Fragrant Spices Bring Heat and Medicine to Winter DiningJulie Daniluk, R.H.N. December 3, 2020
(Updated November 23, 2020: Endorsed by the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition)
The culinary and medicinal powers of spices have been known by herbalists, healers, and cooks for centuries. Now science is affirming what folklore medicine has known all along. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and cardamom boast not only rich colours and fragrances, but also strong therapeutic effects.
The onset of winter is a perfect time to draw closer to the home fires and dip into our stash of warming spices that help bolster the body against frigid temperatures and circulating ‘flu bugs. Of the many herbs that arrive in our local stores from international spice routes, those that bring heat to winter meals are most sought after.
Also known as Ceylon cinnamon or true cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum is a small evergreen tree belonging to the family Lauraceae. It yields a warming spice that helps to reduce dampness (phlegm) in the body by increasing circulation. It is antiseptic and an excellent digestive tonic.
It is also known to mimic the action of insulin by stimulating insulin receptors on the fat and muscle cells. This action helps to usher sugar out of the blood and into the cells. As a result, the simple addition of one gram of cinnamon to the daily diet of people with Type 2 diabetes has been shown to improve blood sugar and fat levels to reduce their risk factor for cardiovascular disease.[1,2,3]
Cinnamon is at its best when freshly ground, so try to buy whole cinnamon sticks and grind them as you need them with a fine grater or a sturdy spice grinder. You can also add a whole stick to soups and stews, where it can simmer before serving.
Note: Ceylon Cinnamon (verum) is the safest for long-term use because Chinese cinnamon (cassia) can cause liver problems in large doses.
Zingiber officinale is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which improves circulation to all parts of the body. This ‘hot’ and fragrant root has been used for centuries to soothe an upset stomach. A few slices of raw ginger root steeped in boiling water can help soothe a cough or sore throat. It can also ward off feelings of nausea that may accompany influenza. You can also use ginger to stop nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. And it can boost the immune systems of mother and baby in the process.
Ginger also has the ability to heal painful inflammation by inhibiting the effects of arachidonic acid – a fat responsible for triggering inflammation involved in the immune response which leads to pain at the site. Choosing ginger as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs gives the liver a break from working overtime as it clears these drugs from the system. Chop up a little fresh ginger root and add it to a stir-fry, or grate some into your chai tea.
Ginger is so versatile you can even add it to your bath! Soaking in a hot bath infused with chunks of ginger will relax muscles, raise the body temperature, and induce sweating – all of which helps to fight off colds and influenza.
Fresh ginger is more potent than dried. When buying ginger root, look for knobs that have smooth, firm skin and are free from mold.
Curcuma longa is also a member of the Zingiberaceae family. It is a deeply warming spice with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Known for its intense yellowish orange color, turmeric has played an important role in many traditional cultures for thousands of years and is highly valued in the practice of Ayurveda. Turmeric improves circulation by reducing elevated blood levels of fibrinogen, a plasma protein that plays a key role in the process of blood clotting. Elevated levels of this protein are a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Turmeric has been shown to reverse elevated blood levels of fibrinogen safely and without side effects.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, works by stimulating the liver and gallbladder to do the essential work of bile production. Curcumin can also reduce symptoms of bloating and gas in people suffering from indigestion. [6,7]
Traditionally, a milk formula called “golden milk” or “turmeric milk” has been used by Ayurvedic physicians for colds, congestion, headache, and sore throats. One classic recipe involves boiling fresh or dried turmeric root, ginger, and honey in milk. (Ed note: To see a recipe for golden milk by naturopath Sat Dharam Kaur, click on: https://vitalitymagazine.com/article/super-golden-milk/)
Turmeric is also reputed to help alleviate depression.
Turmeric is a root that looks a lot like ginger, but it is quite difficult to grind. If you buy your turmeric already ground, make sure you buy small quantities of good quality organic powder, and use it up before you buy more.
Try Turmeric Tea – In a pint-canning jar, place a handful of dried lemon balm leaves, a few slices of turmeric and ginger root and several crushed rose hips. Pour freshly boiled water over the herbs. With the lid sealed, brew for four hours under a tea cozy or wrapped in a towel. Strain and enjoy as is or with a bit of good quality honey.
Cardamoms are the small dried fruits of the perennial herb, Elettaria cardamomum, known as the “Queen of Spices.” This fruit has a pleasant aroma and a warm, slightly sweet and pungent taste. Cardamom is widely used in Asian cooking and is an essential ingredient in garam masala.
Cardamom helps to reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation and diarrhea. Studies show that it can also have a positive effect on blood pressure – a 3 gram serving has been shown to significantly decrease diastolic pressure, without side effects. (8)(9)
Cardamom has also been shown to have strong antimicrobial activity against the microorganisms that cause dental cavities and bad breath. (10)
Cardamom seeds lose their flavor and aroma quickly after being removed from their protective pods, so it is best to buy whole cardamom pods. Then crack the pods, remove the seeds, discard the pods and grind the seeds. Ground cardamom can be found at the grocery store but it typically has less flavor than the whole seeds. You only need a little to give your recipes a sweet, aromatic vanilla undertone.
Coriandrum sativum belongs to the Apiaceae family and is ground from the seeds of the coriander herb, which is also known as cilantro. Coriander seeds have a sweet, nutty taste that is very different from the leaves of the plant. These seeds are packed with volatile oils that provide powerful antioxidant protection.
Coriander can relieve the pain and discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies show that people who suffer from the abdominal pain, cramping and bloating of IBS see improvements after taking coriander seed. The spice possesses antispasmodic properties which help to relax the overactive muscles of the digestive tract. This relaxing effect also works on the arteries of the cardiovascular system, helping to lower blood pressure at the same time. (11)
Coriander has a positive impact on blood lipids. Studies show that adding coriander seeds to the diet can reduce the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Coriander seeds help to increase the amount of bile acid that the liver produces, and assist the breakdown and excretion of cholesterol. (12)
As with other spices, it is best to buy coriander in seed form and grind as needed. Coriander is often sold as a powder but, in this form, it is likely that the oils will have dissipated and lost their healing potential.
Chili Powder and Cayenne
Also worthy of special mention are two fiery herbs which add intense heat to any foods that they come in contact with. This is beneficial for people with a ‘cold’ constitution who can handle hot spices (this should be tested with care, and avoided if you have nightshade sensitivity). However, these spices are not recommended for those with excess pitta (ie. a ‘hot’ constitution) as they can increase inflammation.
Popularized in India, chai is a tea made from various combinations of warming spices. These spices provide a rich source of antioxidants and nutrients that support digestion and immunity, balance blood sugar, and combat inflammation. This recipe is made with everyday spices selected for their immune boosting properties and specifically aimed at keeping colds and ’flu away. (Makes 8 cups)
- 4 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond, coconut, hemp, sesame)
- 4 cups ginger root tea (2 inches grated ginger)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp stevia whole-leaf powder (or 1/4 tsp stevia extract or 1-2 tsp unpasteurized, liquid honey
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp cloves, powdered
Warming Quinoa Porridge
This hot cereal takes just a few minutes to prepare and features the warming spices cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric. This combination of healing herbs will soothe the digestive tract, clear inflammation, and warm you from the inside out! (Makes 2 servings)
- 2 cups filtered water
- ¾ cup rolled quinoa
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp cardamom
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 1 Tbsp honey (or 5 drops stevia extract)
- 1/8 tsp grey sea salt (or pink rock salt)
- ¼ cup dried cranberries (or apple juice sweetened)
- ½ cup blueberries (if frozen, add before quinoa to thaw)
- ¼ cup chopped almonds (or hemp seeds)
Sweet Potato Mash with Vanilla Bean
This recipe was formulated by the co-host and chef of Healthy Gourmet, Ezra Title https://www.chezvousdining.ca
(Makes 6 servings.)
- 2.2 lbs sweet potatoes (about 6 large)
- 4 Tbsp maple syrup
- 2 whole vanilla beans
- 1 Tbsp mesquite powder
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 1 Tbsp turmeric
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Pink rock, or grey sea salt, to taste
Gentle Healing Dal
(Makes 6 servings)
- 4 cups filtered water
- 1 cup chana dal (a yellow lentil also known as cholar dal), rinsed well
- 1 tsp turmeric
- Pinch of grey sea salt or pink rock salt (or to taste)
- 10 oz frozen spinach (or 2 cups fresh spinach), chopped
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp Julie’s Garam Masala (see below)
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice
- Garnish with fresh cilantro
Julie’s Garam Masala
Garam masala is the most aromatic and fragrant of all Indian spice blends. Compared to store-bought garam masala, a fresh homemade spice blend tastes better and has a more potent healing effect.
(Makes 1⁄2 cup)
- 2 Tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 Tbsp cardamom seeds
- 1 stick (3 inch/5 cm) cinnamon, broken into small pieces
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp saffron or safflower petals (optional)
• Julie Daniluk is a graduate of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, which has been Teaching the Medicine of the Future™ since 1994. Their commitment to quality education has made them Canada’s leading holistic nutrition school, with provincially-regulated classroom locations coast-to-coast plus Online Distance Education. Their practical foundation Natural Nutrition Diploma Program provides the fundamental tools needed for a lasting career in holistic nutrition. Upon successful completion of the courses, case studies, and Final Board Exams, graduates (such as Julie Daniluk, R.H.N.) earn a professional designation and title. Their training qualifies them to provide personalized holistic recommendations to clients at all ages and stages of their life and health.
• Aneja, K. R., and Radhika Joshi. “Antimicrobial activity of Amomum subulatum and Elettaria cardamomum against dental caries causing microorganisms.” Ethnobotanical Leaflets 2009, no. 7 (2009): 3.
• Bengmark, Stig. “Control of systemic inflammation and chronic diseases-the use of turmeric and curcuminoids.” Nutrigenomics and Proteonomics in Health and Disease. Food Factors and Gene Interaction (2009): 161-180.
• Chithra, V., and S. Leelamma. “Hypolipidemic effect of coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum): mechanism of action.” Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 51, no. 2 (1997): 167-172.
• Crawford, Paul. “Effectiveness of cinnamon for lowering hemoglobin A1C in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled trial.” The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 22, no. 5 (2009): 507-512.
Nutritionist and TV personality, Julie Daniluk is the award-winning, bestselling author of Meals That Heal Inflammation & Slimming Meals That Heal. Her 3rd book, Hot Detox, was on the Canadian Bestseller’s list for 11 weeks in 2017. Julie’s 4th book, Becoming Sugar-Free, will be released on September 7, 2021. Julie has appeared on hundreds of television and radio shows, including The Dr. Oz Show. She is in her 11th season as a resident expert for The Marilyn Denis Show. Check out more information at juliedaniluk.com and connect with her on Facebook & Instagram @juliedaniluk