Your stockpile for disaster preparedness and survival probably has a good selection of major food groups. Grains, root crops, pulses and other vegetables may provide all the nutrition you need, but it’d be quite boring to subsist on them without the punch that spices offer.
Spices are not exactly essential nutrition, but they have crept into our diet over the millennia, not just because of the flavor and color they provide to the otherwise bland food. They increase the shelf life of food stuffs, especially meat products, which made them infinitely valuable as food preservatives before refrigeration took over. Many of them are digestive aids, and many have therapeutic uses as well. How does chicken soup relieve colds? Half of the credit goes to the spices — including garlic and pepper.
Here’s a selection of spices that should be part of your survival stash. They have made the list not for their spiciness alone, but their dual role as healing and digestive aids that can come in quite handy during challenging survival situations.
1. Black pepper
Aptly named “black gold,” this staple spice is always at the top of the spice lists – which is not a strange thing at all when you consider how many wars were fought over these hot and spicy little pearls. Unlike most other spices that are incorporated into a dish while cooking, pepper powder, which is the powdered form of pepper corms, is a table spice, too. Sprinkle it on any bland dish, be it vegetable, meat or fish, and it becomes instantly palatable.
Black pepper is the dried fruit of Piper nigrum, a trailing climber growing in the tropics. White pepper is the same spice sans the black skin of the fruit. A tea brewed with a few crushed pepper corms is as effective as chicken soup, if not more, in relieving colds, blocked noses and sinuses.
Buy and store whole black pepper corms for the longest shelf life, and grind them fresh for best flavor.
This pungent Allium bulb adds a distinctive flavor to foods. While people shy away from this spice because of the odor, the anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-cancer properties of garlic make it a super spice. Many of our sauces and condiments contain garlic, and we can’t do without the protective effects of this spice in a survival situation. Store it as fresh garlic cloves or freeze dried ones, or as garlic powder. Better still, keep a good stock of all these different forms.
If you have a sore throat, keep a clove of garlic in your mouth and occasionally bite on it to ingest small amounts of juice each time. It is guaranteed to make you a social outcast, but it will cure your sore throat. Rub the cut end of a clove on acne and other skin eruptions to get rid of them. Garlic is thought to lower blood pressure and help normalize cholesterol and also keep down the intestinal parasite population.
Slivers of fresh ginger add a refreshing flavor to dishes. Not only that, but ginger gets the digestive juices flowing and acts as an excellent digestive aid. Its ability to relieve nausea has been demonstrated in chemotherapy patients and pregnant women. The underground stem of the tropical plant Zingiber officinale, ginger can be stored fresh or frozen. Ginger in dried and powdered form is also used as a spice, but it has a flavor much different from that of fresh ginger.
Cinnamon is another spice whose absence would definitely make us feel deprived. The sweet taste of this spice is a great contrast to most other spices. Obtained from the inner bark of Cinnamomum ceylanicum, the real cinnamon, or Ceylon cinnamon, is sweeter and milder, while its substitute cassia cinnamon is more pungent. Stock up on cinnamon in the scroll form as they keep their flavor longer than cinnamon powder does. Chew on a bit of cinnamon for an instant mouth freshener. It is known to have some anti-diabetic and anti-fungal properties, too. Cinnamon powder can protect your stored tubers from rot.
Turmeric, used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb, adds a pleasing yellow color and a spicy flavor to foods. It makes the list of essential spices because it is another star in the spice world with many healing properties, besides being a cheaper substitute to saffron. In fact, this spice may just be one of the most important nutritional supplements in the world. Its most powerful medicinal properties are called “curcuminoids” — with the most potent being curcumin, a strong antioxidant.
Turmeric is the orange yellow underground stem of Curcuma longa, another plant related to ginger. The boiled stem is dried and powdered to form the spice. It can keep long without losing its potency, and can be used in small quantities on rice, meat and fish.
A common ingredient in Indian curries, turmeric has been found to have positive impacts on the brain, and reduces inflammation, increases the absorption of antioxidants, reduces the risk of heart disease and may even protect from cancer.
6. Cayenne pepper
This hot and colorful spice is the dried and powdered form of a Capsicum annum variety. Besides tingling your taste buds, this fiery cousin of sweet peppers can rev up your metabolism and support healthy digestion. Add this sparingly to your dishes for a capsaicin punch that has several beneficial side effects such as blood pressure control, fat deposit reduction and improved liver function. It is an excellent organic pest repellant, as well, and will keep ants from stealing your food stock.
This spice is the dried flower buds of the tropical tree Syzygium aromaticum. Adding one or two whole cloves or a pinch of its powder can make you feel easy after heavy meals. That’s because clove is a carminative, relieving gas in the stomach. A common ingredient in toothpastes, cloves deserves to be added to the list of essential spices partly because of its use as an emergency treatment of toothaches. You can get immediate relief by placing a crushed clove in a troublesome tooth cavity as a temporary measure. Cloves can prevent intestinal worms, too.
A pomander made with cloves pressed into an orange is an excellent natural room freshener. Protect your clothes from moths by placing sachets of cloves in closets.
Nutmeg as well as mace comes from the fruit of a tropical tree, Myristica fragrans. All it takes is just a scraping of this spice to add a distinctive peppery taste and flavor to any dish, both sweet and savory. Nutmeg is a prime ingredient of pumpkin spice mix and contains valuable therapeutic properties, including myristicin that can protect against Alzheimer’s.
Another therapeutic use of this spice is in relieving diarrhea. In fact, this spice with its antimicrobial effect can be added to food at risk of spoilage as a preemptive measure against possible stomach problems.
9. Carom seeds
This is not a familiar spice to many, but it is the slightly bitter and pungent seeds of Trachyspermum ammi, a plant closely related to cumin, coriander and fennel. This spice can take the place of oregano in pizza seasoning, and smells like thyme because of its thymol content. The complex flavor of this spice can substitute for the above spices that are not as long-lasting. It is also sometimes used to flavor breads.
Moreover, it is an excellent digestive aid. Indigestion and aversion to food can be remedied by a tea made of a pinch of carom seeds. It can reduce flatulence and nausea and also relieve colic in babies.
So, while you stock up your survival pantry, don’t skimp on the spices. Not only will these essential survival spices help keep your meals exciting but they will also provide valuable therapeutic potency.
What are you favorite “healing spices”? Share your advice in the section below: