Few things are as wondrous as the cycle of the seasons. Fall is the beginning of the end of the year as nature enters midlife and then slowly starts to decay. In its late maturity, nature serves us the fruits of life – the harvest season offers delicious grains, pumpkins, apples and root vegetables. The harvest marks the end of a crop’s lifecycle. After the last foods have been gathered and stored for the winter, nature falls into a deep slumber.
In autumn, the trees have a second blooming, as the leaves dry up and explode in fiery tones of red, orange and yellow. By late november, the leaves have withered and rotten back into earth, and the stiff, naked skeletons of trees and bushes patiently await the light and warmth of spring to bless them with new life.
For us humans, fall represents a second beginning of the year. In a flash, the humid, drowsing summer air is transformed into a chilly, energizing autumn breeze that wakes us up. It’s back to school-time, the period when we release all the energy built up during our summer vacation into a burst of productive creativity – ideally. This year, summer blended into autumn so effortlessly that I barely noticed it until the trees had changed color. One day when I stepped outside the air had shifted: not yet cold, just refreshing and uplifting, promising a new beginning, new chances and possibilities, a new life and then…BAM!…cold & flu season sets in. When fever, runny noses and sore throats are doing their best to crush our spirits it’s important to practice a little extra self-care. Slow down, drink a cup of hot tea, read a book, take a walk in nature and experience the colors and smells of this beautiful season.
A nice and simple way to incorporate that extra healing in our everyday lives is through the use of spices. The 2 popular seasonal blends for autumn and winter, Pumpkin Pie spice and GingerBread spice, are packed with powerful healing properties that target many of the typical flu & cold symptoms. The base for these blends is cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Pumpkin Pie spice gets its distinctive flavour from nutmeg (and sometimes allspice) while the sweet and comforting Gingerbread blend is topped of with cardamom. All of these spices are native to Asia and have been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India. Together with black pepper, they make up the foundation of the comforting Indian chai tea which is treasured by modern day yogis and coffee house-goers alike. Few natural products have been so valued throughout history as aromatic spices.
Herbs have a central place in all traditional systems of medicine and have been used in cooking since time immemorial. Besides their medical properties, spices were thought to have magical and religious powers which made them appropriate offerings to the gods or luxurious gifts to royalty. In Ancient Egypt, spices were used in the process of embalming the dead, a ritual that was both scientific and religious in nature. Today, traditional medicine is gaining popularity both as an alternative and a complement to western medicine and research is being conducted on the medicinal properties of many ancient healing herbs. Surprisingly often this research results in a happy marriage between the wisdom of the past and the reason of today, as old knowledge is being confirmed and empowered by science.
Cardamom contains vitamin A,C,B6 and Riboflavin, along with minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, copper and zink. In traditional Indian and Chinese medicine cardamom is used to treat dental infections, stomach problems and gallstones. Modern science has shown that this spice can help to reduce inflammation. Cinnamon has been prescribed as a treatment for colds, sore throats and joint pain since Antiquity. Research on its medical properties is ongoing but the spice contains a high level of antioxidants which is thought to reduce chronic inflammation.
Cloves also contain lots of vitamins and minerals. The bioactive compounds of this spice (meaning the components that affect the body’s physiological or cellular activity) include flavonoids, hexane, thymol, methylene, chloride, ethanol, eugenol, and benzene. Cloves have strong antioxidant power that boosts the immune-system, stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes and strengthens the bones.
Ginger is perhaps the most well known of the traditional Asian healing spices. This beautiful white-yellow root with its sharp, fresh taste is packed with medical benefits. The plant’s inflammation-fighting components, gingerols and shaogals, kills the Rhinovirus which is usually the cause of the common cold. Ginger thins mucous in the throat and nose and it warms the body from within, helping us to sweat out toxins. Nutmeg is the dried fruit kernel of Nutmeg tree. It has a naturally calming and sedating effect that can relive both insomnia and muscle pain. The spice also eases nausea and indigestion. The Greeks and Romans used nutmeg as “brain tonic” and to treat depression. Interestingly, modern research has shown that nutmeg contains myristicin and macelignan, compounds that are known to protect the brain from degenerative diseases.
I like to use these spice blends in hot beverages such as coffee and chocolate as well as spicing up homemade energy balls or soups. For example, nutmeg and cinnamon go well with butternut squash and carrots in a hearthy fall soup. I make a Pumpkin Pie blend every autumn and keep a Gingerbread blend around all year to put in my coffee every morning. For Pumpkin Pie spice I use this recipe and for the Gingerbread spice I simply mix 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1 teaspoon ground cardamom. During an ongoing cold I make Ginger tea by adding several slices of fresh ginger, 5 whole cloves, 1 slice of lemon and 1/2 teaspoon of honey to a cup of hot water and let it sit for 10 minutes before drinking.
Sources: Nature’s Best Remedies, Top medicinal Herbs, Spices and Foods for Health and Well-being (National Geographic 2019)