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It’s harvest time again!

That means cool nights, warm sunny days. It means brilliantly colored leaves that float to the ground. Spooky fog that lingers through morning and drifts over the land in the evening. Flannel everything and boots are brought out and shined up for the occasion. Pumpkins are selected and carved. Apples are being pressed. Oh the smells and feels of pumpkin spice season!

The sound of the much heralded “pumpkin spice” elicits a groan as everything from pies and muffins, bagels and breads, lattes and cider, and even scratch and sniff stickers are pumpkin spiced. Overkill one might say! Secretly though, many of us are thrilled with the pungent smell and taste of the wonderful combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and mace.

The medicine of pumpkin spices

Without going too very deep, let’s explore the medicine in these spices and try out some of the recipes, shall we?

Cinnamon ~ Cinnamomum verum or C. zeylanicum. These are true cinnamons. Much of the cinnamon on the market is C. cassia, which is not true cinnamon and does not have the medicinal actions that verum and zeylanicum do. In fact, C. cassia contains blood thinning coumarins and should not be ingested in quantity (<1 gram per day).  C verum and zeylanicum are more expensive and less sweet tasting, but are worth their cost and taste for their medicinal actions which aid in insulin regulation (1). That’s something to think about when ingesting the sweet treats that are so tempting this time of year and throughout the holiday season.

Nutmeg ~ Myristica fragrans. We’re talking about the seed. Nutmeg contains alpha-pinene, isoeugenol, and licarin-B, which are sedative in action. Food coma, anyone? Nutmeg also contains butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid that has anticancer properties. Nutmeg contains many anticancer constituents. Something to take note of is that nutmeg in quantity can cause nausea due to geraniol and the neurotoxic, psychoactive, and hallucinogenic myristicin. Small amounts in cooking are fine.

Ginger ~ Zingiber officinale. Ginger is very warming. Gingerol give the root its warming anti-emetic (checks nausea) help. Gingerol is close in structure to capsaicin, which gives heat to peppers.  Salicylates in ginger root aid in bringing down inflammation and pain.

Cloves ~ Syzygium aromaticum.  Cloves are used to quell vomiting during chemotherapy, flu, etc due to the euginol it contains. Gallic acid in clove acts as an antibacterial, bronchodilator, and cancer preventive.

Allspice ~ Pimenta dioica. The beta-pinene in allspice is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Eugenol is carminative, meaning relieves flatulence, y’all.

Mace ~ Myristica fragrans. Wait, what? Nutmeg is Myristica fragrans and so is mace? What’s the deal? Nutmeg refers to the seed and mace is the seed covering, or aril. Whoosh. Mace is nutrient rich, including potassium, cobalt, phosphorus, thiamin, zinc, and calcium. Mace is also rich in salicylates.

Suzanne Tabert

Suzanne "Queen Bee" Tabert

Suzanne Tabert, bioregional herbalist, is director of herbal education and herbal mentor at the Cedar Mountain Herb School. An herbal medicine instructor for 30 years, Suzanne teaches with great passion and excitement, bringing her wealth of herbal knowledge to students in an engaging and vibrant manner. She is the primary instructor at CMHS and an adjunct faculty at Bastyr University. Taking students to wild places and giving them tools to engage and connect with flora, fauna, and the exquisite beauty of nature is the icing on the cake of life, and one way that Suzanne is making a difference in the world, one person, one group at a time. She is currently writing a wildcrafting book that will be able to be utilized by people of all walks of life who wish to take their health back into their own hands. Cedar Mountain Herb School is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, Partnership in Education with United Plant Savers, and the American Herb Association.

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