EXHIBIT: Spicing Up Medicine

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Science  28 Feb 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5611, pp. 1289
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5611.1289a

Today they are found in every kitchen, but 500 years ago spices such as black pepper were so rare and valuable they provoked a land grab of overseas colonies by the European powers. People craved spices not only for their zesty flavor and aroma, but for their supposed curative powers. This exhibit from the biomedical library at the University of California, Los Angeles, explores the natural history, chemistry, and medical uses of 29 spices—from chocolate to chili pepper.

Vanilla, for instance, contains a mild anesthetic and capsaicin, the same fiery chemical found in chiles. Patients have taken vanilla for everything from hysteria to fever to impotence. Cardamom, which contains a mix of essential oils, reputedly soothes digestion and fights colds and bronchitis. Although many spices are rich in molecules with potential benefits, the site notes, scientific studies have corroborated few of these traditional treatments.


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