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 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!).
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.
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.
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)!