One of my most fond memories of the holidays from my childhood and one which has followed me into adulthood is the smell of the kitchen as we prepared the mulled cider which was a part of warm family gatherings. The mulled cider was made by placing about a gallon of apple juice (or apple cider, red wine, cranberry juice, or pineapple juice) in a large pan on the stove. We’d add the mulling spices (about a half-cup of them) tied in cheesecloth. These days we use a tea ball instead. Then we’d simply let it simmer – at least a half hour, though I can remember mom dipping servings from the pan, adding more juice, and letting it simmer all evening.
Recently I thought, what were these spices? And since the recipe dates back to the Middle Ages, what was the importance of such wassail to the folks back then? Obviously, it was a tasty treat. But the spices were expensive back then, so the treat was only for the more affluent, their families and their friends. And even then it was reserved for special occasions, like the holidays we’re about to enter.
I wanted to take it a bit further and look at the spices individually and see what other needs may have been met in their use as a festive, winter drink.
The Spaniards introduced Ginger to the Americas in the 16th century. It is known to inhibit an enzyme that causes cells to clot and, as such, help to prevent “little strokes”. It helps to relieve nausea, to relieve congestion in the sinus cavities, to warm blood vascular stimulation, to treat sore throats, and as a body cleanser. Herbalists have long recommended it as a regulator of blood cholesterol and to improve blood circulation. In China, ginger is used for bronchitis, flu, and the first stages of the common cold.
The volatile oils in Orange Peel help to reduce fevers, help warm the body, aid in relieving scurvy, and help relieve heartburn. Dental texts note that orange oil helps prevent gingivitis! Aromatherapists traditionally use these oils to improve appetite, treat bronchitis and respiratory infection, lower cholesterol, and help to relieve mid-winter “blues”.
Cinnamon is listed in most texts as one of the spices that spurred world exploration. Studies conducted by Japanese researchers have shown that it contains a substance that is both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. It helps to control virulent outbreaks by many microorganisms including the one that causes botulism and staphylococcus. Historically it has been used for treating bronchitis, arthritis, diarrhea, stomach upset, fever, nausea, parasites, rheumatism, and vomiting.
One text on spices notes that Allspice can be used to make couples more harmonious. Physically it is a balm for the liver, helps warm the body, improves digestion, calms the nerves, opens the sinuses, relieves colic and gas, and loosens tight muscles.
Herbalists have used Clove for centuries to cure nausea and rid the stomach and intestine of gas. Its essential oil is today one of the most effective pain relieving agents used by dentists and has broad-spectrum antibiotic properties. It also helps relieve bad breath, poor circulation, dizziness, nausea, and dysentery. Oh, by the way, it is also said to increase sex drive (just what you need on those cold winter nights!).
And finally, star anise. It was used by the Romans to provide a delightful palette and to help prevent indigestion from overeating. And today it is a popular addition to cough syrups, mouthwashes, candies, and bakery goods. It is a cell stimulator for the heart, liver, brain, and lungs, and its volatile oils can be helpful for treating bronchitis, spasmodic asthma, and emphysema. It can also be used for colds, coughs, indigestion, excessive mucus, pneumonia, loss of appetite, and stimulating most of the glands.
Is it any wonder that this popular drink was used so extensively, especially during those cold Winter months. Make it a welcome addition to your holiday festivities. Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.
– Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: [email protected].