Thanksgiving Medicinal Spices!

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving, and really all of Autumn, is the spices we bring back out of the cupboard. It’s chilly and the air has that snap to it, so we naturally use spices that warm us up like clove, cinnamon, and ginger. Besides warming, each of these spices has other medicinal benefits that work for us any time of the year.

Keep in mind the energetics. Are you feeling dry and hot already? Maybe these aren’t the best spices to work with at the moment. They could just not work, or they make you feel worse. Of course, there’s also the times you want a fever to peak so it’ll break and you can get on with recovery. As always, check with your doctor and test new things in small amounts before going all in.

Ginger

Warmth

I devoted an entire article to ginger and how to use it for warming that you can read here.

Ginger is definitely warming. It’s great for blood circulation and making you sweat. This is part of the reason it’s good forwarming your body and for colds or flu. Tea, again, is a good way to useginger; and taking a bath or just putting it in a foot bath are excellent –especially if you have cold feet in the chilly months. I prefer to use the freshfor tea and in baths, but the powder or tea bags will work too and I alwayshave some on hand.

Digestive

You’ll find hundreds if not thousands of resources that say ginger is amazing for nausea, gas, constipation and indigestion. I have a couple of friends who take ginger capsules before flying for their motion sickness and I personally have used it for nausea or indigestion many times. You can use capsules, tea, fresh/raw, candies, real ginger ale, whatever you prefer. Try a variety of things until you find what works best for you.

Inflammation

Ginger is also well-known as an anti-inflammatory, which means it can help arthritis and other pain to a degree. I haven’t found that it helps my post-accident neck pain a whole lot, but then nothing really helps it that much. If I had arthritis, though, I’d toss ginger into as many meals as I could!

Cooking

Speaking of cooking, here are some ways to get more ginger into your food.

Ginger goes well with citrus, chocolate, winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, pumpkin, rhubarb and peaches as well as almost any meat.  You can use it in marinades, rubs, stir-fries, drinks, fruit salads, preserves, quick breads, muffins, cakes and cookies. Have you ever had chocolate and ginger together? An old favorite restaurant made a chocolate-ginger crème brulée that was absolutely fantastic! I’ve also included a family cookie recipe at the end of this article that uses cinnamon and ginger.

Ginger tea blends well with lots of other teas – any of the fruits, especially lemon, pear, apple, orange, and of course with basic green teas. 

Cloves

Cloves, actually dried flowers of Caryophyllus aromaticus, are known to be analgesic, antiseptic, antibiotic, antifungal, and antispasmodic.

Digestive

Cloves are another spice that help us with stomach problems, especially nausea and gas. You could chew cloves, but I don’t think your dentist would appreciate it. They are a bit hard! Another option is to make or purchase a lovely tea such as Chai or the original Yogi tea. These are excellent for digestion and so good on a cold Autumn day.

I wonder if we like these spices in winter not just because they warm us, but also because they help us digest the heavier foods we tend to eat at this time of year.

Illness

Other remedies made with cloves include chest rubs for congestion, cough syrups, muscle cramps, stings, and even acne.

For lung congestion, muscle cramps and acne, dilute clove oil with a carrier oil (such as almond, jojoba, etc) and apply to the chest, cramping muscle, or offending blemish. Have you heard of Tiger Balm? Guess what’s in it. Yep. Clove oil…along with menthol, cinnamon, and a couple other ingredients. They’re great together for muscle pain, spasm, and cramping.

Clove has long been used to relieve tooth pain and oral infection because of its analgesic, antiseptic, and antibiotic properties. Just dab a little ground powder or oil on the sore spot.

It’s included in Rosemary Gladstar’s Elderberry Syrup recipe, which is fantastic for coughs. [See her book Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.]

Cooking

Mulled cider or wine is amazing! Just pour it into a saucepot (or even a slow cooker) and simmer with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a little brown sugar if you want. The longer you simmer, the stronger the spice. It’s also great in curry, stock, beef or venison stew, ham, and so much more.

And Other Things

A friend was stung by a yellow jacket inside their check and used clove oil to reduce the swelling and pain. (They took a bite of food and didn’t see the yellow jacket that was partially in it.) They said they were in intense pain and it swelled quickly, but immediately putting the clove oil on it made the pain manageable and the swelling went down to a less scary size.

It protects against moths and other bugs. Put cloves with cinnamon and black peppercorns in a cotton or cheesecloth bag and keep in your closet or chest of drawers.

It just smells good!

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is actually the bark of a tree, Cinnamomum zeylanicum.

Digestive and Warming

As with ginger and cloves, cinnamon is great for warming and digestion. I’m sure that’s why I loved cinnamon toast when I was sick as a kid. (Okay, I still do.) Try it without the sugar. I find you really don’t need the sugar – just a little butter on the toast and lots of cinnamon. Cinnamon tea is another good way to help with warming the body and digesting food.

Illness

Cinnamon is known to help with all sorts of physical dis-ease, including arthritis, menstrual cramps, and diabetes. All of these seem to require more cinnamon than you’d probably want to ingest in a day – a few to several tablespoons – so purchasing it in capsule form might be the way to go for those. It’s also hemostatic, so can stop bleeding (within reason).  

Think about it. Cinnamon is that beautiful earthy red, so it makes sense that it works well with blood issues such as diabetes and bleeding. It’s also been shown to be a good general blood detoxifier.

Cooking

I think we’ve all used cinnamon in our cooking at some point in our lives, but here’s a few ideas:

  • Condiments
  • Curry
  • Chutneys
  • Stews
  • Roasted root vegetables
  • Mixed with hot cocoa
  • Oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • Baked apples or pears
  • Roasted squash
  • And more…

I’ve given you a couple of recipes below to get you started. Enjoy!

Yogi Tea

All of the above spices are used widely in Ayurvedic medicine and Yogi Tea is a flavorful way to receive their combined benefits. It’s beautifully warming and great for your digestion. Have a cup after dinner, omitting the black tea if you wish, or kick start your morning by including a pinch or two. I like to add vanilla Pu-erh to mine.

Black pepper is a blood purifier and is said to help your body absorb the medicinal effects and nutrients of other spices and foods. Cardamom is also a good digestive.

The water will evaporate a bit as it simmers, so start with about an ounce or two more than you want per cup. This recipe is for a starting volume of 10 ounces, which should end up being around 8 ounces by the time you’re done.

  • 3 whole cloves
  • 4 whole green cardamom pods
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • ½ stick cinnamon
  • 1 slice of fresh ginger root
  • ¼ t black tea (any kind, optional)
  • ¼ to ½ C milk
  • Honey (optional)

Place the first five ingredients in the pot with the water. Boil for about 20-30 minutes, covered. Turn off the heat and add the black tea. Let that sit for one or two minutes, covered, then add ½ cup milk and reheat carefully. Strain and serve with honey if desired.

Christmas Cut-Out Cookies

I’m not sure where this recipe came from originally, but I have many fond memories of making these with my mom from the time I was a little girl through adulthood. The spice is tasty and comforting, not strong.

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 ½ t baking power
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t ginger
  • 1/4 t white pepper
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 C butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T milk

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, white pepper, and cinnamon together. Set aside. Cream the sugar and butter, then beat in the egg. Gradually stir in the flour mixture and the milk to the creamed mixture. Chill for one hour. (I seem to recall Mom and I would divide it in half and wrap each half in waxed paper, then only pull out one half at a time to work with.) Roll to about ¼ inch thick and cut by hand or with cutters. Bake at 350˚ F for about ten minutes. Decorate, or don’t, as desired.

I’d love to see pics here or on The Wandering Gants Facebook page if you make the cookies or of anything else you try with these spices. Have a wonderful holiday season and remember to live your journey…

Resources

  • Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar
  • www.learningherbs.com
  • Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies by Jude C Todd
  • My own experience 😉
Disclaimer: Any statements on this website are intended as informational and not to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises. Regarding plant identification, work with a local herbalist or other plant authority to properly identify plants and ensure you have permission to harvest before use. Look-a-likes can be deadly!