Fall is here and, with it, a slew of festivities for the social desi. Navaratrishundals, Halloween candies, Diwali sweets, Thanksgiving pie and Christmas cake are waiting to tax the digestive system. My young teenager can digest a nail but, at my age, with a metabolism the pace of a cargo train, I need all the help I can get.

For the busy holiday partier who doesn’t watch out, there come the morning sneezes, colds, and coughs.

Is there a way out? You bet. All you have to do is look inside your pantry.

We all know about the spices used in Indian food that help with cleansing. But did you know that other cuisines have a host of spices that are just as effective? Here are some spices used in Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Asian cooking with proven benefits, and lots of potential in  cleansing and helping boost our metabolism and body immunity during this festive season.

Got Thyme?

Thymol is the active ingredient in thyme, which gives it a strong flavor similar toajwain (carom). That is why both these spices are used to eliminate stomach discomforts and flatulence. Thyme also eliminates excess mucus and is therefore good for patients with asthma, respiratory illness, and bronchitis. Thyme tea is excellent for hangovers as it reduces headaches, fevers and helps to rejuvenate the liver. Use about 1 teaspoon of dried thyme to 1 tablespoon of fresh. Thyme should be added early in the cooking process as it releases its flavor very slowly.

Morning Cleanse:

I drink warm water infused with ajwain, thyme and nigella seeds every morning in an empty stomach. This helps to cleanse the system and helps aid in digestion.

Thyme Tea

Add a tablespoon of thyme to 2 cups of  cold water and boil over a stove. Let the thyme seep into the water. Add honey for sweetness.

The Wild O

Oregano is an anti-cancer spice. As it eliminates free radicals that cause cancer in the body, oregano also helps in boosting the immune system by fighting viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. Do you suffer from acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin infections?  Oregano is your go-to spice. The Greeks called this the “joy of the mountains” and Hippocrates is said to have used it as an antiseptic. Use a few leaves of fresh oregano in your marinara sauce.
Make sure the herb you use is the wild variety that belongs to the vulgare family since stores often carry blended varietals.

Go Tea:

For menstrual pain, bloating, cold and fever, I make this tea with ginger and oregano.
1 teaspoon wild oregano
1 inch fresh ginger root, crushed
2 cups cold water.

Heat water with oregano and ginger and let it seep in. Strain and drink.


Also known as kalonji, these seeds have their origin is Egypt. Kalonji is also widely used Northern India. Often mistaken as onion seeds or black cumin,nigella sativa has an agent called thymoquinone which blocks pancreatic cancer cell growth. Extensive research and patenting is being done with this anti-carcinogenic spice. It has also been used since ancient times to energize the body and increase immunity.

Two in One Salad

Did you know that daikon is a healing vegetable in Japan? It is an anti-carcinogen that cleanses your blood. I use daikon as a decongestant to fight off cold and coughs.

2 cups daikon, peeled and sliced into thin
circles and quartered.
1 cup English cucumber, sliced into thin
circles and quartered
½ cup carrots, julienned and halved
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 teaspoon nigella seeds
½ teaspoon lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

Mix all ingredients except nigella in a bowl. Heat a small pan and add nigella seed and toast. Add this to the salad and mix.

Golden Spice

Turmeric is one of the oldest spices known to mankind, dating back to 5,000 years.
We use this spice pretty much in every Indian dish. Erode, a Southern Indian city is the largest producer and exporter of this spice in the world. This spice is well known for its ability to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The pigment in turmeric, called curcumin, has been shown to destroy cancerous melanoma cells by fighting the free radicals. It has also shown to prevent metastasis: the spreading of cancer from one part of the body to another.

Research has shown that childhood leukemia is much lower in the Asian population than in Western countries. The possibility that this may be due to dietary reasons, particularly the use of turmeric, has been investigated in a series of studies spanning 20 years. The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have helped in the cure of rheumatoid arthritis. Scientists continue to discover beneficial properties of this wonder spice.


Cough cure

This is a common cough treatment from India that works in a few minutes. Try it as a substitute to commercial cough syrups.

1 cup fat free milk
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
Honey to taste

Add turmeric and black pepper to the cold milk and heat it on low flame. Keep mixing until the turmeric is blended and cooked. Remove, add honey, mix and have it before bedtime.

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the SF Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com.