The holiday season is full of amazing baking with delicious spices and we thought we’d share with you a little bit about the medicinal uses of some of these great herbs. We’ve featured ginger, cloves, cinnamon and anise seed below and we guarantee you will see these all of these spices as much more than great addition to cookies and cakes but also as medicinal allies in your quest to stay well.

 

Ginger

A Christmas time favourite, Ginger is one of the most popular herbs in the world. Native to the coastal region of India, it has been cultivated there since before written history. Ginger is one of the earliest oriental spices used in the Western World and it was particularly popular in Medieval and Tudor times in England when it was valued equally as a medicinal and culinary spice. Gingerbread was a favourite treat, stamped with a pattern and often decorated with gold leaf, and sold at fairs up and down the country by special gingerbread vendors.

Ginger is an extremely versatile herb and has a wide range of uses. It has a long reputation as an anti-emetic herb and is used for motion sickness, nausea, and vomiting. In fact studies show it to be as effective as the drug, Gravol for treating these conditions. It is also widely used for inflammatory joint diseases like rheumatism, arthritis, fibromyalgia, sciatica, and muscle strains and sprains. Ginger is a warming herb that improves circulation and helps to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure. In the respiratory system, it can be used for sore throat, laryngitis, colds, influenza, coughing, and fevers. One of the best things you can do at the first sign of a cold is drink 2-3 cups of ginger tea with honey and fresh-squeezed lemon then go to bed; it really works!  You will likely sweat a lot but the next day you should feel much better. Another great action of ginger is its ability to reduce indigestion, bloating and flatulence. A perfect herb to have after a big Holiday Dinner!

 

Cloves

Whether it’s pumpkin spice, apple pie, or mulled cider, this wonderfully sweet and spicy herb becomes an essential at this time of year.   While it is delicious and reminiscent of happy times during the holidays, you might not realize what a powerhouse clove bud is for relieving many ailments.  The plant’s dried flower bud is the part used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.  It adds heat to dishes and beverages and it has the same effect on the body.  As a warming herb it is able to stimulate circulation and digestion.  It has a long history of use as a natural preservative when added to food.  It even aids in the breakdown and assimilation of food for easier digestion.  When taken internally as a beverage or other preparation, clove can help warm up the body from the core when suffering from chills, cold weather and poor circulation.

This herb is also a wonderful pain-reliever with its natural anesthetic properties.  The constituent, eugenol is responsible for these effects on the pain receptors.  A topical preparation of clove may be applied directly to an area of poor circulation or pain by infusing an oil with the clove bud or simply diluting clove essential oil in a carrier such as olive oil.  When added to a massage oil or liniment, it can provide relief from nerve and muscle/joint pain such as in neuralgia or rheumatoid arthritis.  Essential oils are not recommended to take internally (i.e. as a preparation to swallow).  However, applied directly to the tooth or gums for short duration is not known to be harmful and clove oil is one of the most common remedies suggested for relief of toothache.  It has the ability to numb the pain in the tooth and gums and it is still important to dilute the pure essential oil in a carrier to avoid burning the mouth.  Clove oil is also often added to toothpaste blends for its abilities to inhibit dental plaque formation.

Clove happens to be a natural disinfectant and in vitro studies have shown it to be effective against E. coli, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and Pneumococci.  When battling a common cold or flu, adding some clove bud to a nice ginger and lemon tea adds the benefits of antibiotic properties while also improving appetite. It is often used in blends to rid the body of parasites, particularly in the intestinal tract.  With its natural anesthetic properties is helps with easy removal of the intestinal parasites by sedating them while killing them off.  The essential oil of clove bud is even an effective insect repellant.  It’s obvious there’s just so much to love about the amazing-tasting and –smelling clove bud all season long!

 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is one of the world’s most familiar spices and has been used as a herbal medicine in China for at least 4,000 years. Traditional Chinese Medicine still uses cinnamon as a “warming” agent to fight infections occurring when there is cold or fatigue and to increase the activity of the digestive tract. It warms and stimulates the digestive system, and is useful in weak digestion, colic, cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, gas and distension (great for after Christmas dinner!).  A hot drink of cinnamon will stimulate circulation and cause sweating, preventing and resolving flu, colds, and it can be used as a steam inhaled for head colds and chest infections. Cinnamon acts as a relaxant, reducing anxiety and stress, and relieves spasm and cramps. The tannins in cinnamon have an astringent action, stemming bleeding in nosebleeds, heavy periods and resolving diarrhea and catarrhal congestion.  Cinnamon antioxidants may also fight bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections, especially yeast infections of the mouth (oral candidiasis) in people with compromised immune systems. There are also some scientific indications that cinnamon relieves the pain of ulcers and kills H. pylori bacterium which has been associated with duodenal ulcers.

And finally – one of the most widely researched actions of cinnamon is its effects on blood sugar levels in the body where it has been shown to regulate the activity of insulin and is often used as a natural treatment for diabetes, weight control, and hypoglycemia. So if you are worried about your blood sugar this Christmas and have an upset stomach from overindulging then cinnamon just might be the answer!

 

Anise Seed

When you say anise seed, most people are completely unfamiliar with the plant or think of it simply as an ingredient in those delicious little licorice flavoured cookies at Christmas or the liqueurs Ouzo or Anisette. The truth is anise has been used in perfumery and pharmaceutical products as well as in baked goods, tobacco products, mouthwashes and toothpastes for over 4000 years. It was once thought so valuable that the Roman’s used it to pay their taxes!

Anise is part of the same family as such plants as fennel, dill and coriander, and can be grown in most areas of Canada as an annual. You harvest Anise when the seeds have turned from green to grayish brown in early autumn; cut the umbel with a bit of the stalk attached and place upside down in a paper bag to finish drying.

Those who suffer from respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, bronchitis or asthma, may appreciate the benefits of anise as an expectorant. The herb has been used medicinally to loosen mucus in the lungs and make coughs more productive. For head colds with clogged nostrils and throat, difficult breathing, aching sinuses, a tea can be made with honey or lemon and taken 3 or 4 times daily when cold is at its worst. There are some studies that suggest those with diabetes may also benefit from the hormonal effects of anise seed and along with lifestyle changes it can help regulate blood sugar levels. It can also relax blood vessels to lower blood pressure and decrease elevated cholesterol levels.

Anise seed is a popular remedy for digestive disorders, such as diarrhea and vomiting, and for ensuring normal bowel movements and improving appetite. Some of the compounds found in the herb seeds display anti-spasmodic and carminative properties, meaning that they either prevent the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract or facilitate the expulsion of gas. Anise seed also serves as a natural antacid and can be used to replace pharmaceutical antacids in the treatment of heartburn and indigestion in affected individuals. Research has shown that extracts from the anise plant have significant promise as a natural anti-fungal and are excellent for helping to inhibit both fungal and yeast proliferation.

In addition two ingredients present in anise, are chemically similar to the female hormone estrogen. Because of its antispasmodic properties it can help to ease cramps, induce menstruation and facilitate childbirth. Nursing mothers have used anise to increase the production of their breast milk. This herb, with its mild estrogenic activity, has been said to relieve menopausal symptoms and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. This wonderful herb also has a reputation for increasing the libido in both men and women.  It is great for alleviating mental tension restoring mental balance.

Anise is even used for poorly healing wounds in order to destroy germs. In a study done in 2010, Anise was found to be considerably effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that causes skin infections, and may be helpful in cases where antibiotic resistance is a problem. Another study found anise to be effective against herpes simplex virus type 2 and the research also supports treating recurrent cold sores with a topical application of anise seed herbal extract.

One additional health benefit of anise is that it helps maintain oral health. The antimicrobial and antibacterial property in this plant makes it the perfect ingredient of an effective mouthwash. Anise seed can help banish bad breath and lower the risks of mouth infections and can even help to relieve toothaches. One amazingly potent little seed, isn’t it? So just think, you can now justify having just one more of those little anise flavoured cookies this Christmas!

(An interesting FYI – Most licorice candy in fact does not contain licorice but instead gets its flavor from anise oil!)