5 Healthy Winter Spices

They smell wonderful, they taste great, and they're available everywhere. But there's even more good news: The spices that "warm up" winter foods are also used to treat a variety of ailments and, in some cases, fight off chronic disease.

One of the most reliable and respected sources of information about herbal remedies is the original Complete German Commission E Monographs, an alternative medicine guide originally published for use by European healthcare professionals, then translated and expanded by the American Botanical Council and published in the United States in 2000. Much of what is known about the role of herbs and spices in healthcare and home remedies also comes from Ayurvedic medical practices originating in India, as well as traditional Chinese medical practices.

Although scientific research on the health benefits of herbs and spices is limited, researchers have begun to discover some big benefits of these tasty treats from the earth.  


Dried cinnamon bark, which is ground and sold as powdered cinnamon spice, is used to stimulate appetite and treat gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, flatulence and mild spastic conditions and cramping due to decreased production of digestive enzymes. Other forms of cinnamon, such as oil, tincture and extract, are also used medicinally. A 2010 review of studies by German researchers found that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering properties and may be useful for treating type 2 diabetes.


Feel nauseous? Ginger can help prevent and relieve nausea and vomiting from morning sickness, motion sickness, chemotherapy and minor surgical procedures, according to the Commission E monographs. It is also used to treat bronchitis and rheumatic complaints and to stimulate appetite in cases of anorexia. A review published in a 2007 issue of American Family Physician found scientific evidence to support the use of ginger for pregnancy and post-operative nausea but less evidence that it helps with motion sickness or other types of nausea and vomiting. In this same review, the researcher found mixed results for the use of ginger in treating symptoms of arthritis.


Cancer patients who experience diarrhea post-treatment are sometimes advised to add nutmeg to foods to help slow down movement of the intestinal tract. In laboratory studies, Austrian researchers found that nutmeg may help lower blood fat levels. Because it contains potentially toxic compounds when used in excess, however, nutmeg should be used only in amounts normally called for in cooking and baking.


A review of scientific literature published in a 2007 issue of the British journal Phytotherapy Research found that, in addition to its established use as a topical pain reliever and healer, particularly in the mouth, clove oil has been found to have antioxidant, antifungal and antiviral properties. Oil of clove has also been shown to fight various strains of Staphyloccus bacteria in laboratory studies.


Most commonly used as a seasoning in curry dishes, turmeric has a long history of use as a medicinal spice that is proving out in scientific research performed around the world. In addition to the German Commission E approval for use as a digestive aid, turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat the common cold as well as liver and urinary tract infections. As a topical treatment, turmeric has also been used in medicinal pastes for skin disorders, such as eczema, and to promote wound healing.

The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been studied extensively and found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer activity, according to researchers at The University of Texas. These researchers say that curcumin has the potential to treat a wide variety of chronic diseases, including diabetes, arthritis and allergies. They are also studying a link between the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric and its potential role in fighting obesity. Spanish researchers at the University of Seville have also found that curcumin may have anti-tumor effects in people with precancerous lesions or those who are at high risk of developing cancer.




Aggarwal, BB. "Targeting Inflammation-Induced Obesity and Metabolic Diseases by Curcumin and Other Nutraceuticals." Annual Review of Nutrition. 2010 Aug 21;30:173-99. Web. 26 Nov 2010.

Aggarwal, BB, et al. "Curcumin: the Indian Solid Gold." Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2007; 595:1-75. Web. 26 Nov 2010.

Blumenthal, Mark, Goldberg, Alicia, Brinckmann, Josef. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commision E Monographs. American Botanical Council, Austin, TX. 2000.

Chaieb K, et al. "The Chemical Composition and Biological Activity of Clove Essential Oil: A Short Review." Phytotherapy Research. 2007 Jun;21(6):501-6.

Forrester, MB. "Nutmeg Intoxication in Texas, 1998-2004."  Human and Experimental Toxicology. 2005 Nov;24(11):563-6. Web 26 Nov 2010.