Your kitchen has a medicine cabinet wherever you store your spices. These spices may not come in a fancy package of cute little pills, but they can improve your health and prevent illness from occurring nonetheless. They offer simple solutions to pesky little winter health issues, and in moderate quantities, they are very safe for most people.
Everyone has to have ginger in their kitchen every fall through spring, both in a powdered form and fresh. Fresh ginger, peeled, julienned and boiled in water makes an amazing tea that improves digestion, metabolism and energy. In addition, it’s nice and warming for the cold winter days and nights. It can be chopped and added to both cooked and raw foods, though in general it’s better to favor cooked foods in winter, as digestive powers are not as strong. Go with powdered ginger in a tea or food seasoning and it will be even more warming, so some people actually have to be careful when using a lot of powdered ginger. Because it helps you digest well and cleanse out food particles that previously did not digest well, ginger protects all of your drainage systems from getting clogged. This in turn helps with circulation, which also assists in draining the body of toxins via its waste mechanisms. Have ginger before a meal to improve appetite or downward flow of wastes and during a meal to improve assimilation.
Pepper is already a staple at most American tables, but did you know that it has tremendous medicinal capacity too? It’s both warming and drying, so if you are dealing with lots of mucus, this spice is your friend. It can help dry your body out. It also helps lighten up heavy foods like creams and cheeses (including those made from nuts, though they are not quite as heavy as dairy), so if you are indulging a lot this winter, it’s a good idea to sprinkle some black pepper on. You will digest better and it could add a nice kick so that you don’t feel tired after your meal. Explore red pepper, cayenne, etc. if you are interested in kicking these warming and lightening medicinal benefits up a notch.
Cold feet? Strangely enough, the same hormone that builds when you fall in love or have a child is also found in cinnamon. It’s an oxytocic, so if you are feeling a little bit like an ice queen, have some cinnamon. It’s also really great at improving circulation and lowering blood sugar because it reduces any sticky, stuck quality in the blood and makes us warm. It can raise your energy, appetite and increase digestion of nutrients. Because of this, if you use it a lot, it can also make you hungrier and gain weight, so be smart with cinnamon. Don’t overdose on it, but enjoy it medicinally when you need to improve warmth, circulation, appetite and assimilation. This is one of those great spices for women to get the flow of a slow menstrual cycle going, considering it is also an emmenagogue, which is a substance that brings more blood to the uterus. Therefore, use it wisely during pregnancy.
In India, there is a form of basil that is considered to be holy, keeping away toxins in the environment. You may have heard of tulsi tea. Well, tulsi is a form of basil. The basil family’s leaves are warming and are generally stimulating and clarity promoting. Even the basil we find in the US, Italian basil, is very powerful. It’s a diaphoretic, which is an herb that makes you sweat, so on those days when you can’t get to the sauna or the gym, maybe add some basil to your food. It’s a great herb for when you or your family are sick with a cold because you can sneak it in a bowl of pho or miso soup. In moderate quantities, it awakens cellular intelligence and can prevent inflammation and boost the immune system, but if you have too much, it will increase inflammation and therefore weaken the immune system, so find that balance!
Anyone have problems with anxiety or insomnia this time of year? If so, it’s time to stock up on some nutmeg. Nutmeg in moderate quantities is a sedative, so it’s something you could take instead of a sleeping pill or anti-anxiety medication, though it won’t dull you or knock to out nearly as much. However, don’t take too much because then it can have hallucinogenic properties, like those found in marijuana and LSD. A pinch is fine. It’s also warming, so it’s a perfect spice to add to a glass of warm milk, along with some cinnamon and cardamom, to help digest it and sleep well. It’s a safe spice to give to a small child too, and mamas can even add a very tiny pinch to breast milk to help induce sleep.
Buon appetito, and here’s to staying healthy in winter!