I know, I know, I know and I am sorry. It is far too early in the year to be mentioning the C word. It is the right time however, to be making “The Cake” – which I did last month.
Making the cake and enjoying the most gorgeous of seasonal aromas, ( the cloves, the orange, the cinnamon and mixed spice, the nutmeg and the brandy….mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm), I was reminded of the medicinal qualities of many of the cake’s ingredients and thought it would be a good idea to share them because we often forget what a powerful pharmacopoeia we have in our kitchen cupboards. I was also reminded that spices can come from very far afield and we have been using them for a very long time both as medicine and in cooking.
Spices have been used in medicine and in cooking for at least 3000 years. They were used in China, Egypt and in the Middle East for centuries. The Romans brought spices west as they expanded their empire and the crusaders brought them again in the middles ages. Spices come from China, India, Indonesia, South America and elsewhere and in the past were so expensive that only the very rich could afford them. Nowadays any household can enjoy spices and hopefully, indigenous people around the world are no longer being killed and wiped out, for having land that produces spices, as was the case during the spice wars during the 17th and 18th centuries.
I find it interesting that the spices we use, particularly those we use at Christmas time, are very beneficial for the digestive system along with other complaints.
After mixing butter and xylitol, ( we avoid sugar, particularly at this time of year!) I start adding some beaten egg and flour and with the flour, the spices.
CLOVES – Eugenia caraphyllus and Syzgium aromaticum This spice takes his common name from the French word “clou” for nail because he resembles a little nail or tack. The Clove is the dried, unopened flower bud of the Clove Tree and has been used for nausea, flatulence, vomiting, worms and toothache. Adding Clove to food can help avoid these complaints as he is both antiseptic and a natural anti-biotic; and can reduce distressing symptoms as he stimulates the digestive system. The spice can also be drunk as a tea or added to another tea or favourite warm drink. For toothache – which I hope you won’t have from eating too much sugar! – can be eased by holding a Clove in the mouth next to the tooth or put some Clove oil on to a small piece of cottonwool and hold that on the tooth. This will numb the pain but it is only a first aid remedy until you can get to a dentist.
NUTMEG – Myristica fragrans – is, to me, very exotic. I love the smell and I love using him with vegetables. I also put Nutmeg in the Christmas cake. Again, this is a spice that aids digestion, preventing gas and fermentation of food in the stomach and helps ease nausea and vomiting. Nutmeg also supports the liver and kidneys as they work to remove toxins from the body. Nutmeg is an anti-bacterial spice and can improve memory. As a muscle relaxant, he can also help relax a tense stomach making digestion easier. Nutmeg is not commonly used in medicine today because too much of it can be toxic. A little in the cake is just enough!
CINNAMON –Cinnamonum zeylanicum – is a spice that everyone is familiar with. I use her to bring out the sweetness in the fruit. Cinnamon is another spice that warms up the digestive system and prevents a build up of gas as well as helping to expel gas. As Cinnamon is an astringent she can help with diarrhoea as well as nausea and vomiting and can relieve pain the bowels. We can also use her to balance blood sugar levels that helps us to prevent diabetes as Cinnamon “eats” sugar and increases the metabolic rate. The cardiovascular system is improved and cholesterol lowered by this anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory spice. Wonderful at any time of the year and in any dish!
MIXED SPICE – There are various blends of different spices in a “Mixed Spice”. This blend contains the above spices already mentioned as well as Ginger and Fennel. Guess what? Both Ginger and Fennel are both digestive spices and will help you avoid discomfort over the festive period. Fennel –Foeniculum vulgare is a stomachic which means it is a specific for the stomach, easing cramp, relaxing, reducing flatulence and improving appetite and overall digestion. Ginger – Zingiber offincale promotes gastric secretion, warms the system, relieves an upset stomach and nausea and, as all the spices do, also relieves flatulence!!
It seems to me that we could be using medicinal gifts from Nature without even realising. The Sage and the Horseradish that people may use in their stuffing and sauces are also very beneficial in the digestion of meat and fats. As we feast during the Winter Solstice or at Yule or Christmas, we can be assured that in using these spices we shall not suffer with indigestion, within reason of course. They can all be added, not only to the Cake but to warm drinks, in combination or separately.
I think we are learning that over-indulgence at this time of year does not really do us any favours. Enjoying our food, taking time to slow down and to really appreciate all the subtle flavours is much healthier. We will be giving thanks for the generosity of Mother Nature who provides us with the remedies that allow for a little self-indulgence!!!