It is amazing how even the small pleasures in our diet have roots in the past where herbs and spices were used medicinally. Many of the most traditional and beloved foods we consume (often to excess!) around the holidays contain what is referred to as Christmas spices. Even if you donít celebrate Christmas per say the scent and flavor of these spices still can remind you of chilly winter days and family events. People perhaps donít even know why this mix of spices is consumed from a historical perspective; although as with all other ancient herb blends, a reason does exist for the combination.
Why This Spice Combination?
The spices included in this festive mix are cloves, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Each of these is distinctive in flavoring and diverse in usage over the centuries in a "Christmas themed" application. Cloves were often stuck in oranges in the Middle Ages and beyond as a fragrant ornament. Cinnamon is a very traditional spice for the ever popular mincemeat pie. Gingerbread style cookies are found in almost every cuisine and people actually carried tiny graters as jewelry during the holidays in order to grate nutmeg onto various dishes.
Since there is no overriding historical reason for this particular spice mix being used so copiously during this time of year, the answer might lay on the health side of herbs and spices.
Health Benefits of Each Herb and Spice
- Cloves and clove oil have been used for centuries by the Chinese to promote fresh breath and oral health. Modern day dentists take advantage of the antibacterial and anesthetic properties by rubbing clove oil on the gums for dental procedures.Recent research has revealed that cloves are extremely effective against staphylococcus infections, respiratory problems and the common cold when combined with other herbs.
- Ginger traditionally was a very effective treatment for morning sickness and digestive problems. It also can fight colds when consumed as a tea 2 or 3 times per day.
- Cinnamon has been the subject of very intense research in the last decade due to its range of medicinal uses. Most importantly cinnamon has been found to control blood glucose levels in diabetics and increase the bodyís cells response to insulin. This spice has historical roots in North Africa and India where it is used to warm up the metabolism and stimulates appetite.Herbalists have also been prescribing cinnamon doses for centuries to fight off flu and cold symptoms.
- Nutmeg is an unassuming spice with a colorful past which includes embalming Egyptians to treating colds and respiratory ailments.
Make Sure You Have Seconds!
When examining the Christmas herbs and spices alone and as a spice mix one is struck with a logical reason for the combination being consumed in the cold months. All these spices are used singularly to fight off cold symptoms, flu and bronchial problems. Christmas spices can be described as natureís flu shot. So next time you are indulging in a delectable fragrant spiced dish, be reassured that you are simply preventing common winter sicknesses and perhaps have a second bite!