Popular Holiday Herbs/Spices & Their Health Benefits
By Heidi Baldwin, MS, Holistic Health Coach
What would the holidays be without warm, spicy aromas coming from the kitchen? The holidays are the best time for cooking, baking, and making warm drinks, and it wouldn’t be the same without some key spices that we all know and love. Here are a few staple holiday spices and herbs, and their health benefits, so you can stay healthy AND enjoy this festive time of year!
Something about cinnamon just gives a warm, cozy feel. Whether you put a cinnamon stick in your warm drink or add some to your breakfast oats, it instantly feels like the holidays. Cinnamon has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and is also antimicrobial. It may also help reduce blood sugar levels, partly because it sweetens foods without adding any sugar. My favorite sweet treat this time of year is baked apples with cinnamon sprinkled on it! So easy to bake, and so delicious!
Nutmeg is a well-known ingredient in many ancient medicinal practices, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is loaded with antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory compounds. Nutmeg may also help you fall asleep, which we all need during these busy times. Eat or drink some nutmeg an hour or two before bed for a restful, uninterrupted sleep. It is also a great addition to your bowl of autumn butternut squash soup!
During the holidays, ginger becomes a familiar spice for baking. Ginger has long been a home remedy for many illnesses, from indigestion and nausea to the common cold. It contains antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is naturally antimicrobial. Next time you have a stomach ache or feel nauseous, make some ginger tea. Ginger is also a great addition to make a warming smoothie with pears during the cold months! I add ¼ - ½ inch of fresh ginger to my blender and it’s just enough to make it warming and delicious!
Clove is full of antioxidants that help neutralize and clear out disease-causing free radicals in the body. It is also a powerful antimicrobial and antifungal agent that helps prevent infections. Since it is such a strong antioxidant, it can help keep your immune system robust and working well all season long. Clove may also help lower blood sugar levels. Whole cloves or clove essential oil are also great options to help relieve tooth pain!
Allspice tastes like a combination of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg all in one, but it’s actually just a spice on its own. Despite that, its health benefits are just as powerful as all three spices combined. Allspice can act as a mild pain reliever, making it the perfect treatment for muscle pains after a long day of holiday festivities. This is due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation and, therefore, pain. Allspice is also a wonderful immune-boosting spice, thanks to its antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that allspice may also improve blood circulation and digestion. If you want something more than cinnamon on your heated apple cider, this is a great option!
Whether you’re stuffing a turkey or baking potatoes, rosemary is a signature holiday herb that’s probably in many of your dishes. Rosemary is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. This herb is also known for its positive effects on mental health as it reduces feelings of stress, and improves focus and energy levels. Although the holidays should be fun and relaxing, I think we could all use some stress relief. Smelling a sprig of rosemary, or using rosemary essential oil aromatically can help with your memory, so this is a great option for college kids studying for exams before the holidays!
Spices are an easy way to improve your mood and add flavor to your palate, so don’t be shy when it comes to adding these to your meals and drinks. Spices start to lose their potency after being open for about a year, so use them while they are still fresh! Store your spices in a cool (not over your stove) dry location where they are easily accessible so you don’t forget about them, and get into the habit of using the warming spices as the weather starts to cool down!