It turns out that winter spices are probably some of the most appropriate things to use in all of our seasonal treats. Pumpkin spice turns out to have many winter related benefits. Allspice, clove, and nutmeg all soothe pain from indigestion, gas, and overeating. That’s a nifty thing to put in meals designed to encourage people to eat until their buttons pop off and they pass out on the couch watching football.
Ginger and cinnamon help to boost circulation, bringing warm blood to cold hands and feet. They also soothe achy joints that flare up in cold weather. There is also some anti-inflammatory action in this blend to further reduce joint pain (and other pains).
During cold and flu season, this blend boosts immunity, but if you do get ill these spices may help you recover quickly and reduce some symptoms (like fever, sore throat, cough and nausea). Plus this blend can have a tonic effect upon the system, helping the body to break down and remove toxins while supporting organ function. There are anti-oxidant properties as well.
Mix 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp clove, 1/4 tsp cassia cinnamon or 1 Tbsp Ceylon cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp ginger (powdered – use 1 tsp if using Ceylon cinnamon). Note: Don’t give your pets treats with this spice mix in it. Both cinnamon and nutmeg may cause your pet harm.
Why yes, there is something odd about this recipe. Most pumpkin spice recipes are cinnamon based, and this recipe is mostly Ginger, depending on what variety of cinnamon you have. Confusing, I know. Or, perhaps you’ve heard this one before, about how grocery store cinnamon actually has a toxin (click the “side effects” tab). Safe levels are said to be lower than what we typically eat, especially in our baked goods.
I’m not sure where I stand on the issue right now, but I do plan on keeping my cinnamon levels low until I get my hands on some Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon is a different plant in the same family and has microscopic levels of the toxin (much safer). Therefore this spice mix is Ginger based, with an alternate version for Ceylon users. This makes it more similar to gingerbread, it’s kind of a hybrid. Try to use this in recipes that call for cinnamon instead of using pure cinnamon.
I have information pages up on ginger, cinnamon, allspice, clove, and nutmeg; these pages should be looked at for individual cautions, drug interactions, and uses. My pages will be kept up to date to show my studies and experiences. Also, if you are curious about herbalism but haven’t gotten into it yet, the herbalism page may help.
And now that we’re done with the business part, here’s the bits that I saved for the end so people who didn’t feel like reading could move on with their busy lives.
October and November are harvest months that turn cold. The family (and sometimes it feels like the entire village) gets together and stuffs themselves silly before the lean winter times begin. Celebration of plenty becomes a celebration of each other, a time to reconnect with family members that you never have the chance to see in your busy life. We also tend to look at other harvests. Giving thanks often means looking at what we have nurtured and tended to in our lives, what have we “grown” that we enjoy the results of now.
There can also be a spiritual aspect to the winter solstice, across several cultures and faiths. There is a reason for this, it’s a time when we all need each other and our faith. The sun moves further away from the earth in autumn, and the nights grow long. Without the sun to stimulate serotonin levels, depression becomes far more common, and we long for the sun.
Thankfully the winter solstice is the halfway point. The sun then begins its journey back to the earth and the days get longer. The cold times are halfway over. That is something to celebrate, and celebration with shared feasts means the family celebrates their bond with each other through the difficult times. We lift each other up through the long nights, and cherish the creation of lifetime memories through gifts, food, and drink. We feast despite the lack of growth around us and put our worries aside.
Once upon a time, winter meant death. Hunger and illness were harder to fight against. If you ever wondered why we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the winter when he was born in spring, consider this: when the solstice happens the sun is at an apparent standstill for about three days at its furthest point from the earth. On the twenty-fifth of December, the sun begins to return to us bringing hope, joy, and light. Seems about right to me.
I know, I know. You came because I drew a colorful picture of a popular spice mix, what’s with all the preachy? Well, I have problems getting through winter. I like to remember what the holidays mean while I sip my pumpkin spice tea or cocoa.
Also, this spice mix has a scent to it. Scent has strong associations with memory. I let the scent bring me associations of people coming together to feast, and all the bonding and nurturing that brings. Even during the holidays when “my family” will mean just me and my son, or when it means the family gathering might contain some drama, and I may have to face some sad facts about who is no longer with us, I can still let the best parts of what this holiday should be wash over my mind with that scent.
Sometimes my holiday experience doesn’t quite fit the way it should, so sometimes this scent is a reminder of what to strive for when my family isn’t making me feel especially generous. Then the scent of this spice is motivation.
I like to think the warmth of the sun does not go away in winter, that it comes inside to my home and heart, and is shown through generosity, togetherness, and above all: food. Food with lots of baking. Warm fresh breads and pies made with my hands to tell my family that I love them. This makes winter better for me, and I hope that if you struggle with winter that maybe you can find a way to let the scent of this spice bring your sun inside to your home and heart as well.