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Holidays Nutrition

How to Use Winter Holiday Spices to Reap Health Benefits

Use Holiday Spices to Boost Your Health and Happiness

The holiday season is filled with joy, tradition, and great food. But it can also feel cold in both the weather and our emotions. Some come down with a cold or flu, and some experience loneliness or seasonal depression.

However you’re currently feeling, you can use winter holiday spices to boost your health and mood this season.

READ NEXT: Everyday Food & Wellness Rituals for A Healthy Winter

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How to use winter holiday spices to boost health and happiness

6 Holiday Spices That Boost Health and Mood

Holiday spices create pleasant flavors and smells that bring back happy memories and feelings. In fact, in aromatherapy many of these spices are described as having a stimulating and mood boosting effect.

But the benefits of these spices go beyond holiday cheer. These spices are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory with a wide range of health benefits. No wonder they have been used all over the world in both ancient and modern medicine!

Read on to learn the specific health benefits of these common winter holiday spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, cardamom, and allspice. I also describe how to use these spices in cooking and aromatherapy. Don’t forget you can enjoy any of these spices in your tea as well!

Safety Note: Many of these holiday spices can also be bought in supplement form, but you absolutely need to talk to your doctor or dietitian first before taking them. Having too high of a dose of these spices will cause damage to your body and its organs. These supplements can also interfere with certain medications.

For more tips on staying healthy during the holidays read Easy Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holidays.

1. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a commonly used spice in cooking that comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree. The type found in grocery stores is cinnamon cassia, which you can buy in the form of powdered cinnamon or cinnamon sticks.

This winter holiday spice has a wide range of health benefits with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antimicrobial and anticancer effects. It has also been shown to lower lipid and cholesterol levels, meaning it creates a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease (1-3).

Recipes with Cinnamon:

  1. Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal by Five Heart Home
  2. Simple Cinnamon Pumpkin Pancakes by Pinch of Yum
  3. Cinnamon Spiced Moroccan Chicken by McCormick
  4. Healthy Sweet Potatoes with Turmeric & Cinnamon by Pink Fortitude
  5. Healthy Almond and Cinnamon Christmas Stars by Heavenlynn Healthy

The essential oil is made from the bark, leaves, or twigs of cassia cinnamon. It has a sweet, spicy and woodsy aroma. Cinnamon bark oil has a stronger aroma but is more expensive than cinnamon leaf oil.

Studies have shown that the compounds in these essential oils contribute to the many health benefits of cinnamon. Although these studies did not use cinnamon oil specifically for aromatherapy. (4)

In aromatherapy, it is commonly used as a natural medicine to reduce stress, improve mood, fight infections & colds, and reduce pain. (4)

Cinnamon Essential Oil (Please Read Safety Info Before Using):

Health benefits of cinnamon spice and essential oil recommendation
Mary Taylor Naturals Organic, Therapeutic Grade, Cinnamon Essential Oil

2. Ginger

Ginger root is the stem of a tropical flowering plant. In the grocery store, you can find the fresh whole root (to be peeled or grated), or you can find it dried, pickled, candied, or ground into powder. In addition, it can come as oil or juice.

Ancient Asian medicine has used ginger to treat stomach aches, diarrhea, and nausea. Current medicine has found it to contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (3,5)

It is used to help ease many forms of nausea including nausea caused by surgery, motion, pregnancy, and chemotherapy. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. (3,5)

Recipes with Ginger:

  1. Gingerbread Loaf by Tastes of Lizzy T
  2. Ginger Chicken Congee by FOOD & WINE
  3. Roasted Heirloom Carrot Ginger Soup by The Healthy Maven
  4. Pear Ginger Compote by Last Ingredient
  5. Pork Chops with Ginger Pear Sauce by Simply Recipes

In aromatherapy, ginger is spicy and warming, used to energize and uplift your mood. It is commonly added to massage oil blends, as it is seen to improve circulation, ease pains, and benefit those with arthritis. (4)

Ginger Essential Oil (Please Read Safety Info Before Using):

Ginger spice health benefits and essential oil recommendation
Ginger Essential Oil by Edens Garden- 10 ml

3. Clove

Cloves are flower buds of the clove tree. In grocery stores you can purchase them in pods or ground into powder form. Many of its health benefits come from the phenolic compound eugenol.

Eugenol is an antioxidant with anti-cancer properties. Studies of clove oil containing eugenol found it promoted cancer cell death. Cloves are also antimicrobial, meaning it can fight bacteria and fungal strains. (3)

Recipes with Clove:

  1. Light Eggnog by A Sweet Pea Chef
  2. Clove and Cider Glazed Ham by FOOD & WINE
  3. Onion Clove Compote by FOOD & WINE
  4. Apple Butter with Cinnamon and Cloves by Saveur
  5. Spiced Cinnamon Vanilla Smoothie by My Solluna

Clove bud essential oil can contain up to 85% eugenol. As medicine, it is commonly used to fight pain and infections. For aromatherapy, cloves are powerful, spicy and warming with a stimulating effect. (4)

Due to the high level of eugenol, clove essential oil is particularly dangerous and irritating to the skin. Dilute properly before use and use safety precautions.

Clove Essential Oil (Please Read Safety Info Before Using):

Clove spice health benefits and essential oil recommendation
Clove Bud Essential Oil by Edens Garden- 10 ml

4. Nutmeg

This popular spice is the seed (not a nut) of nutmeg trees. You can purchase it ground or in whole seed form. Valued for its aromatic, aphrodisiac and curative properties, nutmeg was used in the ancient medicine of many cultures. (6)

Modern scientific studies have found it can improve blood circulation, aid in digestion, and improve sleep. It is also an ingredient found in cough syrups because it helps with respiratory problems. (3,6)

Recipes with Nutmeg:

  1. Sugar-and-Spice-Roasted Squash by FOOD & WINE
  2. Creamy Nutmeg Chicken by Taste of Home
  3. Swiss Chard and Leek Gratin by Delish
  4. Nutmeg-Coated Creamy French Toast by epicurious
  5. Nutty Brown Rice by epicurious

Nutmeg has a warm and spicy aroma with a layer of sweetness. In aromatherapy, nutmeg stimulates to boost your mood, mental focus and energy. (4)

Nutmeg Essential Oil (Please Read Safety Info Before Using):

Nutmeg spice health benefits and essential oil recommendation
Nutmeg Essential Oil by Edens Garden- 5 ml

5. Cardamom

Cardamom is the seed in pods of cardamom plants. You can purchase them in whole pods or ground.

A compound in cardamom oil called cineole is an antiseptic that can fight oral bacteria and Candida albicans. This explains why ancient Egyptians chewed on the seeds as a tooth cleaner and why it is found in some chewing gums to help freshen breath.

Scientific studies have also shown that cardamom is an antioxidant, can improve the immune system, and can help fight cancer. (3,7)

Recipes with Cardamom:

  1. Glazed Carrots with Cardamom and Ginger by FOOD & WINE
  2. Royal Chicken Cooked in Yogurt by epicurious
  3. Cardamom Ginger Chai by Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
  4. Chai Spiced Banana Smoothie by One Lovely Life
  5. Maple-Cardamom Glazed Salmon by Food52

Cardamom has a sweet, spicy, and woody aroma that is gently uplifting and energizing. Those fighting stress, fatigue, or depression may find benefits to using this spice in aromatherapy. Cardamom has also long been used as an aphrodisiac. (4)

Cardamom Essential Oil (Please Read Safety Info Before Using):

Cardamom essential oil recommendation
Cardamom Essential Oil by Edens Garden- 10 ml

6. Allspice

Contrary to it’s name, allspice is not a blend of spices. It is a unique spice that is the dried unripe fruit of its tree. The name “allspice” comes from its aroma and taste being similar to a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. You can purchase it in the store ground or in whole allspice berries.

Similar to clove, allspice is high in eugenol. The essential oil contains 60% to 90% eugenol. As explained with cloves, eugenol is an antioxidant with anti-cancer properties. (3)

Recipes with Allspice:

  1. Under the Mistletoe Punch by epicurious
  2. Spiced Apple Pie by Delish
  3. Jerk Spiced Duck by Bon Appetit
  4. Jamaican Beef Stew by Simply Recipes
  5. Baked Custard with Allspice by Delish

Allspice has a strong, sweet and spicy aroma. It is known as a masculine scent and found in many men’s fragrances. In aromatherapy, it can help with cramping, indigestion, nausea, depression and nervousness. (4)

Allspice Essential Oil (Please Read Safety Info Before Using):

Allspice health benefits and essential oil recommendation
Allspice Essential Oil by Edens Garden- 5 ml
How to Use Winter Holiday Spices for Aromatherapy

How to Use Winter Holiday Spices for Aromatherapy

As I described, you can gain health benefits from holiday spices by using them in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy uses plant oils to improve physical and emotional well-being. T

he first way it does this is through smell. When the aromatic molecules reach the nerves of your nose, a signal is sent to your brain, brain chemistry is altered, and your mood is changed. (8)

You can use spicy essential oils individually or you can blend them together to create different smells and therapies. If you would like to create blends, here is a list of 20 essential oil diffuser recipes that combine the spices I listed above. These recipes also add in other oils such as peppermint and fir needle to truly make your home smell like the holidays.

Another way aromatherapy works is through inhalation and absorption in your respiratory system. This is best for when you want to utilize their antibacterial and antiviral properties to help with infections, colds, and allergies. (8)

Finally, aromatherapy works through absorption through the skin. The essential oil molecules pass through the skin and enter the blood vessels to circulate throughout the body. People use this method for skin care or to utilize the oils’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. (8) Keep in mind spicy oils are particularly irritating to the skin, I would not recommend you use them in this way.

To enjoy holiday spice aromas without purchasing essential oils, you can find them in many fragrances, soaps, and candles.

Essential Oil Diffusers

You will need a diffuser if you would like to fill your home with the aroma of essential oils. Diffusers disperse the aromatic molecules throughout the room so you can enjoy the fragrance and so the molecules can enter your body.

Here are two different types of diffusers that you can purchase on Amazon based on your preference:

Ceramic essential oil diffuser
Edens Garden Ultrasonic Ceramic Essential Oil Diffuser
Essential oil reed diffuser recommendation
Edens Garden Reed Diffuser

Essential Oil Safety Information

Never use essential oils undiluted. Do not use in eyes or mucus membranes. Do not take internally unless working with a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. Many spice oils can cause skin irritation. If applying to skin, use at incredibly low dilution and always perform a small patch test to an insensitive part of the body after dilution. (9)

Keep away from children. Some spice essential oils should be completely avoided while pregnant. If you are pregnant, epileptic, have liver damage, have cancer, or have any other medical problem, use only while working with a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. (9)

For more safety information, Consumers Advocate has an in-depth safety report on the leading essential oil brands here. AromaWeb provides Essential Oil Safety Information and a Guide to Diluting Essential Oils.

Holiday Spices Gift Suggestions

Holiday spice tea gift set
Chai Tea Private Reserve TRIO – Ginger Chai, Cinnamon Chai, Maharani Oolong Chai – Best Tea Gift Set for Christmas
Holiday spices essential oil gift set
P&J Trading Spice Set of 6 Premium Grade Fragrance Oils – Cinnamon, Harvest Spice, Apple Cider, Coffee Cake, Gingerbread, Pumpkin Pie – 10ml

READ NEXT: Everyday Food & Wellness Rituals for A Healthy Winter

Resources

  1. M, Ghiasvand R. Cinnamon and chronic diseases. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;929:1-24. Link
  2. Rao PV, Gan HS. Cinnamon: a multifaceted medicinal plant. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:642942. Link
  3. Webb D. Herbs and Spices: Holiday Spices. Today’s Dietitian. 2016;18(11):14. Link
  4. Essential Oils Directory. AromaWeb Website. Link
  5. Ginger. NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Website. Link
  6. Agbogidi OM, Azagbaekwe OP. Health and nutritional benefit of nut meg (Mystica fragrans Houtt). Sci Agri. 2013;1(2):40-44. Link
  7. Cardamom. The Spice Centre Website. Link
  8. How Does Aromatherapy Work? Aromatherapy Associates London Website. Link
  9. Essential Oil Safety. AromaWeb Website. Link

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Note: This article contains affiliate links, which are at no cost to you but help me make a small profit on this blog. I only recommend products I use and/or believe would be beneficial to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Samantha Shuflin is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) in Chicago, IL that helps high-performing professionals thrive through nutrition and wellness, and ensure busy schedules never compromise health goals.

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