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The History & Healing of Holiday Spices

By HERWriter
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Diet & Nutrition related image Photo: Getty Images

Every holiday season, kitchens around the world smell of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and a plethora of other spices. For centuries, these once-a-year recipes have been made with fragrant and healthy spices. Many of these holiday spices have an interesting history along with some healing properties.

For example, nutmeg has a particularly noteworthy history. According to Diane Scalia of Melting Pot Food Tours in Los Angeles, nutmeg was once carried around by aristocratic ladies and gentlemen as a demonstration of wealth. Fine diners brought their own tiny personal graters to restaurants. As a result, the little instruments became quite the fashionable accoutrements. Today, antique collectors seek after the graters.

For over 5000 years, nutmeg has been used for its medicinal properties. Ancient Arabs used nutmeg as the primary treatment for nausea, shortness of breath and even skin disorders. Also, nutmeg was believed to make people happy and was used in love potions. In large doses nutmeg can be hallucinogenic and even fatal.

Nutmeg and cinnamon are used in many holiday dishes. Cinnamon is often added to hot chocolate, eggnog and hot apple cider. Cinnamon is mixed with sugar and added to flavor recipes. Generally, nutmeg is added to meat and vegetable recipes.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest known healing herbs. Cinnamon has been used in Asia to guard against colds. It was used as both a spice and medicine in ancient Egypt and Chinese herbal texts cite cinnamon as a healer for fever, menstrual problems and diarrhea. The bark of the cinnamon tree is also used around the world as an aromatherapy agent for relaxation.

Peppermint oils are known for their ability to suppress symptoms of indigestion. In fact, it is believed to be the reason why mint-flavored candies and liqueurs are popular after-dinner treats. Peppermint oil reduces spasms of the colon and intestinal tract. Peppermint oil can also be used to sooth symptoms of menstrual cramps and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Cloves are also popular during the holiday season. Cloves are potent and many associate cloves with holiday pies, ham, cookies, apples and sweet potatoes. Chinese doctors use cloves to treat numerous ailments including indigestion, toothaches and infections. It is also an effective painkiller. It can be used for insect bites and stings.

Allspice is generally used in pumpkin pies and gingerbread cookies. Allspice consists of dried ground berries from the Pimenta dioica tree, native to Southern Mexico, Central America and the Greater Antilles. Allspice is the special ingredient in “jerk” seasoning. Allspice is an effective digestive aid. The consumption of allspice with meals can reduce gas/bloating and ease nausea.

So, this holiday season, if you have insomnia try some freshly ground nutmeg on your eggnog.

What is your favorite holiday spice?


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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