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Brrrr, it’s been a bit nippy here in the foothills west of Denver lately. For those of you in the midwest, I’m not complaining. I promise. Not after spending some time in Chicago recently. My gosh, talk about wind chill! I’m a mountain girl, a snow girl, a winter girl, but there’s something about that bone-chilling cold out there in middle American that just gets to you.

So, what better way to warm the spirit than to add some spice to your food (and to your life)! This month’s list of seasonal foods is all about spices and herbs. Enjoy!

Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric is part of the ginger family and is one of the main curry spices. It is native to Asia and has been used as a flavoring, dye, and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, especially in Ayurvedic medicine. India is the main producer of turmeric, where it’s used as a cooking spice, an antibacterial agent, and as a medicinal dietary supplement.

The potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in turmeric is curcumin. Research involving curcumin is exploding and studies indicate it may be helpful in a variety of inflammatory diseases, including IBS, pancreatitis, liver disorders, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and intestinal cancers. I decided to showcase this zippy little spice because these inflammatory conditions can be symptomatic of celiac disease and using food in healing is my interest and protocol for people with celiac (that includes me).

You’ll be hearing more about curcumin, as it’s the new super-star of antioxidants (new to the west, not to the east). There are clinical trials currently underway at the National Institutes of Health, Yale University, and UCLA (just to name a few) about the health benefits of the spice. Hundreds of research papers have appeared in the past few years, touting the medicinal properties of curcumin, the magic agent in turmeric and curry.

* I did a post specifically on turmeric back in my early blogging days. I’m lifting the above information from that post. For a scrumptious pork and curry recipe from my favorite English chef, Miles Collins, click here.

Basil
Basil is an absolute favorite of mine, whether dried, cooked, or fresh. Plus, it’s another healthy herb to add to your arsenal of natural healing substances. It is used in India to help boost the immune system and fight off colds and bronchial infections. You can throw some in a big pot of steaming water, put a towel over your head and breath in the healing properties. It has antimicrobial compounds and may even reduce coughing fits. Add a bunch of fresh basil to a plate of sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese, drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette (yum!).

Cinnamon
I use cinnamon on a daily basis and search out different varieties. Although a touch mundane, cinnamon is my favorite spice. Even my new love, cardamom, takes a back seat to cinnamon.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known and is indigenous to Sri Lanka. It was treasured as a flavoring, sought-after as a medicinal herb, and even used as an embalming agent (probably limited to royal mummies). Legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a full year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife in 65 AD. Sweet tribute. Cinnamon is also mentioned in many classical writings as well as several places in the Bible (don’t ask me where).

On to the nutritional benefits of cinnamon, which are numerous. I’ll list a few of the reasons I like it, other than the wonderful sweet – and even savory – taste.

• helps reduce fasting blood glucose levels in diabetics
• helps reduce triglycerides, LDLs, and total cholesterol
• works as a circulatory stimulant
• has antibiotic abilities
• is anti-ulcerative
• helps with digestion
• is a carminative (fancy word for helps relieve gas and bloating)
• is a diuretic

The healing abilities in cinnamon come from three essential oils found in the bark: cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, along with some other good substances. So, use it in baking; sprinkle it on hot cereal; use in curries; and add it to smoothies, teas, and other beverages.

Garlic
This is a another wonder food as it helps lower blood pressure, improves cholesterol ratios, and has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It’s especially helpful in combating colds. Add it to everything! For a detailed post on garlic and how it can help you boost immunity and avoid icky cooties during flu season, click here. There’s also a garlicky green bean recipe on that post.

Sage
Aside from the fact that wild sage is a staple in New Mexico and Colorado and I love the smell of sage after a rainstorm, it’s also one of my favorite savory herbs. I much prefer fresh sage and have found the taste and smell differs each time I grow it. Soil and climate affects the aromatic strength and “notes” of the plant (to use a wine phrase). I love fresh stage in stews and soups, but it’s not a subtle herb, so use sparingly. Sage is another herbal remedy for colds and respiratory problems. Drink sage tea or use as a steam inhalation for congestion.

Go forth and spice up your life (and boost your immunity at the same time)!
Melissa

15 Responses to “seasonal foods for december”

  1. Miles says:

    Melissa,
    Very interesting post. It wasn’t until I went to Malaysia that I saw fresh turmeric and I was staggered by its colour. It is the most vivid orange I have ever seen and light years away from the powder we get over here. The real concern for me with any ground spice is how old it is before we buy it. I wonder if this has any detrimental affect upon its medicinal qualities?

    Miles

  2. Miles says:

    Melissa,
    Thanks for the link but you’ve made me realise I’ve just done virtually the same post again today!

    Miles

  3. Kay says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks (again) for doing my research! I use lots of sage, basil and garlic because they taste good. Glad to know they are good for me, too. Tumeric causes pain in my back (kidney? liver?) so I omit it from my dill pickles these days. And cinnamon is on my allergy suspicion list. I miss the taste, but I really miss the aroma of cinnamon treats baking in my oven.

    I’m going ice skating on New Years Day to start my year off with good balancing skills. Practice for roller derby tryouts starts in June. I want to be ready!

    Happy New year!

  4. Melissa says:

    Miles,

    I would love to experience these spices where they originate. Sounds wonderful. Yes, I imagine that these natural substances lose some of their adaptogenic properties after time. Just as with their taste, fresh is better.

    Your recent curry post is a bit different than the other one. I love the new photo. See it here everyone:
    http://www.milescollins.com/wordpress/thai-pork-curry

    Kay,

    No problem, you’re doing my gardening and composting research!

    :-)

    Go for it, girl! Roll on…

    Happy New Year to you, too. Here’s to a healthy and happy 2009 everyone!

  5. Great post!!! I love cooking with spices and love them even more knowing they are uber-healthy for me :) Garlic is one of my faves, followed by a large dose of mouthwash. Happy New Year Melissa!!!

  6. Sara says:

    I love sage, it’s one of my favorite herbs.

  7. Melissa says:

    Maureen,

    I’m with you on the garlic. Along with discouraging vampires, it has so many other beneficial ingredients. Funky smell or not, go forth and eat garlic.

    Sara,

    I agree. Sage is amazing, whether out on the prairie or in a pot of stew.

    :-)

  8. lo says:

    I love it when delicious things also carry a potent nutritional punch!

    This is a great post, filled with all sorts of educational tidbits. You’ve done it again Melissa!

  9. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    I’m off to make a spicy chai tea with plenty of cinnamon and star anise to ward off the icy cold weather here, where people have been suffering from all kinds of colds and flu.

    Here’s wishing you and yours a healthy and spicy new year!

    Cid

  10. Melissa says:

    Thanks lo, I appreciate your comments! And I couldn’t agree more. It’s great when tasty things are healthy, too. And the nice thing is — there’s an abundance of savory and sweet natural adaptogens for us to choose from. Yeah!

    Cid, so good to “see” you on this side of the pond. Chai tea with cinnamon and star anise sounds delightful. I need to add star anise to my spice arsenal. I haven’t used that in fresh form yet. Good idea!

    Happy New Year to all of you!

    Warm wishes,
    Melissa

  11. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    I put equal parts water and milk into a pan… mostly guess work. Add a piece of cinnamon stick, one star anise, two or three black pepper corns, couple of twists of ground nutmeg, couple of cardomom pods and a pinch of ground mixed spice and a teaspoon of black tea. Bring to the boil then simmer the lot for a few minutes to infuse then add a little sugar or rosehip syrup, strain and serve hot. Some say keep ladling the mixture while it simmers in the pan to oxygenate it… not sure why but it sounded a good idea so I did. There must be lots of different recipes worldwide…. the first time I tried this was many years ago in Holland served by monks in an organic cafe!

    Cid

  12. Alisa says:

    mmm, I positively love all of those herbs/spices! I am a daily cinnamon-user too. My latest love is sliced orange wedges sprinkled with cinnamon.

    If you know of any good ideas for using turmeric that aren’t curry-like, I would love to hear these too.

    Happy New Year!

  13. Melissa says:

    Thank you Cid. I’m thinking of doing a tea post one of these days and I would love to add this tea recipe of yours to the post. I just tried a version of it, although I don’t have any star anise. I did everything the way you suggested, but skipped the anise and the ground pepper and used green tea and coconut milk. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the coconut milk, but it tasted very good.

    It sounds far more exotic to have the tea served to you by monks in an organic cafe in Holland, but I’ll settle for my own kitchen in Golden, CO.

    :-)

    Alisa — there are several recipes for “yellow rice” in which turmeric and either aborio or basmati rice are used. I like using chicken stock, a touch of ghee, maybe a half teaspoon of turmeric and basmati rice. It makes for a nice side for chicken or fish.

  14. Looks like I should make something with lots of garlic and sage for dinner tonight — I feel the beginnings of a cold in the back of my throat :(
    Hope you had a good holiday and are off to a good start in the new year!

  15. I added this page to my favourites

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Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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