By Amy Jirsa
It’s finally that time of year—you know, the one that came to mind every time you smelled cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or ginger.
Ever wonder why this time of year is so closely associated with these fragrant and comforting herbs (spices, actually) and why they feature so heavily in our holiday baking?
For one, they’re extremely warming (try putting a little cinnamon or ginger on your tongue and see what happens), which is good for the body in the midst of winter.
These heating herbs bring blood to the surface of the skin, acting as a radiator of sorts, and warming the body (this is definitely why you crave a cinnamon and ginger hot chocolate in the late afternoon as the sun begins to set).
Warming herbs also tend to soothe the stomach, aid digestion, and regulate blood sugar. That’s right—that heavily spiced pumpkin pie may actually help your digestion and keep your blood sugar from spiking and crashing.
Obviously, adding these herbs and spices to desserts helps, but it’s not the ideal way to take them (unfortunately). So let’s break down a few of the most common (and seasonal) warming herbs; see if you can integrate them into a variety of foods and beverages.
Cinnamon is good for people who complain that they are always cold, no matter what the thermostat says. Cinnamon dries dampness in the body (you know—that cold-to-the-bone feeling) and stimulates circulation. It’s an excellent digestive tonic, immune booster, and blood sugar regulator.
Ginger really does it all—boosts the immune system, fights allergies, lowers cholesterol, relieves arthritis pain, stimulates digestion, fights nausea and morning sickness, and warms the body. Try drinking ginger tea, ginger hot chocolate, or adding a strong ginger infusion to your bath (this is stimulating, though, so keep the ginger bath early in the day).
Cardamom is also a member of the ginger family and has the same warming, stimulating effect. It also opens the respiratory passages and helps clear the mucus associated with a heavy chest cold.
Nutmeg is good for preventing and flatulence, treating diarrhea in children, and for breaking up chest congestion. It also has antiviral properties.
Finally, what would Thanksgiving be without garlic-scented stuffing or garlic-laced potatoes? Garlic is an incredible herb for the immune system—antibacterial and antiviral. It’s also a vasodilator, meaning that it improves circulation and keeps blood cells from clumping together. Garlic also lowers glucose metabolism in diabetics, aids heart health, kills parasites, heals wounds, and keeps vampires at bay (or so I’ve heard...).
A note about garlic: it’s totally safe. However, avoid medicinal doses if suffering from a fever in a long-term illness (cancer, AIDS, etc).
This is one time of year when the use of herbs and spices is more intuitive and culinary than usual. What does that mean? Well, it means you don’t really have to think about it; use your instincts and follow your own tastes.
If you’re craving a particular herb or spice, indulge (yes, even if that means gingerbread cookies…). No matter what the vehicle, the featured herb will benefit your body. Just be sure to use organic, whole forms of the herb when you can.
Enjoy the sugar, but especially enjoy the spice!