic is beyond me!

    Beth wrote on February 21st, 2013
  34. I don’t have a clue where catnip sits on the hierarchy of herbs but it’s one I use fairly regularly and I’ve found it to be beneficial. Could be partially in my head. The main compound, nepetalactone, is mildly sedating and can increase sweating. Due to these propteries I assume it is heart-healthy via promoting relaxation and that it assists the body in detoxing through the skin, probably sparing the liver and kidneys a bit of work and being overall beneficial by helping maintain a clean system.
    I don’t bother buying catnip but rather pick it regularly when it’s in season because plenty grows in patches near where I live. Usually I pick the buds/flowers and leave them in cold water to make tea, often mixed with other teas (though I’ve been hesitant lately to drink camellia teas because of their propensity to suck up lots of fluoride from the ground, and I’ve had lots of exposure to that – swallowed toothpaste for years as a kid and developed some symptoms of fluorosis). If there aren’t buds/flowers or not enough of them I use the leaves. The plant is edible as well so sometimes I eat some. I find it usually tastes good for a while and then becomes too overwhelming.
    Once I put some buds into a bottle of red wine and let them steep for a while. When I ate part of one after it was very fizzy and sharp-tasting, which was enjoyable in small amounts.
    Catnip repels mosquitos. I’ve rubbed it on my skin for that purpose and if I’m camping this year when it’s in season, which I expect, I plan to transplant some to make a protective catnip ring around my campsite.

    Animanarchy wrote on February 21st, 2013
  35. I’ve almost given up regular herbs in favor of doterra oils. Usually just one drop of essential oil will flavor my dishes, and I know that the oils are 50-70% more potent than the actual plant they derive from. And to answer a question about antibacterial herbs being detrimental to the body — just the opposite. They kill what is harmful to the body and boost what is helpful.

    Brigit wrote on February 21st, 2013
  36. I think I might have to throw out some of my bottled up free radicals. I’m terrible for using old spices and all our fresh herbs never last more than a few weeks, awful green thumbs here. Thanks for this info and the reminder to clean my cupboard out. I did read that oregano can inhibit iron absorption so I stopped using it but it seems like it also has some benefits.

    sally wrote on February 21st, 2013

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