Are you “pre-hypertensive” – in that gray area between normal and “oh no!” and looking for help before you get worse?
Perhaps you have high blood pressure and are looking for something besides drugs to treat it?
Or maybe you are already on a drug (or more than one) and it’s not working as well as you need it to.
You may not know that part of the solution might be in your spice rack.
It is not the final solution for blood pressure problems. Herbs and spices have a gentle effect. Most people who were helped after adding only one of these seasonings to their diet have reduced their pressure by just 3 points. We do know that we often find these used in combinations in diets like the Mediterranean diet. That diet definitely helps blood pressure. So there is a good chance that you will get better results if you use more than one.
People who have the biggest problems – like very high blood pressure, or major weight problems, or Type II diabetes, or metabolic syndrome – are the ones likely to be helped the most. An herb that helps one person might do nothing for the next person. But for most people, at least that is on this list will help. Nobody has found a way to predict which one. So don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t do the job.
People have been using these forever, in diets like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Some have been used since Roman times. The main problem, when there is one, is an allergic response. Celery seed is the only one where the response, when it comes, can be severe. The rest have a good safety record – better than safety records of the common blood pressure medications.
If you use tons of these things it isn’t going to change you from too high pressure one that is too low. Once you get to normal, that’s it. Unlike a blood pressure drug that just keeps going if the dose is too high.
So these are safe to try (as long as you start with a low dose), and a good way to up the flavor without increasing the salt in your food.
These fall into 3 groups:
Savories add flavor to salads and main meals. Some of them grow well enough that you can plant them in your garden or in a pot or planter on your patio and never have to go shop for them again. You can grow 2 as houseplants. Fresh herbs are stronger and have more flavor than dried herbs, so you need less of them than you would use if they were dried.
One of the most commonly used savory herbs is one that you can often find in little pots at a supermarket or your favorite nursery, ready to plant in the spring. I’m talking about basil. Which goes with tomatoes. Which you also find in little pots in the spring. You can plant them together in your garden. Pick the leaves as you need them, and use them fresh, with tomato and mozzarella slices. Or in a salad, with Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing. Or put them in your favorite spaghetti sauce. And then, of course, there’s pesto. If you aren’t used to using fresh herbs, you might need to experiment a little – start small, and add more if you like that basil flavor to really come through.
If you grow your own, you can experiment with different types of basil, for different flavors that you won’t get in the spice section of your supermarket. For example, lemon basil has a slight lemon flavor, and Thai basil has a slight licorice flavor. You need to plant basil new, every year – it is an annual, warm weather plant. Whereas the next two savory herbs grow into hardy bushes that last year after year.
If you would like something that you can also use as an ornamental plant, rosemary is perfect. It does well in Mediterranean climates – like those countries around the Mediterranean sea, where it originally came from, or southern California. Just make sure the soil drains well – no clay for rosemary plants. And use the kind meant to be used in cooking, nor an ornamental-only version that should not be eaten.
That being said, it can also grow in areas with occasional snow in the winter, if it is somewhat protected (like in a pot on your deck or patio). It just won’t be as big as a plant growing free in your garden. If it is too cold where you live, use it as a houseplant instead. Rosemary is commonly used in lamb dishes, and to make “rosemary potatoes” (guess what else is in that dish), but it can be used with other meats, poultry, and in vegetables. Mediterranean recipes often have rosemary in them. Rosemary was made somewhat famous by Simon and Garfunkel.
Another herb in that Simon and Garfunkel song is thyme. Like rosemary, it is a perennial plant from the Mediterranean that can be grown in a garden and like basil, if you grow your own you can try different varieties that have different flavors. Not all thyme plants are edible, so if you want this garden plant to also supply flavors for your cooking, make sure you buy one of the edible types. If you like to dry your own herbs, dried thyme retains its flavor better than most other herbs. Thyme grows in the same type of conditions that rosemary does. That being said, do not plant it too close to rosemary, or it may die out. (Rosemary can limit the growth of other plants. Which makes it an easy garden plant – no fertilizer, little to no weeding, and not much water.)
When I think of herbs for chicken, I always think of thyme. It is also especially good with turkey and pork dishes, and with rice and orzo dishes. Thyme goes well with any recipe that uses lemon, including lemonade, if you are adventurous (but that’s not a savory item). I keep it right next to the rosemary in my spice rack.
The next thing I keep in that same area is garlic powder. Although it’s not technically an herb or spice, you can always find garlic powder in the spice section in the grocery store. You have probably heard about its benefits for the heart in general, and one part of those benefits is its ability to help lower blood pressure. You can use the powder, or dried minced garlic, or whole garlic cloves. The powder works as well as the fresh stuff for blood pressure, so feel free to skip the fresh stuff and sprinkle a little powder wherever you like that garlic taste. Including some salads – like chicken salad – if you haven’t tried it there before.
Another natural for salads is celery seed. You can use it wherever you might use celery, and you don’t have to wash it or chop it or throw it away if it gets slimy in the refrigerator. Some people have an allergic reaction which can be pretty severe, even if they don’t have a problem with celery stalks, so be careful if you haven’t used it before.
The seeds have a strong celery flavor, so you don’t need much in order to taste it. If you like a strong celery taste, use more. If you just like a hint of it, use less. This is one herb you don’t really want to try growing – the celery it comes from is a specific celery a little different than the kind you eat, it takes 2 years until it makes seeds, and it is SUCH a pain to have to separate those out from the celery flowers that made them. Just go buy them in the store. That’s true of most spices, also.
There are two spices that can help lower your blood pressure. The first is cinnamon. This does not mean that now you can start eating a bunch of cinnamon rolls. Those have way too much bad stuff that will ruin all your efforts and raise your blood pressure. Instead, just buy the large economy size of cinnamon powder and sprinkle it wherever you would like some cinnamon flavor. Apples. Toast. Unbuttered, unsalted, air-popped popcorn. Almond butter. Whatever floats your boat. You can make an easy dessert with: apple slices, spread with a little almond butter, sprinkled with a little cinnamon (or a lot of cinnamon, if you really like to drown things in it).
The next spice is also easy to use as a powder. Ginger powder can be used in gingerbread and gingersnaps, but if you are fixing an Asian dish, it can also be used shredded or sliced. Ginger tea is helpful to calm an upset stomach, as well as for a number of other problems, including, of course, high blood pressure.
When you buy fresh ginger, you can buy a chunk of the root (also known as a rhizome) and store it in a plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. If you don’t use it often, you can freeze it (no need to blanch it), take it out and grate as much as you need, then freeze it again. (No need to thaw.) For the freshest ginger, and another houseplant, bury the ginger in a large pot and keep it in your kitchen. Let it sprout and grow leaves, and the root will grow too. When you need some ginger, dig it up, cut off a chunk of root, and bury it again. If you use a lot of ginger it will work best to grow several plants. Be sure their pots are large enough for the roots to grow.
Those herbs and rhizomes are all good to add to dishes, but what if you want to sprinkle something on top besides cinnamon? You can use toppers.
You’ve probably been using at least one of these but maybe never thought of them as a “topper” before. Toppers are just things you sprinkle on top of whatever you’re eating – often used on salads and sometimes on veggies or occasionally on meat or poultry.
Topper number one that we see a lot in Asian food is sesame seeds. Besides their use in Asian food, they add a little extra to salads. Both the seeds and oil from those seeds can help lower blood pressure. The seeds give a little bit of crunch and, with enough, a slightly toasted taste. Sesame oil has a stronger taste – not everyone is fond of it so if you are trying it for the first time, start with just a little bit. Sesame oil used in Asian foods is often more of a flavoring rather than something to saute with.
Another seed or oil option is flax seeds. The oil has an odor and flavor that is pleasing to some and not to others, but the seeds are usually enjoyed by everyone. Ground flaxseeds can also be used, but they can go rancid rather quickly. So if you buy flaxseed meal, check to make sure it has a long expiration date. In some stores it may stay on the shelf for a long time. It is best to store it in your refrigerator or freezer to keep it fresh the longest. Both the seeds and the meal go nicely in salads.
My favorite salad topper is unsalted pumpkin seeds. Lack of salt keeps you away from the blood pressure problem, and the seeds themselves help you lower it. They have a nice, mild flavor and add a different kind of crunch to salads.
You have a list of 10 possibilities. You are probably eating at least some of them right now, off and on. Your first step towards better blood pressure control is to decide which ones you would like to include in your diet on a regular basis. The more the merrier. They won’t necessarily all work for you, and there is no test to know which will work best, so the more kinds you eat the better the chances that you will have something that will be helpful.
Next, decide which you can easily use more of. You may like garlic and your partner might hate it. You can still have dishes with more garlic – just start using garlic powder or dried minced garlic in a shaker bottle, and add to your own dish after you have served yourself. If you like cinnamon, use it at home and carry around a shaker bottle of cinnamon to try on foods when you dine out. Remember that South American recipes use cinnamon in dinner dishes, not just desserts. Experiment a little.
Try new recipes with the big 10. Especially ones using things you haven’t eaten much of before. If you like what you try, you can also try adding a little extra of the herb, spice, or topper that you are using. Recipes are meant to be customized, and if you like to add enough basil to look like it’s a vegetable instead of an herb, that’s actually a good thing.
Be patient. These aren’t like drugs – you are not going to see results overnight. While you are enjoying new taste sensations, they are gently doing their work in your body. Instead of checking daily and quitting because you see little to no change, try checking your blood pressure just once a week, or even every 2 weeks. Use a monitor that will let you easily see one point differences. Take your blood pressure at the same time of day whenever you measure it. There is a good chance that, even if you only see an improvement of one point or less the first week, over a 4 to 8 week period you will see a 3 point drop. Maybe more. And it will taste a lot better than blood pressure pills!