Fall Foods & Spices ~ Spices

Our autumn foods and seasonal spices are delicious, time – honored traditions. Full of nourishing vitamins and minerals, they also contain some savory and surprising returns on health.

fall-spices-1920x500Cinnamon {Cinnamomum spp.}

As autumn nears, it’s hard not to get excited about cinnamon. One of the most beloved spices, its sweet, warm aroma and a fiery mosaic of tastes delight the senses.

Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka {formly Ceylon}, the Philippines, and West Indies. While more than 100 species of cinnamon occur, the most well-known are C. cassia, common in most supermarkets, and C. zeylanicum or Ceylon cinnamon. Though similar in properties, zeylanicum is sweeter and more medicinal.

We can find references to cinnamon in Chinese texts dating back to 2700 BC. Sacred to the ancient Egyptians, it was one of the most expensive commodities of the ancient world. When Europeans fell equally in love with the spice, they set off on a flurry of expeditions around the world in the hopes of acquiring it inexpensively.

Modern Medicine:

Widely researched and supported for its extraordinary aspects, cinnamon, like many spices, has long treated digestive complaints. More recently, it’s known for lowering glucose levels. As a vasodilator, it widens blood vessels, increasing peripheral circulation and relieving cold hands and feet.

Cinnamon has shown potent antiviral actions, combating HPV {human papilloma virus} HSV-1 {herpes simplex virus-1}, HIV, and many strains of avian and human flu, including H1N1. Yet one of its most important properties is cinnamaldehyde, a powerful antimicrobial, and antifungal that also gives cinnamon its taste and scent. A strong opponent to bacteria, it successfully impairs H. pylori {the main cause of gastric ulcers} as well as E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, Candida, and the pathogens responsible for cholera and tuberculosis. A 2016 study from the University of Kuwait detailing cinnamaldehyde’s antimicrobial properties determined it had a profound effect on bacterium and fungus, without the side effects commonly experienced from pharmaceutical antifungals that can cause liver and kidney toxicity. The development of a cinnamaldehyde fungal treatment is currently under review.

Do not use cinnamon medicinally if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, recovering from or have active prostate cancer. Consult a physician if you take antibiotics or blood thinners, or are diabetic.

Cinnamon Extract

Use this extract in baked goods, ice cream, or those hot beverages you typically turn to in the colder months. If you’re using it medicinally, opt for Ceylon cinnamon and take in small doses: 5 – 10 drops up to three times a day.

Cinnamon sticks, broken or chips

1 vanilla bean pod {or more to taste}

Brandy, 80-proof

Fill a glass jar 1/4 – 1/2 full with cinnamon. Slice vanilla pod lengthwise and add it to the jar. Cover with brandy and cap. Let it macerate in a cool dark place, shaking daily for 2-6 weeks until desired taste, then strain. Add another vanilla bean to the bottle for more vanilla flavor.

About Allspice {Pimenta diotica}

If you aren’t exactly sure what allspice is, you’re in good company. Many folks assume it’s a blend of herbs, but it’s actually only one.

Allspice is the berry of the Pimenta tree native to the Caribbean Islands {notably Jamaica}, Central America, and Mexico. Exuding exquisite aromas, allspice earned its name for the unique ability to mimic the fragrant bouquet of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Warm and distinctive, allspice tastes mildly of clove with hints of pepper. Both the leaves and the berries have a long history of culinary and medicinal use.

When Spanish explorers in the 1500’s encountered this spice, they believed it to be a form of pepper, hence the name “Pimenta.” Allspice was introduced to Europe and became a common topical anesthetic. Toward the end of the 19th-century, it was fashionable to have canes and parasols made of pimenta wood, which caused a near extinction of the tree.

Modern Medicine:

A powerful carminative, allspice relieves myriad digestive disorders, including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and the cramping of gas pains. In Costa Rica, women use allspice as a folk remedy to ease the symptoms of menopause {it has phytoestrogen properties}.

Those suffering from the pain of arthritis, rheumatism, and bruising can take allspice internally and topically as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. In addition, its antibacterial properties make it a fantastic dental remedy, relieving sore teeth and gums and preventing infection.

A study conducted in 2012 at the University of Miami found significant amounts of antibacterial, anti-neuralgic, and analgesic properties in allspice berries and leaves. Researchers also discovered the compound Ericifolin, an antitumor polyphenol that showed effects against prostate and breast cancer.

Allspice is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers. It can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive people. Individuals with gastric diseases or active ulcers should consult a physician before using.

Pumpkin Butter

Sweet pumpkin blends with warming spices for this time-honored fall treat. Spread on baked goods, breakfast foods, or whatever strikes your fancy. The possibilities are endless.

15-oz can of pumpkin puree

1/4 cup apple cider {or hard cider}

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbls maple syrup {or honey}

1 Tsp cinnamon

1/2 Tsp ginger

1/4 Tsp nutmeg {or allspice}

Combine all ingredients in a pot and cook on medium heat until well blended and bubbling. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes {longer is okay; just make sure it doesn’t burn}, stirring occasionally. When done, let cool. If you prefer a smoother texture, mix in a food processor. Keep in the refrigerator and use within a month.

About Cardamon {Elettaria cardamomum}

A staple of spicy chai and Indian cuisine, cardamon’s characteristics are bold and distinctive. A strongly aromatic seed, it boasts a complex aroma – it has a zesty scent with the sharpness of menthol, while its flavor tastes warm and peppery, with hints of citrus.

Cardamon originated in India, Bhutan, and Nepal and is considered the third most expensive spice behind saffron and vanilla. Its light-green oval pods hold about eight diminutive seeds {both pods and seeds are edible}.

Ancient Ayurvedic texts extolled its virtues for digestive and respiratory maladies, while Greeks and Romans took cardamon to neutralize the effects of their bacchanals. It was also considered a dynamic aphrodisiac and essential to love potions through the ages.

Modern Medicine:

Like many of the aromatic spices, cardamon is a carminative, routinely added to bitters to soothe digestive ills. But cardamon’s lesser-known actions are equally intriguing. Warming and stimulating, it’s an effective herbal expectorant that improves circulation to the respiratory system and opens constricted windpipes, easing symptoms of lung disease and asthma.

Cardamon’s anti-inflammatory and antiviral action have proven in recent studies to prevent the proliferation of the virus that causes myocarditis, an infection that damages heart muscle cells, making it an asset to the cardiovascular system. Researchers also found it helpful in lowering heartbeat and controlling heart rhythms, assisting cases of hypertension.

Cardamon has no known side effects, but if you are pregnant, nursing, or on medications, consult your physician before taking it in medicinal doses.

As autumn draws near, feed your soul, heal your body, and indulge yourself in the fragrant delights and aromas of our beloved seasonal foods and spices.

Spiced Honey

Honey is a sweet way to administer medicine. This recipe is a seasonal favorite.

8 oz raw local honey

1/2 Tsp cardamon pods, bruised, or seeds, crushed

1 Tsp allspice, crushed

Add the spices to a glass jar and cover with raw honey. Stir. Leave on a warm, sunny windowsill for about a week, testing periodically for “doneness.” Strain the honey while warm.

 

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Fall Foods & Spices ~ Cranberry Cures

Cranberry {Vaccinium macrocarpon}

Stunning, ruby-red berries are the signature of the cranberry vine and a sure sign that autumn has arrived. Exceedingly tart – enough to give one a full face pucker – cranberries are a traditional food of Northern America. The larger variety V. macrocarpon grows in North America, while a smaller variety, V. oxy-coccus, thrives in Europe. We can use both interchangeably. In North America, Native Americans looked to cranberries as food and medicine. The Wampanoag introduced cranberries to the colonists and they soon became popular folk medicine for digestive distress, skin issues, scurvy, and urinary problems.

Modern Medicine:

Cranberries contain a spectacular amount of healthy properties. They’re very high in vitamin C, and also contain vitamin E, fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, calcium, and beta-carotene.

Of course, most people know this fruit as a time-honored folk remedy for urinary tract infections {UIT’s}. Sixty percent of women will develop a UTI at least once in their lives; drinking 1 1/2 cups of cranberry juice a day reduces bacteria and can cut the incidences of UTI’s by 50 percent. While it was once believed that the acidic juice made the bladder inhospitable to bacteria, recent studies have found that it’s cranberry’s proanthocyanidins {a class of polyphenols} which prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder, thus allowing it to be flushed from the body. Further studies have shown that proanthocyanidins prevent the H. pylori bacteria {the main cause of most ulcers} from attaching to the stomach lining, and inhibit plaque bacteria from forming on teeth and gums. If cranberry juice isn’t an option, try cranberry capsules, which offer concentrated effectiveness and work better for some folks.

Consult a physician if you have kidney stones or are taking medications for ulcers or blood thinners before using cranberries medicinally.

Cranberry Vinegar

The light colored vinegar in this recipe lets the ruby-red cranberry shine through for a tart and flavorful condiment. Use on salads, as a marinade, or however, you’d like to enjoy it.

16 oz. vinegar {rice, champagne, or white}

16 oz. cranberries, fresh

Half the peel from a quarter of fresh orange, pith removed

1-inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced with skin removed

Combine vinegar and cranberries and muddle. Add to a glass canning jar along with orange and ginger. Cover with a plastic lid. Store in cool dark place for two days to two weeks, depending on your taste.

Strain and bottle. Keep it in the fridge.

Fall Foods & Spices ~ Pumpkin

Those delightful fruits and spices we enjoy in autumn provide more than just a flavorful kick. Centuries -old use and modern research prove that fall staples like cranberries, pumpkins, and cinnamon pack powerful medicine inside.

Our autumn foods and seasonal spices are delicious, time – honored traditions that begin to ring in the holiday season and comfort our souls. Full of nourishing vitamins and minerals, they also contain some savory and surprising returns on health.

The Power of Pumpkin {Curcurbita pepo}

Each fall, many folks wait with bated breath for the beginning of “pumpkin spice season” at coffee shops and bakeries around the country. But unlike these often artificially flavored treats, real pumpkin and its seeds offer a bounty of healthful benefits.

Grand and distinct with handsome orange hues and dark-green vines, the pumpkin is always a welcome sight, heralding the start of autumn and the upcoming Halloween. Pumpkins are not a vegetable but in fact a fruit. Native to North and South America, they were staples in the indigenous diet and medicinal preparations. European explorers, introduced to the fruit by Native Americans, soon began exporting the seeds abroad for cultivation and they spread through Europe.

Modern Medicine:

Pumpkin’s sweet, nutty flavor lends itself well to soups and stews, baked goods, and smoothies. The high fiber content, about 7.1 grams in a cup of pumpkin puree, helps regulate healthy elimination and protect the cardiovascular system, while its high vitamin and mineral content offers superb nutrition, providing significant amounts of protein, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins A, B6, C and E. In fact, one serving {about one cup} has 200 percent of the recommended dietary allowance {RDA} of vitamin A, and the body readily converts it into beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant. Lycopene and lutein {also antioxidants}, abundantly found in pumpkin, can help eyesight and inhibit diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. And, of course, its antioxidants have a role in cancer prevention by scavenging cell – damaging free radicals and keeping cancer cells in check.

While pumpkin fruit is an amazing food, its seeds offer even more benefits. Also high in beta-carotene {more than carrots}; vitamins A, C, and E; fiber; and protein, they also provide generous amounts of zinc and magnesium, which help fight viruses and have a tonic effect for men by reducing inflammation in benign prostatic hyperplasia {BPH} and regulating/promoting testosterone production. Additionally, the seeds contain tryptophan, that soporific amino acid that boosts production of serotonin, encouraging restful sleep, calming nerves, and easing mild depression.

However, one of pumpkin seed’s most surprising actions is its use as an antiparasitic. A research study published in the September 2016 issue of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that pumpkin seeds are extremely effective in helping the body expel intestinal parasites, thanks to an amino acid called cucurbitacin, along with newly discovered berberine {found in goldenseal} in pumpkin. Hot- and cold-water extraction and alcohol extraction exhibited nematicidal {worm killing} effects on the parasites. The alcohol extract proved the most potent, purging both adult parasites and their eggs from the GI tract. The study concluded that pumpkin seed extract should be considered a safe and inexpensive alternative to some currently available treatments.

Pumpkins have few side effects. Too much can cause digestive disturbance due to the high fiber content. The seeds can trigger migraines for sensitive individuals.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Many of us like to reserve the seeds from pumpkins after a night of carving Jack – o -lanterns. The seeds taste great sprinkled over yogurt, combined in trail mixes, or just on their own with a little salt and pepper. Those concerned about phytic acid {which can block the absorption of certain minerals} can soak the seeds overnight to remove it.

1 cup organic hulled pumpkin seeds

1 Tsp. favorite seasoning

To toast, add to a dry pan and heat on low, stirring constantly until they are golden. Add a spice of your choice {curry or Cajun blends work well, as do sweeter seasonings like nutmeg and cinnamon} and stir to cover. Slide onto a plate to cool. Seeds spoil quickly; store in an airtight container in the fridge and they’ll keep for two months.

 

Sacred, Spiritual Nature

I do not really need experts telling me that being in nature contributes to a sense of well-being – but I’m happy to see that this concept is gaining traction and press. From the age of nine or 10, I regularly ran past the placid horses in the pasture, across the brook where red-winged blackbirds sang out their cheery “konkaree,” across the far field, and finally, panting, to the bar-gate into the woods.

Ah, the sheltering, mysterious woods! Refuge from family chaos, relief from long school days. My woods offered peace and possibility. I might startle a grouse – or rather it would startle me as it whirred into the air. Maybe deer would be feeding in the abandoned field beyond the woods. I knew I was in a magical territory, the domain of fairies and nature spirits, even if I couldn’t see them.

After a long woods ramble and a slow walk back home, taking time to chat with the horses, I always felt better than when I had left – calmer, happier – even though nothing at home had changed. Today, in an older age, I walk or snowshoe through the woods and I still feel happier and more balanced when I return – now to a calm home and peaceful pets.

Beyond Well-being

Since trees metabolize carbon dioxide from the air and send out oxygen, I’ve often wondered if the extra oxygen in forests contributes to this feeling of well-being. Or maybe it changes the way my brain functions, as one of the many articles I’ve seen recently suggests. “The Nature Cure” by Florence Williams in National Geographic hypothesizes that “being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s communication center, to rest and recover, like an overused muscle.”

Perhaps, as Stephen Buhner explains in Plant Intelligence, trees’ relationship to one another instills a sense of calm in the passerby. All plants, including trees, he remarks, “possess a spectrum of neural networks just as mammals do,” some larger, some smaller, meaning that “brain” size varies, as it does with mammals. “Plant brains,” Buhner says, “are located in their root systems, and trees have very large root systems…They are all self-aware. They all engage in highly interactive social transactions with their communities.” {For their neural networks to function, plants use virtually the same neurotransmitters as humans, including the two most important ones, glutamate, and GABA.} So maybe all this communication between trees – even though I can’t hear it – influences my mood when I walk in Wild Woods.

And yet there’s something more, something not easily described in a scientific way – something older, deeper, and wiser than science. Our earlier ancestors knew it and lived it. Indigenous people everywhere have known it and express deep distress when industrial factions attempt to take it away. The environmental and philosophical movement known as deep ecology refers to it in writings and in efforts to bring this wisdom to modern America. It’s the spiritual aspect of nature – the human relationship to the earth.

Digging Into Deep Ecology {Sacred, Spiritual Nature}

This quest for more insight into the spiritual realm of nature led me to Discussion Course on Exploring Deep Ecology, published by the Northwest Earth Institute, as a kind of study guide.

The central motivation in the lives of most proponents of deep ecology is a spiritual connection with nature. John Muir, best known for his efforts to save the redwoods, describes his path toward this connection: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown –  for going out, I discovered, was actually going in.” The more he explored, the more he realized the interconnectivity of this relationship. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Rachael Carson, Silent Spring author, acknowledged the spiritual power in nature and maintained that humans have a moral obligation toward it. The careless destruction of mountains, forests, rivers, birds, and wildlife goes directly against this obligation, with no ethical justification behind it.

Naturalist Aldo Leopold, in writing of his native Wisconsin, perceived the world as an ecosystem like any other living beings, and not somehow more important. English scientist James Lovelock expanded on this theme with his own Gaian hypothesis {referring to the name Gaia, Goddess of the Earth}. According to him, the world is a living organism in which many species compose the whole. When humans live in harmony with the natural world, we all feel spiritually nourished. But when humans break this bond and exploit the planet’s natural resources, regardless of the long-term consequences, we lose that intimate connection with the Earth community, resulting in spiritual alienation.

Catholic priest and spiritual teacher Matthew Fox, in his book Resurgence, presents a quote from Meister Eckhart, German theologian from the Middle Ages: “You need a silent heart to listen to the wisdom of the wind and the wisdom of the trees and the wisdom of the waters and the soil. We have lost the sense of silence in our obsessively verbal culture.” And this was written in the early 1300’s. Fox also references quotes from Gregory Bateman’s book Steps to the Ecology of Mind, which allude to a consciousness of the Earth: “…the Earth has been keeping a ledger about the ozone layer, the pollution of the atmosphere, and the deforestation.” Bateson then analyzes the three main threats to human survival: technological progress, over-population, and errors in the values and attitudes of the Western culture.

Scientist and writer Fritjof Capra comment that deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of everything.

All of us -individuals and cultures – are embedded in and dependent on the processes of nature.