Cinnamon – Cinamomum zeylanicum
Almost all of us are familiar with cinnamon. I remember eating it as a child. Making toast, spreading a decent amount of butter, and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on it. Not the healthiest of breakfast foods, but at the time I thought I was getting ahead! Now it is a spice I use when making curries, squash, chicken, or to add a little zing to Thanksgiving and Holiday meals and treats.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. The outer bark is striped and discarded, and the inner bark is removed and dried. As it dries, it curls, and is then cut into 5 to 10 cm lengths. These dried curls are known as quills. There are several species of cinnamon grown around the world, including places like Sri Lanka, China, and India.
Did you know that cinnamon is also a stimulating spice that increases circulation and helps balance blood sugar? It is warming, especially to cold hands and feet, and soothes and aids the digestive system. Drink cinnamon tea for an upset stomach and nausea. Drink it before a meal to stimulate digestion and help with acid re-flux. Just steep a bit of cinnamon bark for no more than 10 minutes, or use the tiniest pinch of powdered cinnamon to brew a cup of stomach soothing tea.
Avoid it if you are pregnant or have intestinal ulcers.
As you spice up your tea and meals this Holiday Season, remember that a little bit is great and goes a long way, but consuming large doses can be dangerous.
Ginger – Zingiber officianale
Most of us are familiar with ginger as a food, commonly used in ginger bread, ginger cookies, stir-fry, and lots of delicious Indian cuisine. Did you know, it is a also a medicinal plant that can be used to treat some common ailments?
Ginger is in the Zingiberacaea family along with cardamom and turmeric. It is native to south east Asia, and is cultivated in warm climates. You can try planting your own rhizome in a pot and put it in a sunny window. Even store bought ginger will grow, but it is a very slow process…
The top of the ginger plant has a main stalk that looks a bit like bamboo or solomon’s seal, but it is the root or rhizome that we use medicinally and for cooking. If you can incorporate good medicinal foods into your daily diet, your body systems will be better supported and better able to weather and ward off sickness.
Use fresh grated ginger in tea for colds and flu that include nausea and chills. Ginger will help to settled an upset stomach, even relieve simple indigestion and gas. It is warming to the body as well, and stimulates circulation.
If using ginger for motion sickness, take small frequent sips to help calm your symptoms. Ginger also helps to reduce dizziness and vertigo.
Well known for its ability to help with nausea, sometimes, like with morning sickness, you can’t keep anything down. If this is the case, you can get the same gut soothing benefits from ginger by steeping it in a foot bath and absorbing its medicinal goodness through your feet.
Cayenne, Capsicum annuum
Cayenne peppers (in fact all peppers) are stimulants to the system. Cayenne stirs up the blood and has an equalizing effect in that it helps to move stagnant blood. It moves blood to the surface, and is a corrector of circulatory problems. Alternately, cayenne will also staunch the flow of blood. If you sprinkle some in a scratch or wound, it will sting, but it will also stop the blood flow.
It has vitamins A, C, and E. You can use small amounts in a tea for colds, flu, and fevers, mix it with chamomile, yarrow, or oregano, and perhaps add a little honey if your throat is sore as well. You can even gargle with it for sore throats, just be sure to use a tiny amount, or heavily dilute it!
Use as a tea with chamomile or peppermint to help with sluggish digestion or flatulence. It will tone the heart muscles and clear the sinuses. Heating cayenne to a high heat destroys its medicinal benefits.
Use with caution, as it is very spicy and will burn if you get it in your eyes or in the tender mucus membranes of the nose (so be careful not to inhale it). I remember all too well cutting up peppers to put into a salsa, washing my hands really well, and at some point later in the day touching my eyes and the burning sensation that ensued (even after some time had passed since I had handled the peppers)! Now I wear gloves when cutting up the fresh peppers for salsas and other dishes.
Another way to get the benefits of cayenne as a blood stimulator, is to take it in capsule form. It will open in the acidic environment of the stomach, which is built to handle tougher situations than our mouths and esophagus are! This way you also avoid getting it in your eyes.
Calendula – Calendula officinalis
Calendula is an annual that grows about 12 inches high. Its beautiful flowers bloom in yellow and orange and they will brighten up your garden with their herbal sunshine! Calendula will lightly reseed itself in your garden, but just in case, collect a few seed heads to plant for next year’s crop. Pruning off the older flowers encourages the plant to keep blooming, and you will have blooms all summer long and into autumn. Use calendula to brighten up open pockets in your perennial garden, and be sure to add it to your herb garden as well.
Calendula flowers are used to make compresses for tired or agitated eyes. They fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria. (They are bacteriostatic, which means they do not kill bacteria, but contain it, keep wounds clean, and help the body to heal itself.) Their petals (also known as “poor man’s saffron”), are edible and make a lovely and colorful addition to any salad. Harvest flowers when they are young and full, use fresh, or dehydrate to store and use for teas, tinctures, salves, and balms. Medicinal properties are held in the bud and in the sticky resin that is found concentrated in the undersides of the flowers. If harvesting with an un-gloved hand, you will notice the stickiness after collecting a few heads, here is where the magic lays. It promotes healing in wounds, rashes, burns, and cuts in the skin. Use a strong tea and wash it over the affected areas. Calendula is used as a remedy for afflictions to the lymphatic glands and as a general immune tonic.
Best of all, it is easy to grow, lovely to look at, and happily returns in new and wondrous places in your garden each year!
Herb of the month Mugwort/Cronewort – Artemesia vulgaris
This herb was named after the Goddess Aretemisia of the moon and the hunt. It is a perennial that can get a bit weedy (so plant it where it can be free to roam), it has little silver hairs on the back sides of its leaves, and can grow to be 5-6 feet tall. It prefers a slightly wet area, but will grow in most places.
It’s culinary uses are most appreciated in Germany where it is still used to flavor sausages. It has a very bitter flavor, so a little bit goes a long way!
Mugwort is used medicinally as a tea, tincture, or infused in vinegar. It is useful for many women’s issues having to do with menstruation. In general, it is antidepressant, a blood mover, and can help relax aches and pains throughout the body (for men and women). It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is used as a tonic for the body. It also aids in digestion, promotes liver detoxification, and gets rid of intestinal round worms.
Mugwort is also know to help evoke lucid and powerful dreams which can strengthen intuitive wisdom and inner vision. Make a dream pillow to keep by your head at night… see what happens! Burning or smudging with the dried leaves will also help to lift the veil and connect you to positive energy.