Nicole Spear, MS, CNS
5 Health-Boosting Christmas Spices
Updated: Aug 23, 2018
The smells of Christmas have begun to envelope us in stores and homes, awakening the Christmas spirit, nudging nostalgic moments, and inspiring “kitchen dates” with bright-eyed children. What is it about seasonal aromas that unearth memories of the past and drive us to engage in the present? Whether the balsam fir, the apple cider, or the candy cane, the aromas of the season possess far more abilities than that of creating memories.
In ages past, the season's spices were cherished for their medicinal properties. As we indulge in them , let’s not forget that they offer far more virtues than meet the eye…. or is that, the nose?
As one of the most classic Christmas aromas and spices, cinnamon can be found in a plethora of seasonal deserts, drinks and savory dishes. Its aroma may waft through your home on a continual basis, sourced from cinnamon covered pine cones, scented candles, or aromatherapy oil rings. Putting cinnamon at the forefront of your spices and generously sprinkling it on everything from oatmeal to coffee is a good practice for both flavor and health. It promotes good digestion by increasing gastric secretions and allowing food to pass through the digestive system more efficiently. The essential oil of cinnamon is quickly becoming a friend to diabetics. Recent studies are showing it to be effective at lowering blood sugar, improving glucose tolerance, and stimulating insulin secretion. The essential oil of cinnamon is reported to be an effective antibacterial and antifungal agent, making it an impressive addition to household cleaning solutions, toothpaste, gum and other oral health products. Internally, it can help protect the body from health-robbing fungi such as Candida. Finally, cinnamon has been used for centuries as an aid in preventing tumor growth and cancer. As with most botanicals, traditional allopathic medicine refuses to acknowledge such benefits, but Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine have both applied cinnamon for cancer support.
Cloves are often partnered with cinnamon and nutmeg in many seasonal dishes; however, I would submit that this amazing spice deserves a much more prominent role in our lives. Cloves buds reign as a supreme antioxidant, fighting damaging free radicals that threaten to ruin various aspects of our health and promote aging. One of the active components of clove, eugenol, functions as a potent anti-inflammatory agent.
Systemic (whole body) inflammation is quickly becoming one cause of many of our modern health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and others. Clove bud’s dual actions as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, make it an impressive spice for helping cells maintain their integrity, reproduce normally, and function at peak performance – critical actions for preventing cancer. Like cinnamon, cloves are extraordinarily beneficial for diabetics and not only help to stabilize blood sugar, but also triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Clove can easily accompany cinnamon in an array of seasonal deserts, drinks and savory dishes, making this a spice that deserves second place on the shelf.
Cardamom may not be the most frequently used spice in your kitchen, but it often accompanies cinnamon in Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. The intense flavor can enhance sweet breads, coffee, tea, and rice dishes, but in the states, we most often drink it as a component of chai tea. Cardamom has been used for centuries in Chinese and Indian medicine as an aid for digestive maladies, stomach aches, dyspepsia, nausea and vomiting. Even WebMD cites its effectiveness in helping digestive problems such as heartburn, IBS, intestinal gas, constipation, liver and gallbladder issues. The essential oil of cardamom is considered a cholagogue, meaning it supports bile production. Bile is essential for digesting fats and removing toxins from the digestive tract. Additionally, cardamom can help reduce gastric acid (ie. Stomach acid), which is why it may be helpful for those who experience heartburn.
Millions of children (and adults, too!) will be decorating gingerbread houses with creamy white frosting and colorful treats this Christmas season. While I fondly remember decorating my own gingerbread home as a child, I would have to vote for the gingersnap as one of my favorite holiday treats. Of course, my “northern” origins would also cry out for the ginger ale soda (pre-healthy days, of course)!
Ginger is one of those spices that most people associate with nausea and stomach aches. While this is certainly one of ginger’s more renowned properties – most often employed for morning sickness, motion sickness, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and postoperative nausea – its medicinal benefits span to much broader regions. Ginger is also used for the management of migraine headaches, which can often be exacerbated by the holiday lights. In fact, studies show ginger to be as effective as a common drug used for migraines, but with fewer adverse effects. As with cinnamon and cloves, ginger is diabetic-friendly and shown to stabilize blood sugar, improve lipid levels, and control systemic inflammation associated with diabetes, to improve quality of life and long-term health complications of diabetes. Last, ginger has been found to support both the cardiovascular and immune system.
From candy canes and patties, to fudge and hot chocolate, peppermint will be found decorating most any holiday delight. Its crisp and cool flavor symbolically reflects the frosty weather, while also adding a fresh flair that combats the richness of most holiday treats. This classic botanical is not only responsible for the flavor of the season, but unbeknownst to many, it also possesses a vast array of health benefits that may lighten some traditional health maladies that often accompany the holiday cheer.
Peppermint’s most well-loved characteristic is its ability to soothe an angry digestive system. As an essential oil, it is a best friend to those with IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome), but can be a welcome companion during this season when millions of individuals undoubtedly indulge in an unusual amount of sweets, treats, and large meals. Peppermint is also well-established in medical literature as a therapy for tension headaches. Rubbing peppermint oil across the forehead produces a cooling effect that can relieve the pounding tension. When used topically, it also acts as a mild analgesic (pain remedy), further helping to relieve headaches. A less well-known, but equally advantageous use for peppermint is in the relief of joint pain and inflammation.
As the Christmas season springs upon us (no, I’m not hoping for Spring, yet!), liberally indulge in these spices and reap the health benefits. Ideally, these should be incorporated into “healthier” treats, but if you choose to indulge in the not-so-healthy at this one time of the year, I certainly pass blame. Let the New Year be a renewed start to a healthy diet. As a sneak-peak…. I will be sending you a 2-part series on what a “healthy” diet should look like next year. With so much confusion surrounding nutrition, I thought it appropriate to take a step back and provide a “bird’s eye view” of this otherwise controversial topic. Until then, enjoy some of these healthier holiday treats (see below) that utilize the 5 health-boosting spices of Christmas.
Blessings upon all and a Merry Christmas!
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
Vegan Chai Latte – compliments of the “Minimalist Baker” and including cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom
Peppermint Patties – compliments of Dr. Josh Axe of “Food is Medicine”
High-Protein Gingersnaps (gluten-free, as always)
Ingredients: ½ cup tapioca starch ½ cup millet flour ¾ cup vanilla whey protein powder (ideally from grass-fed cows) ½ tsp xanthan gum 3 Tbsp Stevita supreme® or stevia of your choice, to taste or ½ cup coconut sugar 1 tsp baking soda ½ tsp sea salt 1 Tbsp cinnamon 1 Tbsp ginger 1 egg ½ cup unsulphured molasses ½ cup melted coconut oil ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine all dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Roll batter into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Flatten just slightly. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool and then enjoy!