Spices That Heal: A Closer Look at Pumpkin Spice

Photo of the author

Spices are so revered by humans that travelers ventured into the great unknown to seek out the healing and culinary delight they offered. Luckily, all you have to do is venture to your cupboard to unlock the healing potential of culinary herbs and spices. Here’s a closer look at the wonders of Pumpkin Spice.

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

It’s that time of year again. The sun sets a little earlier, we start to dress with more layers, and pumpkin spice fans rejoice as their favorite fall flavor begins to pop up everywhere from coffee shops to the supermarkets. Why do we love it so much? Maybe it’s because the comforting, spicy aroma and rich harmony of flavors can instantly turn an everyday latte into a seasonal celebration.

There’s nothing quite like the warmth of holding that pumpkin spice cup, and most of us instinctively know that a warm soothing beverage is an act of self care. But there are some other wellness benefits in that special spicy concoction, too. In fact when we break down the ingredients of pumpkin spice flavoring, each component has its own healing powers, aromatherapy benefits, and medicinal properties.

Most recipes for pumpkin spice call for cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Let’s take a look at the wellness attributes and medicinal properties of each one.

 

Cinnamon

Delicious and popular year-round, cinnamon is derived from the bark of trees in the Cinnamomum genus. Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants and can help the body maintain healthy blood sugar levels, which reduces carbohydrate cravings, an important component to supporting healthy weight. And cinnamon is also heart healthy. A review in the Annals of Family Medicine concluded that based upon clinical research, cinnamon improves fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

 

Ginger

One of my personal favorite remedies for calming an upset stomach, quelling nausea, fighting off a cold, easing muscle aches and pains, and maintaining healthy blood sugar.  This warming rhizome adds an unmistakable zing and brightness in pumpkin spice. Even the aroma of ginger is stimulating and refreshing.

 

Nutmeg

It’s used in lots of cookie and coffee drink recipes, but did you know nutmeg can also help relieve pain, quell indigestion, boost cognitive function, and strengthen your immune system? A pinch of nutmeg is an excellent addition to your cup if you’re feeling a little under the weather.

 

Allspice

Another hallmark aroma of fall and the holiday seasons is allspice, the only spice that grows just in the Western hemisphere. These little berries are a wonderful digestive aid, helping to reduce bloating, gas and ease stomach cramps. Allspice is the aroma found in many men’s toiletries (think Old Spice).

 

Cloves

The scent of cloves is strong, but pumpkin spice would not be pumpkin spice without it. Cloves are actually the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree that turn brown upon drying. “Clove” is derived from the Latin word clavus, which means nail, pretty appropriate. From reducing inflammation, to stimulating digestion, to using clove bud oil topically for toothache, cloves are loaded with health benefits.

If you’re a fan of pumpkin spice and want to reap the benefits, I recommend trying your hand at making your own spice blend so you can control the ingredients and choose organic components. Or look to your natural foods store for seasonal blends with organic, sustainably harvested spices.

 

Pumpkin Spice

2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves 

Mix together in a small bowl and put in a jar with tight fitting lid.

Add a teaspoon to your drip coffee maker. Mix 1 tbsp of sugar and ½ teaspoon of pumpkin spice and sprinkle over popcorn. Heat one quart of organic apple juice and add 1 tsp pumpkin spice. There are so many ways to use these wondrous spices. Mmmm, there’s nothing quite like it in fall.

Resource: Allen RW, et al. Ann Fam Med 2013 Sep-Oct;11(5):452-9.