Festive spices

What spices and their scents spring to mind when you think about Christmas? We bet one of them is cinnamon!

Along with gingerbread and cloves, cinnamon is a scent that really stands out during the festive period and is used in lots of dishes. But did you know it has lots of health benefits and an interesting history behind it too?

History of cinnamon

If you’re cooking a batch of cinnamon rolls to enjoy on Christmas morning or using a sprinkle of it in your festive biscuits, you won’t just be making something tasty, you’ll be making something steeped in history too. Cinnamon has its roots in Medieval times when it was mainly used as a preservative.

In more recent times its medicinal benefits have been discovered. In 2000, the US Agricultural Research Service found it revitalised the ability of cells to deal with excess blood sugar.

It is also thought to have soothing properties and is used frequently in Chinese herbal medicine. It also has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal attributes too.

As well as prebiotic properties, which may help to restore the balance of bacteria in your gut and support good digestive health.

Benefits of gingerbread

Another symbol of Christmas is gingerbread. Ginger belongs to the same family as turmeric and cardamom, and is native to south east Asia, India and China.

Ginger is more than just a flavouring. It was previously used by the Egyptians to ease travel sickness and by the ancient Greeks as an after-dinner digestive.

In these more modern times, it has been used to alleviate motion and morning sickness, as well as nausea brought on by chemotherapy.

Cloves for Christmas

Cloves are small, dried, flower buds from an evergreen tree. They have a distinct taste similar to cinnamon, but with more spice.

Some research has shown that cloves contain phytonutrients called eugenol and isoeugenol and can have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, which may help prevent chronic diseases.

At Christmas time, we think of a delicious ham studded with cloves and full of flavour. In the Renaissance era, cloves were thought to ward off epidemics and people would often wear clove pomanders.

Cloves contain the active component eugenol, which has made them the subject of many health studies, most notably into digestive tract cancers and joint inflammation.

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