East Meets West: Healthy Winter Spices

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East Meets West: Healthy Winter Spices

Certain smells evoke the holidays and cozy winters…scented candles, pine needles, holiday meals, and baked goods! Just imagine how wonderful your home feels when filled with the scents of aromatic herbs and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and star anise.

These herbs and spices do more than smell good. They are often used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) remedies for their healing properties. The Chinese have long categorized herbs and foods by their temperature effects (cool, fresh, neutral, warm and hot) on the body. Most of these spices are warming, which is naturally fitting for the season and is another reason we feel emotionally “warm” when we smell them.

Here are some examples of winter herbs with warming effects and their specific properties as understood by TCM practitioners:

Ginger

This herb warms up the center of the body and the lungs. It also supports the Yang. Yin and Yang work in harmony in our bodies and nature; Yin is associated with passivity, dark and cold (winter) whereas Yang is associated with activity, warmth and light.

Ginger can relieve symptoms such as abdominal pain due to cold, stomach cold with vomiting, and shivering. Ginger is the most famous herb in Chinese medicine to cure vomiting and nausea. Several medical studies have indicated ginger’s effectiveness in treating motion sickness, morning sickness and even menstrual pain and arthritis. Check with your doctor about proper usage in your situation.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon helps to treat kidney Yang deficiency which appears as the following symptoms: cold extremities, soreness, weakness, frequent urination, pain in abdomen, poor appetite, and diarrhea.

Clove

This spice warms up the center of the body and the kidneys. It harmonizes the stomach and regulates the Qi energy. Clove can help with vomiting related to stomach cold, impotence, and weakness of the legs and feet.

Cardamom

Cardamom prevents the dampness from accumulating in the body’s center which often leads to Qi stagnation in the stomach and spleen. A Qi stagnation would cause people to suffer from abdominal distention, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Star anise

Star anise relieves cold stagnation; it is used for rheumatism and helps with digestion. This herb is the main ingredient of the antiviral Tamiflu drug that fights influenza.

It is important to understand how herbs and foods work within the body, to use them properly for healing. For example, all warm and hot food items should be avoided while suffering from a wind-heat cold. This type of cold is characterized by the following symptoms: fever, yellow-green phlegm from nose or throat, throat pain, swollen and sore throat, head and body ache.

One common holiday-time herb with a cooling effect is:

Peppermint

Usually, wind-heat colds (symptoms as mentioned above) are cured with peppermint. Many people drink it in teas due to its cooling effect on the body. Peppermint can also balance spicy dishes or cool down the body after excessive consumption of filling winter meals.

Many of our favorite winter spices go well beyond adding flavor and aroma to our traditional treats, with time-tested health benefits known well in China.

For a cosy winter, try out these warming winter spiced cookies:

2 cups flour

1/2 tea spoon baking soda

1/2 tea spoon salt

1 egg

1 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 table spoons honey

1 table spoon ground cinnamon

2 tea spoons ground cardamom

3/4 tea spoon ground cloves

1/2 tea spoon ground nutmeg

1 tea spoon ground ginger

1 table spoon anise seed

2 tea spoons lemon zest

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Beat together the melted butter, sugar, spice, and salt until light and creamy. Add the egg and honey and beat well.
  3. Combine the flour with the baking soda and fold this dry mixture into the butter-egg mixture until evenly incorporated.
  4. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets.
  5. Bake for 8-9 min (until the edges begin to brown).
Doris Rathgeber
Doris Rathgeber
TCM Doctor & Founder of Body & Soul – Medical Clinics

With more than 20 years of experience as a TCM Doctor and internal medicine specialist, Doris treats a vast array of acute and chronic diseases by expertly combining Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine. She also hast extensive experience addressing women’s issues as well as infertility problems.