Festive spices fill our noses, taste buds and tummies with a warm glow which represents the Christmas season. But they are not just good for tasting and smelling - a number of them have excellent health benefits, too.
Here, we list the best Christmas spices that can give our mood, energy, aches and pains a wintry boost...
1. Boost your mood with saffron
Sipping a tea with saffron and other mood soothers could be the perfect way to help ease winter blues, as studies reveal this particular spice may be effective in treating mild depression. If the thought of your Christmas to-do list is starting to get you down, try the mood-lifting tea (see below) from Tipper Lewis, naturopathic herbalist at Neal's Yard Remedies.
How to make mood-lifting tea:
- 1 tsp green tea leaves (which contain L-theanine to balance mood)
- 3-4 strands of saffron (to calm the nerves)
- 3-4 cardamom pods (to clear the mind)
- A dash of liquorice powder (to help ease stress and naturally sweeten)
- Infuse all the ingredients with freshly boiled water in a teapot for 5-10 minutes, strain and enjoy.
2. Sleep well with cardamom and nutmeg
Don't let festive anxieties keep you awake at night. When you need to unwind, the sedative qualities of cardamom and nutmeg are perfect. Research herbalist Monica Wilde suggests adding two cardamom pods to a mugful of almond or oat milk and heating it gently to just below boiling point for a few minutes. "Grating a little nutmeg over the hot milk will also help you get a good night's sleep," she says.
4. Combat a sweet tooth with cinnamon
Boxes of chocolates, sugared almonds, mince pies… The temptations that surround us at Christmas are endless. Sugar spikes can play havoc with blood sugar levels, setting off a cycle of eating, sugar surges and then drops, which lead to sweet cravings. Cinnamon can help keep blood sugar on an even keel. Herbalist Amy Jirsa, author of Herbal Goddess (£10.22, Amazon), has a tea that calms cravings and indulges a sweet tooth.
"I like to simmer up a big jug and keep it in the fridge," she says. "Drink it throughout the day on an empty stomach." Try it hot and freshly made, or chilled to hydrate, pouring a cup when those cravings hit.
Cinnamon tea for a sweet tooth:
- Blood Sugar
- 4 good-quality organic cinnamon sticks
- Unsweetened soya or almond milk
- Stevia (a natural sweetener that won't affect your blood sugar)
- A dash of vanilla
- Pour 4 cups of water into a small pan and add the cinnamon sticks. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the milk, stevia and vanilla to taste.
5. Banish headaches with cayenne
Getting a tension headache in the festive run-up is no surprise. "Low blood sugar, stress, poor sleep and being overworked can all contribute," Monica says. "Try cayenne (capsicum) – it's a wonderful painkiller."
To help prevent headaches, add a 4cm piece of fresh ginger root and ¼ tsp of cayenne to a daily meal or drink – it could be a stir-fry or a smoothie. Deal with an existing headache by adding a few drops of chilli oil to a body cream or 1 tbsp of sunflower oil. Then massage into the back of your neck to relieve any tension. (Do a little patch test first to make sure your skin isn't sensitive.) Alternatively, try a tincture, such as Napiers Head Blend (£12; napiers.net), with capsicum and ginger in the mix.
6. Ease tired feet with mustard
All those Christmas markets can take their toll on your feet. A traditional remedy for achy, tired feet was a mustard bath. Magnesium-rich mustard can help weary muscles, while ginger can stimulate circulation. Create a reviving foot soak by adding 6 tsp mustard powder and 3 tbsp ginger powder to a bowl of warm water, then place your feet in it for at least 15 minutes.
7. Drink ginger tea for a cold
No one wants to suffer from the sniffles on Christmas Day, so help ease any symptoms with regular cups of ginger and spice tea. Grate a nub of ginger root into a small saucepan with 1 tsp each of cinnamon and dried thyme, cover with water and simmer for 5 minutes. Flavour with lemon (which is also rich in immune-supportive vitamin C) and 1 tsp of honey (it has antimicrobial properties and soothes a sore throat). "Add 1 tsp of echinacea tincture or elderberry syrup as an extra immunity boost," Monica suggests.
8. Soothe your stomach with turmeric
Traditionally, turmeric was used to strengthen the digestion and relieve gas and bloating. "A delicious taste of India, lassi (see below) helps to soothe an upset tummy and supports good gut bacteria for a healthy digestion," herbalist Tipper Lewis says.
Tummy Tonic Lassi:
- One handful of pineapple (which contains bromelain to calm irritable tummies)
- 125g unsweetened natural yogurt (to support gut flora)
- ½ tsp turmeric powder (for natural liver support)
- ¼ tsp cardamom powder (to help ease wind and bloating)
- 300ml water
- Blitz in a blender until smooth
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