Food without flavoring is unenjoyable, and that’s particularly true for foods in long-term storage. Hence this post, spices for preppers who want to “spice up” otherwise bland food.
As Cathy Truitt, the founder of Chik-fil-A said, “Food is essential to life. Therefore, make it good.” I’m pretty sure I saw this painted on a bathroom wall there. Those are always highly respectable sources of information! It was Charlemagne though who said, “Herbs are the friends of physicians and the praise of cooks.”1
You undoubtedly have a spice rack within your home right now, but when you open its doors do you see an assemblage of powdered dust, or do you see the wealth of benefits that truly lies right before your eyes?
Let’s look at spices and herbs to see why there may be some that are of particular interest to the prepper.
What’s the Difference Between Herbs and Spices?
To begin with, it helps to have a definition of what we’re talking about. An herb is typically a leaf of sorts that comes from a temperate climate. A spice is typically from the flowers, roots, bark, or seeds of fruits from a tropical climate.2
With that working knowledge, let’s move on.
The History of Spices
Spices have a very long and varied history throughout the world, and it could be argued that had it not been for spices worldwide trade would be drastically reduced from its current state. It may even be that it would have taken decades to centuries longer before the entire world was explored and charted had it not been for the search for spices.
We know that the spice trade existed 3500 years ago in ancient Egypt due to a discovered scroll known as the Ebers Papyrus. Anise, mustard, saffron, cinnamon, and cassia are all mentioned within the document as spices that were being used for trade. What’s interesting about this though is that neither cinnamon nor cassia are native to Egypt.
Both of those come from Asia – typically around China – and as a result the Ebers Papyrus is proof of early international trade.
Ancient Greece knew the medicinal power of herbs and spices, and it was sometime between AD 40-90 that Greek physician Dioscorides wrote the manual De Materia Medica, one of the first texts that approached medicine scientifically rather than from a basis of superstition. Most of his remedies within relied upon various concoctions of herbs and spices.1
It was not long after this that Alexander the Great conquered Egypt (in 80 BC). Upon doing so, he quickly renamed a city after himself (Alexandria) and set it up as a main hub for the spice trade throughout the ancient world.
After the rise of Rome, spices were introduced throughout the main continent of Europe, and proof of how desired they became can be seen during the fall of Rome – when the Goths took over Rome in 410 and demanded 3000 pounds of pepper (among other things) to spare the lives of further Roman captives.
It seems as if the spice trade somewhat diminished after the fall of Rome – perhaps due to the diminished trade and infrastructure that came about with Rome’s fall. It wasn’t until Marco Polo published his memoirs of exploration that a renewed interest in spices developed, and Europeans set out in search of ocean routes for spice trading with the East.
Later, Columbus ended up discovering the New World (at least in part) because he was searching for black pepper and cinnamon. There were most certainly other factors at play here as well, but the desire for spices did help keep him going.2
As pilgrims began to make their way to the American coast, John Smith, the founder of Jamestown/Virginia, wrote about both sassafras and onions being used by the Indians as a form of medicine. Sassafras in turn, later became an important component in the production of root beer among early Americans.
It was after the Boston Tea Party (1773) that a renewed interest, particularly of herbs, took place within Colonial America as Americans used raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves, chamomile, sassafras bark, spearmint, goldenrod, sage, and many other herbs as substitutes for England’s taxed tea.1
It was in the late 1800s that America entered the global spice trade en masse. Now, the US is the largest consumer and importer of spices in the world.2
Spices for Preppers to Stock
As you can see, spices have a very long history in both cooking and trade. They were exceptionally valuable – and for good reasons. They will be equally valuable after a collapse.
Let’s face it, freeze-dried foods have a shelf-life that can’t be beat. However, flavor can sometimes be lacking. Spices can help with that. Likewise, if you’re living off a survival garden and hunting squirrels for fresh meat, having a supply of spices can make the meals more palatable, particularly for children who may have a harder time getting bland food down.
Spices play a key, and often overlooked role in food preps. If you’re building a prepper food pantry, or already have one, adding spices is crucial. Getting the necessary containers may prove helpful for storage. Remember to rotate stock!
1 – Salt
Of all the spices and seasonings out there, salt is easily the most important for the prepper, and the chief reason for so is due to its ability to preserve meat. It’s for this reason that Roman soldiers were often paid in salt – the origin of the word salary.
If you are stocking salt though, I highly recommend getting non-iodized. The reason being that if you try to salt cure a ham with iodized salt you end up with metallic-tasting meat. I imagine that principle applies to other meats as well.
2 – Pepper
Aside from being a seasoning that I put on just about everything, pepper also has coagulant (aka blood clotting) properties. I’ve met numerous old men who have put a little bit of pepper on a cut of theirs to help stop the bleeding.
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Peppercorns were commonly used to pay taxes, rent, and other fees throughout the Middle Ages in Europe as well due to a coin shortage.1 I’m thinking about trying that for my taxes this year.
3 – Cinnamon
There are several reasons that a prepper should stock cinnamon, and I think that it’ll truly amaze you to see just how many benefits there are to it. Of course, cinnamon tastes good – it has a gentle sweetness to it – and it’s a result of this that it can safely be used by diabetics to sweeten their food without jacking up their blood sugar like traditional sugar would do.
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Even more so than this though, studies have shown that cinnamon consumption can lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.3 Regular consumption of cinnamon (0.5 – 2 teaspoons per day) has been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar levels by 10-29% in diabetics.
Part of the reason for such is likely to come from the way in which cinnamon helps to slow down the break down of carbohydrates within the digestive system, and due to its ability to increase insulin sensitivity as well.
Cinnamaldehyde is the functioning chemical within cinnamon that gives it its medicinal qualities, and it’s been proven to help fight inflammation and lower blood cholesterol levels as well.
4 – Cayenne
Aside from helping to add some much-needed heat to a variety of dishes, cayenne also seems to have some health benefits as well. Cayenne contains a chemical called capsaicin which may help to alleviate pain via the means of limiting the number of “pain signals” that reach your brain. In addition, cayenne may help with limiting the growth of stomach ulcers.
Ulcers are typically caused by the destructive work of a little germ known as Helicobacter pylori, and H. pylori does not seem to like cayenne. Studies seem to show that ingestion of cayenne limits the growth of that destructive little booger.
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- A VERSATILE INGREDIENT – Organic Cayenne Chili Pepper Powder is a sure way to heat up your kitchen entrees, delivering a hot kick to many prepared foods. Most commonly used in Mexican recipes as well as stews and chilis. You can also spice up a salad with just a sprinkle, or mix some into your prepared salsa.
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In addition, capsaicin has been shown to potentially have weight loss benefits as well. It does this via appetite suppression and increasing fat burning. It’s because of this that a lot of weight loss supplements on the market contain cayenne pepper.
Personally, I’ve never had any of my weight loss clients attribute their success to cayenne pepper (and I don’t recommend weight loss supplements at all), but I see no harm in a person eating cayenne pepper if they like it and it agrees with them. There may potentially be cancer fighting links with cayenne pepper too. Animal studies suggest that cayenne may help with lung, prostate, and liver cancer.
5 – Ginger
I’m a big fan of ginger for the taste. Is it possible to eat sushi without it? But aside from the taste, there are several other reasons that a prepper may want to consider stocking this spice in his larder, chief of these being for its abilities to fight nausea. Just ingesting one gram of ginger has been repeatedly shown by several studies to successfully treat nausea, whether that be from pregnancy or chemotherapy.
- Sweet and zesty with a hint of citrus flavor
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What I think is particularly cool about ginger though is that it can help with motion sickness as well.5 If you have small children who get car sick, that can be a complete gamechanger for long car rides. Ginger also seems to help with pain management and has potent anti-inflammatory properties too.
One study found that those at high risk of colon cancer who took two grams of ginger extract per day decreased their markers for colon inflammation to the same extent that they would have had they taken an aspirin.
6 – Sage
A wise sage once said that people should stock sage. Aside from having what I consider to be a pretty name, I’ve just always thought that it was a cool plant to grow. It makes an excellent seasoning to foods, but as expected, it seems to have some health benefits as well. Fun fact, sage has a bit of history behind it as well.
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It gets its name from the Latin word salvere, meaning “to save”. Keep this in mind when you hear about what it can do for you. Within the past it was used to (mistakenly) attempt to ward off the Black Death as well.4
But here’s where things get interesting. Alzheimer’s Disease is associated with a drop in a chemical messenger within the brain called acetylcholine. Sage inhibits the breakdown of this chemical. It’s likely because of this chemical protection that in a four-month study of 42 patients with Alzheimer’s that sage extract was shown to result in significant improvements in brain function.
7 – Garlic
This is a big one. Aside from its obvious vampire fighting potential, should we ever end up in an I Am Legend apocalypse, garlic has several potential health benefits to boot. The pungent smell of garlic comes about due to a chemical called allicin. It’s this allicin that potentially has a lot of benefits for you.
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Garlic has been shown to have a significant impact on lowering high blood pressure (HBP), and one study even found that garlic supplementation was just as effective at lowering HBP as a common anti-hypertensive.7
Other studies have shown that it can reduce your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) by anywhere between 10-15%, and that it may prevent age-related hardening of the arteries.
Of note in current times is its ability to fight both cold and flu. For those with regularly occurring colds, garlic supplementation has been shown to decrease the regularity of such and has even been shown to decrease the severity of both cold and flu symptoms.8
8 – Turmeric
Turmeric contains a chemical compound known as curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory. It’s so powerful in fact, that some research has shown it to be just as effective as some anti-inflammatory drugs.9
Research has suggested that because of such, it may be beneficial in the prevention of both depression and Alzheimer’s Disease – both of which have links to high levels of brain inflammation. One study in adults over 50 found that those who took curcumin supplements for a period of 18 months had significant improvements in their memory test scores.
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- VERSATILE INGREDIENT – This turmeric root is ground into a powder to both enhance the flavor and bring out a yellowish-gold color. Use some in biscuit mixes, sauces, and mustard, or add some to enhance your latest baked dish. Its golden touch of color brings a bitter flavor to deliver that mustard-like appeal to your table.
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In addition, curcumin may even help to alleviate the pain caused by arthritis.
Even cancer may be affected by turmeric ingestion. A John Hopkins study found that in those with drug-resistant tumors those who took a curcumin and chemotherapy drug saw their tumors shrink significantly more than those who just took chemotherapy alone.
Considering that chronic, low-level inflammation is linked with just about every chronic Western disease that there is turmeric likely has a much wider scope of potential usefulness than is currently recognized as well.4
9 – Rosemary
Here’s another herb that I greatly enjoy both growing and using. As expected, there are multiple benefits here as well other than just culinary purposes. If you’re somebody who regularly struggles with seasonal allergies, rosemary may be just what you need.
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- ADAPTABLE INGREDIENT – Pure, whole rosemary leaves are useful for various purposes, especially cooking. While they can be used on their own, rosemary goes well with other herbal blends, including sage and thyme for stuffing, meat rubs and herb blends (think herb butters for veggies and crusty breads).
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The main active ingredient within rosemary is called rosmarinic acid, which has been shown in studies to both suppress allergic response and reduce nasal congestion.4
In one study of 29 people, were shown to significantly suppress allergy symptoms.11
So just a simple thing really, but if you’ve ever struggled with seasonal allergies, you know how miserable they can make your life. In a post-disaster environment, you need every edge that you can get, and rosemary may be what helps you to stay in a much better state of alertness than you would be able to otherwise.
10 – Peppermint
Here’s an interesting herb to grow that not only tastes great, makes a wonderful tea, and will make your wife want to kiss you, but also has some potential health uses. Peppermint has been shown in studies to help reduce nausea.
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In one study of 1100 women in labor, it was found that peppermint aromatherapy significantly reduced labor-driven nausea. Even post-surgery or post-caesarean section, peppermint has still been shown to reduce nausea there as well.
If one has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) peppermint may have benefit here as well. It’s been shown to help relax the smooth muscle (a muscle type – there are three of them) that resides within the intestinal tract, helping to relieve the pain that can come with pooping if you have IBS.
In addition, it can help to suppress abdominal bloating as well.4 Something you may want to consider for that once a month when Aunt Agnes comes to visit.
11 – Old Bay
Because, come on, are you even cooking if you’re not using Old Bay?
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- OLD BAY Seasoning comes in a 24-ounce container for easy back-of-house recipe customization
- For over 75 years, OLD BAY Seafood Seasoning has a classic seasoning famous around the world for its flavor
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How to Properly Store Your Spices
When it comes to properly storing your spices, the main thing that you need to remember is to keep them away from humidity. Provided that you are properly resealing the container that they come in and keeping them away from the steam that emanates from your stove as your cooking, your spices are going to last for quite some time. Again – rotate stock!
There’s a lot of potential benefit from herbs and spices, and they deserve a bit of study from the prepper. As every general has come to discover, morale does mean something, and the same applies for a family or individual post-disaster. Spices add flavoring to food, and bland food quickly diminishes morale.
There’s something to the saying “a soldier is only as good as his last meal.” In addition, their potential health benefits mean that post-collapse, in a TEOTWAWKI type scenario, they could provide some assistance in particular situations.
Are there other herbs or spices for preppers that we didn’t include in the list above that you believe deserved a mention? Do you have prior stories about your spices?