Traditional Chinese and Persian medicine has long used this fragrant spice to boost mood, usually as a tea or in rice dishes. Recently, saffron hit the news because research has found that it’s as effective as antidepressants in treating clinical depression, likely because saffron increases the availability of serotonin, the brain’s feel-good chemical. The small studies, which all used saffron supplements, not the spice itself, included men and women diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe depression. None of the studies looked at people who just felt blue.
Make the most of it: If you want to try saffron, look for deep red threads with orange tips. Prepare for sticker shock; it can be more expensive per ounce than gold, but a little goes a long way.
This exotic spice with its citrusy aroma has a lot more going for it than its flavor. In a study of cigarette smokers trying to quit, chewing gum that had cardamom as one of its flavors reduced the anxiety and depression caused by nicotine withdrawal. The research was published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors.
Make the most of it: Cardamom is widely used in Scandinavian and Indian cooking. Cardamom pods last about a year when stored in a tightly sealed jar away from sunlight. Ground cardamom degrades rapidly, so grind it as you need it. Crush the pods with a knife, then pulverize the seeds in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
Nutmeg is rich in compounds that boost mood and show antidepressant activity comparable to the effects of prescription medications (at least in lab animals), according to an article in the Journal of Medicinal Food. In the traditional medical system of India (Ayurveda), nutmeg is also used to bring on a good night’s sleep — a major benefit, since it is tough to start the day in an upbeat mood after tossing and turning all night.
Make the most of it: To ease restless sleep, mix a couple of pinches of freshly grated nutmeg in a cup of warm milk (either cow’s milk or nut milk), sweeten with a bit of honey or maple syrup, and drink before bed. —Nissa Simon