Christmas foods are often filled with spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves; whether it’s to add flavour to mulled wine, mince pies or Christmas pudding, spices have been a key ingredient in festive foods for centuries.
Here are my top six tea-time festive spices and the lowdown on their health-giving properties.
If you had to pick just one spice to use in winter, it should be ginger. It’s warming and stimulating, and boosts circulation to the extremities, helping to give you ‘get up and go’ on a cold winter day. Ginger tea is a well-known tonic for coughs, colds and flu, as it can help to increase body temperature to fight against infection.
It’s great for digestion too – it can help stimulate digestive enzyme production and regulate stomach acid levels. This makes hot ginger tea fantastic to sip before or during a meal – especially a heavy Christmas dinner!
Everyone’s favourite festive spice. As well as lending a warming, sweet kick to festive treats and chai teas, cinnamon has been linked with multiple health benefits . It may help to regulate blood sugar, balancing out those highs and lows that can trigger sweet cravings – a blessing at this time of year when temptation is around every corner.
It can help clear mucus, so – like ginger – can be beneficial for colds or coughs. And it also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activity, so may help to balance our gut flora , which can easily be upset by sugary foods and alcohol .
How to use it: Follow nutritionist Lily Soutter’s advice and simply add it to your morning porridge or smoothie to get your daily fix.
This amazingly sweet spice is a favourite herbal tea ingredient. As well as giving you a sweet hit without the sugar, licorice is soothing for the digestive system, helping to relieve any irritation – including that associated with indigestion and heartburn.
Licorice can help calm the nervous system and balance energy levels too, so whether you’re feeling stressed from Christmas shopping or frazzled from the festivities and family get-togethers, it can help bring things back into balance.
How to use it: Try Pukka Three Licorice tea , £2.49 – a naturally sweet blend of three types of organic licorice.
Another gentle and aromatic spice, cardamom has hidden health benefits too. Cardamom seeds are traditionally used as a digestive tonic, by crushing the seeds and infusing in hot water. It can help relieve indigestion and wind, and acts as an ‘antispasmodic’ – reducing any painful gut spasms. Ideal after a heavy Christmas meal!
How to use it: try Jasmine Hemsley’s golden milk recipe here
As well as a unique flavour and a pretty shape, star anise can be good for our digestion. Like cardamom, one of its traditional uses is to help relieve wind and stomach aches. It’s also been found to have gentle anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral effects, and may even help to ward off the flu virus. What more could you want from a winter spice?
How to use it: Try Joe Wicks’ Thai green curry recipe here
A clove is in fact a dried flower bud from a tree indigenous to Asian countries like Indonesia and India. Clove has been used as a medicine for thousands of years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese traditions, as well as being used in cooking. The most well-known use of cloves is for oral health, providing pain relief but also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties for fighting gum and tooth infections. Traditionally, they were also chewed on after a meal to remove any bad breath but also to aid digestion. It is their high essential oil, specifically eugenol, which increases digestive enzyme secretion helping reduce indigestion, wind and bloating. It is also packed with protective antioxidants and fantastic for your liver.
How to use it: Try Liz Earle's mulled wine recipe (well, it is Christmas...).
The above spices are all available in Pukka teas - Three Ginger, Three Cinnamon, Three Licorice, After Dinner, and Star Anise & Cinnamon, from £2.49, as well as their Organic Latte collection. All are available on their website