9 Herbs and Spices That Fight Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s way of fighting infections and healing.
However, in some situations, inflammation can get out of hand and last longer than necessary. This is called chronic inflammation, and studies have linked it to many diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
Diet plays a crucial role in your health. What you eat, including various herbs and spices, can affect inflammation in your body.
This article reviews the science behind 9 herbs and spices that may help fight inflammation.
It’s worth noting that many studies in this article talk about molecules called inflammatory markers. These indicate the presence of inflammation.
Thus, a herb that reduces inflammatory markers in the blood likely reduces inflammation.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a delicious spice with a peppery yet sweet flavor. You can enjoy this spice in various ways, such as fresh, dried, or powdered.
Outside of ginger’s culinary uses, people have used it for thousands of years in traditional medicine to heal numerous conditions. These include colds, migraines, nausea, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
Ginger contains more than 100 active compounds, such as gingerol, shogaol, zingiberene, and zingerone, to name a few. These are likely responsible for its health effects, including helping reduce inflammation in the body.
An analysis of 16 studies in 1,010 participants found that taking 1,000–3,000 mg of ginger daily over 4–12 weeks significantly reduced markers of inflammation compared with a placebo. These markers included C-reactive protein (CRP) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α).
Other research looked at the effects of taking 500–1,000 mg of ginger daily in people with osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition involving joint inflammation .
The studies found ginger may reduce inflammatory markers such as TNF-α and interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β), as well as reduce joint pain and increase joint mobility.
Ginger is also incredibly versatile and easy to incorporate into many dishes, such as stir-fries, stews, and salads. Alternatively, you can purchase ginger supplements from health food stores or online.
Ginger has several active compounds and appears to reduce inflammatory markers in the body.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a popular spice with a strong smell and taste. People have used it in traditional medicine for thousands of years to treat arthritis, coughs, constipation, infections, toothaches, and more.
Most of the health benefits of garlic come from its sulfur compounds, such as allicin, diallyl disulfide, and S-allylcysteine, which appear to have anti-inflammatory properties.
An analysis of 17 high quality studies including over 830 participants and lasting 4–48 weeks found that people who took garlic supplements experienced significantly reduced blood levels of the inflammatory marker CRP.
However, aged garlic extract was more effective and reduced blood levels of both CRP and TNF-α.
Other studies have shown that garlic may help raise antioxidants in the body, such as glutathione (GSH) and superoxide dismutase (SOD), while regulating inflammation-promoting markers like interleukin 10 (IL-10) and nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB).
Garlic is versatile and easy to add to your dishes. Alternatively, you can purchase concentrated garlic and aged garlic extract supplements in health food stores and online.
Garlic is rich in sulfur compounds that appear to reduce inflammatory markers and increase levels of beneficial antioxidants.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice popular in Indian cuisine that people have used since ancient times.
It’s packed with over 300 active compounds. The main one is an antioxidant called curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Numerous studies have shown that curcumin can block the activation of NF-κB, a molecule that activates genes that promote inflammation.
An analysis of 15 high quality studies followed 1,223 people who took 112–4,000 mg of curcumin daily for periods of 3 days to 36 weeks.
Taking curcumin significantly reduced inflammatory markers compared with taking a placebo. Markers included interleukin 6 (IL-6), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), and malondialdehyde (MDA).
Studies in people with osteoarthritis have found that taking curcumin supplements provided pain relief similar to that of the common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ibuprofen and diclofenac.
Unfortunately, turmeric only contains 3% curcumin by weight, and your body doesn’t absorb it well. It’s best to take curcumin with black pepper, as the latter contains a compound called piperine, which can increase curcumin absorption by up to 2,000%.
If you’re looking to take curcumin for its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s best to purchase curcumin supplements, ideally ones that also contain black pepper extract or piperine. You can purchase them from health food stores and online.
Curcumin, turmeric’s best known active compound, appears to reduce inflammation and provide relief for people with osteoarthritis. Taking it with black pepper greatly increases how much curcumin you absorb.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a spice native to Southeast Asia. It has a complex sweet, spicy flavor.
Research suggests that taking cardamom supplements may reduce inflammatory markers such as CRP, IL-6, TNF-α, and MDA. Additionally, one study found that cardamom raised antioxidant status by 90%.
An 8-week study in 80 people with prediabetes found that taking 3 grams of cardamom daily significantly reduced inflammatory markers, such as hs-CRP, IL-6, and MDA, compared with a placebo.
Similarly, a 12-week study gave 87 people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) either 3 grams of cardamom daily or a placebo.
Those who took the cardamom had significantly reduced levels of the inflammatory markers hs-CRP, TNF-α, and IL-6. Taking cardamom also reduced the degree of fatty liver disease.
The rich, complex flavor of cardamom makes it an excellent addition to curries and stews. The spice is also available as a supplement in powder or capsule form.
Cardamom appears to increase antioxidant status and decrease markers of inflammation in the body.
5. Black pepper
Black pepper (Piper nigrum L.) is known as the king of spices, as it’s popular worldwide. Traditionally, people used black pepper to treat certain health conditions, such as asthma, diarrhea, and many other gastric ailments.
In animals with arthritis, piperine helped reduce joint swelling and inflammation markers, such as IL-1β, TNF-α, and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2.
In both mice with asthma and seasonal allergies, piperine helped reduce redness, the frequency of sneezing, various inflammatory markers like IL-6 and IL-1β, as well as the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) .
However, limited human research has been conducted on the anti-inflammatory properties of black pepper. Scientists need to do more research to explore its effects.
Black pepper is widely available and easy to add to your diet. Try seasoning your cooking with a dash of ground black pepper. It pairs nicely with veggies, meat, fish, poultry, and pasta dishes.
Test-tube and animal research suggests that black pepper and piperine, one of its active compounds, may reduce signs of inflammation. Still, more human research is needed to investigate these effects.
Ginseng is a plant people have used in Asia for thousands of years, treasuring it for its medicinal properties.
The two most popular ginseng types are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
They vary in their effects and amounts of active compounds. Asian ginseng is reportedly more invigorating, while American ginseng is thought to be more relaxing.
Ginseng has been associated with many health benefits, mainly due to its active compounds called ginsenosides. Their effects include reducing signs of inflammation in the body.
An analysis of 9 studies looked at 420 participants with elevated blood levels of the inflammatory marker CRP. Those who took 300–4,000 mg of ginseng per day over 4–24.8 weeks had significantly reduced CRP levels.
The researchers suggested that ginseng’s anti-inflammatory properties come from its ability to suppress NF-κB — a chemical messenger that activates genes that promote inflammation.
Similarly, another analysis of 7 studies including 409 people found that taking 1,000–3,000 mg of ginseng daily over 3–32 weeks significantly reduced inflammatory markers, including IL-6 and TNF-α.
Ginseng is easy to add to your diet. You can stew its roots into a tea or add them to recipes such as soups or stir-fries. Alternatively, you can take ginseng extract as a supplement. It’s available in capsule, tablet, or powder form at health food stores and online.
Ginseng and its active compounds called ginsenosides appear to reduce inflammatory markers. Asian ginseng and American ginseng may have different effects.
7. Green tea
Green tea (Camellia sinensis L.) is a popular herbal tea that people often tout for its health benefits.
This plant is packed with healthy compounds called polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Studies have linked these compounds to benefits for the brain and heart. They may also help people lose body fat and reduce inflammation.
Animal and test-tube studies have shown that EGCG helped reduce signs of inflammation associated with the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
One study followed people with ulcerative colitis who did not respond well to conventional treatments. Taking an EGCG-based supplement daily for 56 days improved symptoms by 58%, compared with no improvement in the placebo group.
Green tea polyphenols also appear to be beneficial for inflammatory health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, gum diseases, and even certain cancers.
Green tea leaves are widely available and easy to brew into a delicious tea. Alternatively, you could also try purchasing matcha powder or green tea extract supplements.
Green tea’s anti-inflammatory effects appear to be due to its polyphenols, especially EGCG.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a delicious, fragrant herb native to the Mediterranean.
Research suggests that rosemary may help reduce inflammation. This is believed to be due to its high content of polyphenols, particularly rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid.
A 16-week study in 62 people with osteoarthritis found that drinking a daily tea that was high in rosmarinic acid significantly reduced pain and stiffness, as well as increased mobility in the knees, compared with a placebo.
In test-tube and animal studies, rosmarinic acid reduced inflammation markers in many inflammatory conditions, including atopic dermatitis, osteoarthritis, asthma, gum disease, and others.
Rosemary works well as a seasoning and pairs nicely with several types of meat, such as beef, lamb, and chicken. You can purchase rosemary as a dried herb, fresh or dried leaves, or dried, ground powder.
Rosemary is rich in polyphenols, which are compounds that appear to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Cinnamon is a delicious spice made from the barks of trees from the Cinnamomum family.
The two main types of cinnamon are Ceylon cinnamon, also called “true” cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon, which is the most commonly available type.
People have prized cinnamon for its health properties for thousands of years.
An analysis of 12 studies in over 690 participants found that taking 1,500–4,000 mg of cinnamon daily for 10–110 days significantly reduced the inflammatory markers CRP and MDA, compared with a placebo. Also, cinnamon raised the body’s antioxidant levels.
Interestingly, the analysis found that only Cassia cinnamon, the more common variety of cinnamon, reduced both CRP and MDA levels. Ceylon cinnamon only reduced MDA levels.
Similarly, an analysis of 6 studies in 285 people found that taking 1,200–3,000 mg of cinnamon daily for 8–24 weeks significantly reduced CRP levels.
This effect was especially apparent in conditions in which CRP levels were high, such as NAFLD, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis .
Notably, while cinnamon is safe in small amounts, too much cinnamon can be dangerous. Cinnamon, especially the more common Cassia variety, has high levels of coumarin. This compound has been linked to liver damage when people consume too much of it.
Cinnamon’s tolerable daily intake is 0.05 mg per pound (0.1 mg per kg) of body weight. One teaspoon (2.5 grams) of Cassia cinnamon contains 7–18 mg of coumarin.
This means the average adult should consume no more than 1 teaspoon (2.5 grams) of cinnamon per day.
It’s best to season with cinnamon sparingly to avoid its side effects.
Numerous studies have linked cinnamon intake to reduced inflammation. However, use cinnamon in small amounts, as it may cause side effects in high doses.