When it comes to herbs and spices, figuring out which ones are safe on the Autoimmune Protocol can be tricky. Many spices come from the seeds of plants and some are even from the nightshade family. And what about the spices that come from the fruit or berry of a plant, are they safe?
I have divided spices into several categories. To listen to my full explanation on these categories, check out TWV Podcast Episode 450: Spices on the AIP? What’s In, What’s Out, and Why.
Herbs and other spices derived from the leaves of fragrant plants are generally safe to use in your cooking, as are any spices derived from non-reproductive plant parts like barks and roots. In fact, herbs are an awesome source of antioxidant phytonutrients and are well-known to improve health, so go ahead and use these liberally! See The Health Benefits of Herbs, The Health Benefits of Spices, Turmeric: The Full Scoop and The Health Benefits of Ginger.
Seeds are eliminated on the AIP due to their unusually high food allergy and intolerance rate (see The WHYs behind the Autoimmune Protocol: Nuts and Seeds). Seed spices should be avoided at first as well, but are considered Phase 1 Reintroductions (see The Reintroduction Phase of the AIP and The 3 Phases of the Autoimmune Protocol). Depending on your individual autoimmune challenges, some people tolerate the very small doses of seed-based spices typically used in cooking (see Making Healthy Choices: What’s Your Currency?).
Spices derived from berries and fruits of plants are eliminated initially on the AIP, but are considered Phase 1 Reintroductions (see Reintroducing Foods after Following the Autoimmune Protocol). This is because these typically contain more seed than fruit and you are still consuming the ground seed. While some people opt to include seed and berry based spices when they first adopt the AIP (again, see Making Healthy Choices: What’s Your Currency?), I advise leaving these spices out of your diet at first and them adding the back in to see if they make a difference (it’s quite common for autoimmune disease sufferers to have an intolerance to pepper, for example, so be careful).
Spices from the nightshade family can be particularly problematic for people with autoimmune disease. Nightshades are restricted on the Autoimmune Protocol due to their high glycoalkaloid and agglutinin content (which can increase gut permeability and act as an adjuvant, exaggerating immune responses). Most spices from the nightshade family (mainly peppers) also contain capsaicin (one of the chemicals that give them heat), which is a gut irritant — don’t reintroduce these until you are ready to reintroduce all nightshades (and I would start with eggplants and bell peppers before trying chili peppers). See also The WHYs behind the Autoimmune Protocol: Nightshades and What Are Nightshades?.
Safe Herbs & Spices (Leaves, Flowers, Roots, Barks)
- Balm (lemon balm) Leaf of Melissa officinalis L.
- Basil Leaves (Sweet) Leaf of Ocimum basilicum, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Bay Leaves (Laurel Leaves) Leaf of Laurus nobilis
- Chamomile Flower of Anthemisnobilis L. or Matricaria chamomilla L.
- Chervil Leaf of Anthriscus cerefolium, see The Health Benefits of the Parsley Veggie Family
- Chives Leaf of Allium schoenoprasum, see The Health Benefits of Alliums (Onion Family)
- Cilantro (Coriander Leaf) Leaf of Coriandrum sativum, see The Health Benefits of the Parsley Veggie Family
- Cinnamon/Cassia Bark of Cinnamomum spp., see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Cloves Bud of Syzygium aromaticum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Dill Weed Leaf of Anethum graveolens/Anethum sowa, see The Health Benefits of the Parsley Veggie Family
- Garlic Bulb of Allium sativum, see The Health Benefits of Alliums (Onion Family)
- Ginger Root of Zingiber officinale, see The Health Benefits of Ginger
- Horseradish Root of Armoracialapathfolia Gilib. *(Read ingredients list for horseradish sauce!)
- Lavender Flower of Lavandula officinalis Chaix.
- Mace Aril of Myristica fragrans
- Marjoram Leaves Leaf of Majorana hortensis Moench, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Mint Leaf of Menta spp., see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Onion Powder Bulb of Allium cepa, see The Health Benefits of Alliums (Onion Family)
- Oregano Leaves Leaf of Origanum vulgare/Lippia spp.
- Parsley Leaf of Petroselinum crispum, see The Health Benefits of the Parsley Veggie Family
- Peppermint Leaf of Mentha piperita, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Rosemary Leaf of Rosmarinusofficinalis, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Saffron Stigma of Crocus sativus, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Sage Leaf of Salvia officinalis/Salvia triloba, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Salt Mineral, see Is Salt Paleo?
- Savory Leaves Leaf of Satureia montana/Satureia hortensis
- Spearmint Leaf of Mentha spicata, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Tarragon Leaf of Artemisia dracunculus
- Thyme Leaf of Thymus vulgaris/Thymus serpyllum/Thymus satureioides, see The Health Benefits of Herbs
- Turmeric Root of Curcuma longa, see Turmeric: The Full Scoop
- Vanilla Bean* Fruit of Vanilla planifolia/Vanilla tahitensis Moore
*Vanilla bean gets a pass because the seeds are so small that they are intact when you consume them, putting vanilla bean (which is not a legume) in the same category as berries. Vanilla and vanilla extract is also okay provided its certified gluten-free (often grain alcohol is used).
Note: Fresh and dried herbs not only add a ton of flavor to dishes but are also packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Learn more in The Health Benefits of Herbs.
Early Reintroduction Spices (Berries and Fruit)
- Allspice Berry of Pimenta officinalis, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Star Anise Fruit of Illicium verum Hook, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Caraway Fruit or Carum carvi Maton.
- Cardamom Fruit of Elettariacardamomum
- Juniper Berry of Juniperus communis
- Black Pepper Berry of Piper nigrum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- White Pepper Berry of Piper nigrum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Green Peppercorns Berry of Piper nigrum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Pink Peppercorns Berry of Schinus terebinthifolius
Early Reintroduction Spices (Seeds)
- Anise Seed Seed of Pimpinella anisum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Annatto Seed Seed of Bixa orellana
- Black Caraway (Russian Caraway, Black Cumin) Seed of Nigella sativa
- Celery Seed Seed of Apium graveolens, see Celery Juice: Fad or Fabulous?
- Coriander Seed Seed of Coriandrum sativum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Cumin Seed Seed of Cuminum cyminum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Dill Seed Seed of Anethum graveolens/Anethum sowa
- Fennel Seed Seed of Foeniculum vulgare
- Fenugreek Seed of Trigonellafoenum-graecum
- Mustard Seed Seed of Brassica juncea/B. hirta/B. nigra, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Nutmeg Seed of Myristica fragrans, see The Health Benefits of Spices
- Poppy Seed Seed of Papaver somniferum
- Sesame Seed Seed of Sesamum indicum
- Capsicums Seed of Capsicum spp.
- Cayenne Fruit of Capsicum annuum
- Chili Pepper Flakes Many Varieties, fruit of Capsicum genus
- Chili Powder Blend of fruit of Capsicum genus
- Curry A spice mixture typically containing coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper.
- Paprika Fruit of Capsicum spp.
- Red Pepper Fruit of Capsicum
Common Problematic Spice Blends
In general, I recommend against using any spice blends because often the ingredients list doesn’t actually tell you everything that’s in it (why is it okay to label “spices” or “natural flavors” on the labels of these?!). But, here are some common spice blends you might have in your kitchen with components to worry about:
- Curry Powder A spice mixture typically containing coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper.
- Chinese 5-Spice Contains Star Anise, Peppercorns, and Fennel Seed
- Garam Masala Contains peppercorns, cumin seeds and cardamom pods
- Poultry Seasoning Often contains pepper, nutmeg
- Steak Seasoning Usually contains pepper, chili, cumin, and cayenne
I hope this list helps you as you embark on the Autoimmune Protocol. I know that this can be very overwhelming and feel overly restrictive. Keep in mind the restrictions you already live with as you accommodate your disease and think about how great it would be to put your autoimmune disease into full remission. And, note that the largest category of spices above are the safe spices and there are lots of wonderful meals that you can cook with those!