The Holiday Season should be a time of celebration, but for many of us it can also be a time when our love/hate relationship with all those delicious Christmas deserts we’ve been enjoying can turn us into grinches. Here’s some good news about common holiday spices that should put you back in a festive mood.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia and C. zeylanicum) may be one of the oldest recorded spices, with documented use going back to ancient Egypt and China. There was even a time when counties were invaded to gain control of the world’s cinnamon supply. It’s used to increase circulation and perspiration, and to lower fevers, as well as to treat diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, flatulence and colic. It’s also antibacterial, antifungal, anti-spasmodic and astringent. The pure essential oil should be used with caution, however, because, unlike lavender essential oil, it can irritate tissues. There’s even some contemporary evidence that small amounts of ground cinnamon taken daily (a gram or less) may lower both blood glucose and triglyceride levels.
Don’t think all cinnamon is alike. C. camphora should never be confused with culinary cinnamon. It’s a source of camphor, that strong-smelling ingredient in many liniments and decongestant inhalants. Camphor is highly poisonous in large quantities — even via absorption through the skin!
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) are the dried flower buds of a tropical Old World evergreen tree. Believe it or not, those rock hard and highly aromatic nubbins start out as delicate, pink blooms. Eugenol, the main ingredient in clove essential oil, is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, as well as anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and astringent. It can be used in a mouth wash for mouth infections or bad breath, or dilute it in a carrier oil before rubbing it on sore gums, abbesses, insect bites, and infections. Clove tea treats gastroenteritis and, if strong enough, kills parasites.
Nutmeg and mace both come from Myristica fragrans. Nutmeg is the seed, while mace is the red appendage that wraps around the seed’s shell. Their essential oils have similar properties to those of cloves and cinnamon.
Nutmeg and mace were once considered tonics, but are now seldom used in Western Herbalism, despite being very potent and still prescribed in Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine. There are recorded cases of people getting high on nutmeg, even overdosing. It’s estimated that anything over five grams will cause headaches, confusion and drowsiness, and lead to hallucinations. Nutmeg might also potentiate, or increase, the effects of MOAI (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) as well as St. John’s Wort.
Allspice (Pimenta dioica) got its name from a seventeenth century botanist who thought it tasted like a combination of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. Unlike the Old World spices above, it’s native to South America. Because it also contains some eugenol, it has similar medicinal properties as cloves. Allspice is also very high in beneficial antioxidants.
So, let go of the guilt and pile on the whipped cream!
By Toni Grove 2012