December is upon us, and it’s a time for holiday cheer, gratitude, and prayer for that elusive peace on earth and goodwill to all. It’s also a time for some fantastic feasts with friends and family. I really love sharing good food with those near and dear to me, and here in the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with farmers markets featuring organic local produce, free range poultry, eggs and meats, wild caught fish and other delights to bring to your holiday table. Whether you are a ‘Forks Over Knives’ vegetarian, a meat lover, or a pescetarian, one thing is essential to give your meals some zest, pizazz and excitement, and that is: Spice!
But did you know that spices also have powerful health benefits? Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, feel free to use a little heavier hand on your winter spices after you read up on what these 5 herbs in your spice cabinet can do for you!
Oregano: Packed with antioxidants (more than blueberries by weight!) this Mediterranean spice helps your body fight viruses, yeast and bacteria. The fresh leaves have much more of the essential oils, so try growing some oregano in a pot in the garden or in a sunny window.
Cinnamon: This spice is warming, so it is great during these chilly winter months. Studies have shown cinnamon also is incredibly antioxidant rich, and it may have a mild to moderate effect of lowering your blood sugar (good thing we like to put it in pumpkin pie!). It also has been shown to have anti-cancer activity in research. Great in soups and stews, cinnamon isn’t just for breakfast anymore!
Rosemary: Its antioxidants may help your body kill cancer cells, and make your immune system work better. It fights inflammation and is great for arthritis. Rosemary extract may have some anti-depressant activity similar to Fluoxetine (Prozac). In the dark winters here, that certainly couldn’t hurt, so pull out your Happy Lites and nibble on some rosemary.
Cloves: Actually little dried flower buds from a tree in the Myrtle family. They have the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of all the spices, which lead Joseph Mercola, MD to recently call cloves “cinnamon on steroids.” Eugenol an essential oil found in high concentration in cloves, tells cancer cells to commit cell suicide (promotes apoptosis) and inhibits the inflammation process that cancer cells use to proliferate. In Chinese medicine, cloves are used to improve digestion, and to treat chronic urogenital complaints by warming the spleen and kidney qi. That’s one sweet and friendly little flower bud!
Thyme: A terrific anti-microbial. Chew some fresh thyme leaves for mouth ulcers or sore throat, and crush some into your tea with slippery elm root and honey to soothe a cough. Thyme essential oil has been shown to inhibit growth of MRSA. Thyme extracts show promise in helping our genes to turn off breast cancer activity and it prevents glycation (sugar sticking to our body’s proteins and rendering them dangerous or ineffective), therefore it has anti-aging, anti-Alzheimer’s and anti-diabetic activity.
The fresher your spices, the more essential oils and antioxidants present. So don’t let your spices get too old. Also, whenever possible, choose fresh over dried leafy spices. It’s tempting to buy your seed and bark spices already ground, but they will be much stronger and healthier if you buy them as whole seeds and grind them yourself. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you beat your spice, it will smell the sweeter,” but our office manager, Rick (an avid foodie and great cook), says “I just use a coffee grinder!”
Happy and Healthy Holidays to all!
Cynthia Buxton ND, LAc