THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL SPICES AND HERBS TO THE HUMAN HEALTH
Plants constitute an important source of active natural products, which differ widely in terms of structure and biological properties. They have played a remarkable role in the traditional medicine of various countries. In recent years, the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular diseases has been associated with the ingestion of spices, fresh fruits, vegetables, or teas rich in natural antioxidants (Virgili et al., 2001). The protective effects of plant products are due to the presence of several components, which have distinct mechanisms of action; some are enzymes and proteins and others are low molecular weight compounds such as flavonoids. (Birt et al 2001).
The story of spices and other flavorings, materials is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of vegetable products (Obadoni and Ochuko, 2002). The cravings for spices have been on of the great factors in human progress and have done much to change the course of history and geography and to promote international relations (Akindahunsi and Salawu, 2005)
Spices are used to season insipid foods and to add zest to an otherwise monotonous diet. They stimulate the appetite and increase the flow of gastric juice. For this reason, they are often referred to as food accessories or adjuncts. They also play a role in many of the industries, and are used in perfumery, soaps, incense, as dyes in histology and in various acts (Onyesom and Okoh, 2006). Studies on spices have been mostly on their exciting flavours and aromas medicinal values and as flavorings. These spices are said to be therapeutically useful in the management of convulsion, leprosy, stomachache, inflammation and/or rheumatoid pains, couch and loss of appetite (Valko et al., 2007). The spices prevent postpartum contraction and aid lactation. They are also used as vegetables for spicing meat, oil bean salad, and foods., most of these spices have been associated with abundant bitter principle which is claimed to reduce blood sugar levels, and their liquor taken as a purge for colic, stomach pains, and worm infections. It is also believed that new born babies grow rapidly when they are fed with food made of these spices (Roger, 2002). The spices grow commonly in high forest areas of the south eastern region of Nigeria, as climbers, perennial creepers, or slim shrubs and trees and are available all year round (Sofowora, 1993). Proximate and nutrient analysis of medicinal plants, edible fruits and vegetables plays a crucial role in assessing their nutritional significance (Pandey et. al., 2006). As various medicinal plant species are also consumed as food along with their medicinal benefits, evaluating their nutritional significance can help to understand the worth of these plant species (Pandey et. al., 2006).
There are also various claims about the usefulness of these spices, especially their use in fattening homes, and remarkable growth of new born babies whose mothers use these spices our results would aid in assessing their nutritional potential in relation to their ethnomedicinmal uses by the people of South East of Nigeria. The spices include piper guineenses (uziza), Xylopia Aethiopica (Uda), Monodora myristica (Ehuru), and Tetrapleura tetrapetra (oshosho). These spices have been described variously by (Smith et. al., 1996). The result of this study will aid in appreciating the acclaimed medicinal properties of these spices and their age long usage by the people.