Q: Around Christmas time, I love the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Do these spices have any health benefits?
A: All of these spices have health benefits. Adding spices is one way to increase the health and nutritional benefits of your food. Overall, it is a great idea to make regular use of herbs and spices in all your cooking.
Cinnamon is the most well known of these spices. It has a broad range of uses, and is being researched to see if it can help with several health issues. Cinnamon is best known for helping to lower blood sugar, a use backed by conventional medical research. Also, there is evidence showing cinnamon might lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Historically, cinnamon has been used for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Old time doctors used it to fight colds, the flu, pneumonia and acute diarrhea. Finally, cinnamon was also used historically to stop bleeding, especially passive bleeding, such as bleeding that can occur after childbirth and bleeding in the gastrointestinal track and kidneys.
Cloves have a history of being used to relieve nausea and vomiting along with stomach pain. Clove oil is also used topically to stop dental pain.
Nutmeg has been used to stop flatulence and some naturopathic doctors report it can stop diarrhea associated with cancer. Do be very careful with the medicinal use of nutmeg, since it can have significant side effects if you take too much.
Finally, cardamom is a spice not frequently used medicinally today. Historically, it was used for abdominal discomfort associated with gas. In addition to stopping intestinal gas, cardamom was added to improve the taste of some herbal formulas.
For medicinal purposes, the oil or tincture is used more often than the ground spice. If the ground spice is used, it can take a very large dose of spice to achieve a significant medicinal effect. Always seek professional advice on the proper use of these spices before using them medicinally. As with any change, first talk with your primary health care provider to make sure that the change makes sense for you.
Shawn Palmer is a naturopathic doctor.