by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN
As the Holidays are approaching, many of us will find ourselves busy preparing our favorite holiday recipes. These holiday favorites bring welcomed aromas to our homes with fond memories of family and friendly celebrations. Each one of us has our special dish or dessert that we look forward to making and sharing during this special time of the year. Few of us, though, are aware of the health benefits from the traditional holiday spices of allspice, cardamom, anise, cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, peppermint, and sage. Let’s take a moment to discover the health benefits of these spices in addition to their flavor enhancing abilities.
Allspice is a dried, unripe berry from the Pimenta dioica plant, which was discovered on the island of Jamaica by Christopher Columbus. This spice is often prescribed to improve symptoms of indigestion, intestinal gas, muscle pain, menstrual cramps, and tooth aches.
Allspice is essential in making pecan pies, fruitcakes, apple cider, and pumpkin pies. Often this spice is substituted for cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove because its flavor is very close in taste to these three spices when combined.
Anise is a flowering plant from the Apiaceae family, which is native to eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. Anise is often used as an oil, which can be taken for treating coughs and flu like symptoms. Anise also helps improve digestion, alleviate cramps, and reduces gas, bloating, and reducing nausea. Similar studies show that Anise can alleviate postmenopausal hot flashes, too. Other studies found that Anise possesses antidepressant-like properties similar to that of fluoxetine.
Anise seeds and oil are used in baking Italian biscotti and pizzelles.
Cardamom is made from the seeds of several plants in the ginger family that are native to India and Indonesia. Oscar Kloeffer, a planter, first introduced cardamom just before World War l. This plant can boost the immune system and improve oral health by preventing cavities and bad breath.
Cardamom is used as a flavoring in pumpkin pies, zucchini bread, and with carrots.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree and is found in Vietnam and Indonesia. Cinnamon has a long history of being used for aiding in digestion and reducing inflammation. This spice has been studied for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer effects, and it improves the management of blood glucose and Lipid levels.
You will find cinnamon used in baking with apples, cakes, pastries, and puddings.
Clove is a dried flower bud from the clove tree and originated in Indonesia. This spice is high in antioxidants and may promote bone health, reduce stomach ulcers, and reduce damage to cells that could lead to cancer. Clove oil is beneficial in oral health as it is known to reduce inflammation in the mouth and kill off bacteria. Mouth wash made with clove oil is just as effective in killing bacteria as commercial mouth washes. A half teaspoon of dried cloves contains as much antioxidants as one half cup of blueberries. Consuming clove can increase one’s chance of increase in bleeding if taking warfarin; it’s important to be aware of this side effect and interaction.
Cloves are used in making gingerbread, hams, and hot cider.
Ginger is a flowering plant whose root is widely used for a spice. It originated in India and can be found in the tropical lowland forests. Possible health benefits of this spice are reducing nausea, pain, and inflammation. Ginger does interact with anticoagulant drugs such a warfarin.
Ginger is used in making ginger bread, snaps, hot toddies, pumpkin dishes, and with pork and chicken.
Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree. This plant is native to Banda Island (a spice island of Indonesia). Nutmeg contains high amounts of antioxidants and provides antimicrobial benefits. It is often used in traditional medicines throughout China and Thailand. Nutmeg contains phytonutrients and beta carotene. Studies indicate possible improvement with blood circulation and improvement with sleep.
Nutmeg is used in potato dishes, mulled cider or wine, eggnog, pumpkin pies, and acorn squash.
Peppermint is an aromatic plant, created from blending watermint and spearmint plants, that originated in Europe and the Middle East. It has been used as a remedy for indigestion since ancient Egyptian times. Today it is known to improve IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), nausea, headaches, and cold and flu symptoms, acting as a decongestant and expectorant.
Mint is often steeped and made into a tea, added to Greek yogurt, used in fresh green salads, or used as a substitute for parsley in recipes.
Sage, a member of the mint family, is found in the Mediterranean area. It belongs to the same family of spices as oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and basil. Sage helps protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals because of its high antioxidant content. Several studies show promise that sage may enhance learning and cognition in older adults with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Encouraging clinical trials have suggested that sage may improve mood and mental performance in healthy young people.
Sage is used in recipes for stuffing and poultry dishes.
As this Holiday season approaches and you find yourself preparing your favorite dishes for your loved ones, remember and share these health benefits with them. It should be reassuring to know that not only do these dishes bring back fond memories of your holiday experiences, but they are also enhancing your health, too! Including spices into your daily menu is just another part of how nutrition is your path to wellness.
Happy Holidays and Bon appetite.