Ever wondered why Christmas spices are called Christmas spices and not Easter spices or Independence Day spices? I’m not actually sure where the tradition of eating foods with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg at Christmas came about but if you have a look at the health benefits all may become clear…
Cinnamon has been used for centuries in India and helps warm you up and stimulate appetite (ah so that’s the reason I ate so much cake last year?!) It also has an affect on metabolism, controls blood glucose levels and can help with diabetes. In 2000 the nutrition lab at US Agricultural Research Service found that it can help increase your cells’ responsiveness to insulin. Nowadays, herbalists use the oil for helping with IBS, colds and flu. You might want to attatch a few twigs onto your holiday garland.
Clove oil was used in Ancient China where it was rubbed onto gums to freshen the breath. Even today dentists rub the main constituent of cloves (eugenol) onto patients’ gums as it has an anaesthetic and antibacterial effect. Recent research has found it to be effective against superbug staphylococcus when combined with eucalyptus, lemon, thyme, tea tree and alcohol. Due to its antiseptic properties it can also helps with flu, colds, and bronchial congestion.
Ginger can be enjoyed in so many ways; you can use it in Indian and Chinese cooking, put it into cakes, make it into a preserve and eat it crystallized with sugar. Traditionally it’s been taken for morning sickness, travel sickness (and after-Office-party sickness??) If you are suffering from a cold then add 2 tablespoons of grated ginger to boiling water and drink 2-3 times a day. Alternatively, add a few slices of fresh ginger or a few drops of ginger oil to some hot water and inhale.
Nutmeg may not look the most interesting of spices but it has been used for everything from embalming Ancient Egyptians; a treatment for piles in the Middle Ages to being a well-known alternative to marijuana. Natives of the Banda Islands, Indonesia rub nutmeg oil on the stomach as a treatment to flu and also rub it onto the forehead to treat headaches.
It would seem the reason so many of these spices appear in the foods we eat at Christmas is due to the fact they are all associated with treating colds and flu. We all tend to take these spices for granted but hundreds of years ago they were the third most expensive commodity in the world after gold and silver. In the 17th century a pound of nutmeg in the Banda Islands cost only 1p however in Europe the price jumped to a whopping £2.10. It’s for this reason that people wanted their homes to smell of nutmeg to show off their wealth – I suppose in the way that people have lots of fancy gifts sitting under their 12 foot Christmas trees. It’s the perfect and healthy way to get festive.