Today marks the first day of advent, and what better way to prepare for the seasonal festivities than thinking about those Christmas smells and tastes we can all begin to look forward to. Christmas herbs and spices have a big role to play in this area. As well as smelling warm and tempting, they have also been well known for their healing and medicinal properties for thousands of years. Coming into the Christmas period, spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger will be appearing in our mulled wine, Christmas cakes, and mince pies. As well as enjoying the taste and smell of these seasonal favourites, they also have many health benefits. Here are a few of them:
- Cinnamon – One of the most popular Christmas spices – cinnamon has a plethora of far-reaching health benefits. It is known to be anti-bacterial, to improve circulation, act as a calmative, and to help improve digestion. Most importantly, cinnamon is known to help protect against diabetes, and help those with the condition to manage their blood sugar levels, by increasing sensitivity to insulin. In addition, it can also help to reduce bad cholesterol in the blood.
- Nutmeg – Nutmeg is often found is mulled wine, cider, and eggnog, and like cinnamon, is often added to dishes as a sweetener. There are many health benefits of nutmeg. It is both anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, potentially protecting against coughs and colds during the winter period. It also contains the active compound myristicin, which protects the liver and could also protect the brain against degenerative diseases. Additionally, nutmeg can help induce sleep, aid digestion, and improve circulation, as well as being rich in trace minerals.
- Cloves – Cloves are used in folk remedies around the world for a multitude of reasons, but we still use clove oil today as a remedy against toothache. This is due to their mild anaesthetic and anti-bacterial qualities. Cloves are also rich in antioxidants and full of the trace mineral, manganese.
- Star Anise – Also used around the world in folk remedies, star anise is known to be anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and full of antioxidants, protecting the body’s cells from damage caused by environmental toxins.
- Ginger – Perhaps the most well-known use of ginger is as an anti-sickness remedy, commonly recommended for use against travel and morning sickness. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, and could help with joint pain and muscle soreness. There is some evidence to suggest that it could also, like cinnamon, reduce blood sugar levels and improve heart disease risk factors.
Healthy Christmas Spice Recipes
All of these spices can be used in Christmas recipes, both sweet and savoury. By making small changes, you can improve the healthiness of traditional favourites, such as ginger bread men and Christmas cake. You can also spice up your Christmas vegetables, for example, try cinnamon roasted Brussel sprouts with almonds. This recipe is full of vitamin C, protein from and the almonds, antioxidants, fibre, and iron.
Cabbage is also much improved with a few added spices, and sweet and sour red cabbage is a traditional German favourite containing allspice (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, pepper). Extremely tasty, cabbage is one of the healthiest of vegetables, containing vitamins K, C, B6 and B1, as well as calcium, iron, manganese, and fibre, to name but a few.
Spicing up your Christmas turkey is also a tasty idea. Try roasting your turkey with honey, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and oranges, all of which infuse the lean white meat with plenty of flavour. Also try these spices in this fantastic home-made mulled wine recipe.
Many of your traditional Christmas recipes will already contain these super-food spices, but they can be added to almost anything to give it that extra kick of flavour. Remember to keep your spices stored in air tight containers to ensure they keep their freshness so you can enjoy the warmth these spices bring to your dishes throughout the year.