Medicinal Spices of Christmas




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!!!






An Bhean Feasa’s Mission ….An Exhibition

Have you ever felt compelled to do something?  Felt nudged and pushed?  Have you ever had that feeling deep down in your gut that there is something you must do?  I have for some time now and finally, that feeling has culminated in a photographic exhibition “Weeds on the Wall”.

For the last number of years my mission has been to tell the world about the wonder of herbs.  The plant spirits have been nudging me, urging me, whispering to me to get the message out there and I have tried, offering workshops in herbal medicine and more.

The prompts continued and I began to think more consciously of what else I could do.  Talking to friends, about health issues and the state of the health service, I understood that there was something else I could do.  I became aware that many people were unable to recognise which plants growing wild in Ireland (and elsewhere) could be used in herbal medicine.  I felt that if people knew the plants, they would be empowered to take responsibility for their own health.  Once a person uses herbs – that is, any plant that benefits our health – then they become more conscious of their environment.  Once a person has a vested interest in their environment, they will take more care of it and be protective of it.

I decided to photograph some of these wild herbs and have an exhibition so that people could see the plants and learn their names and discover how beneficial they are.  This decision was made a couple of years ago but unfortunately I could not afford to have an exhibition, the cost of framing made it impossible for me.  Then,  in January this year, as providence would have it, I found some frames in a shop in Galway – just the type I wanted and VERY affordable.  Strange that there were only just enough for my purposes??!!

I have spent the summer photographing wild plants  – medicinal herbs – that grow in my garden and in the surrounding meadows, verges and fields.  Most of them are instantly recognisable but are nevertheless unknown.  By that I mean that the majority of people have lost their connection to them, have forgotten their names and their benefits.

For example, one of the photographs in the exhibition is of a plant from which aspirin is derived.  People take aspirin for a number of reasons, to reduce aches and pains, to get rid of headaches, to thin their blood, to reduce inflammation and to reduce fever.  Those people are (hopefully) aware that the benefits of aspirin have to be balanced with the side effects – bleeding in the stomach, gastrointestinal ulcerations, heartburn, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, rash, drowsiness, bloody stools, vomiting……. the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you can get relief for your headaches and fever, aches and pains and inflammation without the side effects and for no financial cost?  Wouldn’t you prefer to use a natural, herbal medicine which is safe, tried and tested?  The only investment you have to make is to care for the land and observe when the plants are ready to harvest.

As for my plan – to have an exhibition – the frames had materialised and I had taken the photographs but who would come?  I am not a photographer and I am unknown.  Then….. Beth to the rescue! ( My friend Beth is a professional photographer of international repute and has a great love for Nature and for plants.  She decided to exhibit during the Clifden Arts Week and agreed that I could share her space.  How sweet is that?

Our exhibitions have Irish flora in common as Beth is including Irish dried flowers around her mixed-media, fine-art photographs. Her exhibition, entitled “Amid the Green Wood” reveals beautiful maidens and mysterious forests which resonate with our ancestral memories of a magical past time.

Another friend, Patricia Wallace, is a writer and a poet and when she heard what I was doing, she responded by writing an incredible story, “Willow”, that she will read at the opening of the exhibition.  It is a story for today, haunting and captivating and will, I believe, inspire people to think differently about the plants that we share our environment with.

All was coming together and then the plants suggested more.  How will people remember us after the exhibition they asked?  I thought at first that I would put up as much information about each plant as I could, but discovered that there would be more writing on the wall than photograph so I decided to jump in at the deep end and write a book, “The Weed Handbook Volume 1 – The Medicinal and Magical Uses of Connemara “Weeds””.

It is a small book, 60 pages long and it describes each of the thirteen plants in the exhibition.  I also include information about where the plants can be found, what ailments they can be used for and the methods of how to use them. Thanks to The Digital Office for the printing.

Mission completed – at least it will be next week.  The exhibitions will be open from Friday 14th September until Sunday 23rd and the book will be launched on Monday 17th September at 6.30p.m which is when Patricia will read her story.  If you are in Clifden for Arts Week, ( please feel very welcome to pop in to see us at The Hair Gallery on Bridge Street. (Thanks Joanna). The book is for sale at 5euros and can also be purchased through this website – go to the Workshops bar in the menu and scroll down to Shop.  Looking forward to meeting you.