Cold Season Herbs & Spices

This would look refreshing in summer.

Would you think of a glass of cold mint tea in the winter? Or cook up a batch of steaming hot chicken soup in the heat of summer? Both would sound unappetizing, our mind and stomach would recoil.

In winter our stomachs and minds find satisfaction in the warming flavors of plants that warm the soul. Chicken soup, for example, isn’t just chicken boiled in water. Instead, what makes chicken soup appealing, are the seasonings. Sage, thyme, onion, a dash of garlic, some turmeric for color, those are the flavors that give the cold weather soup it’s flavor. Have a cold or the flu? The old home remedy, was, and is, hot chicken soup. Not boiled chicken in water, but the savory seasonings. And why those particular ones? The answer lies in what those herbs do for the body.

Sage, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, turmeric - those are herbs that warm the body and soothe throat tissues. Those herbs inhaled in steam, whether it be chicken soup or water, loosen a stuffy nose and give the body a sense of well-being.
Purple and variegated Sages; they all warm the body.

Seasonings have evolved in every food culture on earth to match the need of people in that season. People who live nearest the Equator anywhere on earth, eat hot peppers in summer simply because hot chilies cause the body to sweat, and thus, to cool.
Black peppercorns are the mature pepper, with the most heat and flavor.

In India, every school child knows the importance of always having 3 black peppercorns in their pocket. At the first sign of a scratchy throat or cold, simply chewing one or more of the peppercorns soothes the throat and warms the body. Everyone carries black peppercorns in winter. What do we do in the West? We simply add black pepper to our chicken soup, even without knowing the spice is warming.

Dried ginger is also a warming winter seasoning. Indian cooks add it to broth, seasoning blends (like the winter garam masala, however it’s not used in the summer blend). Nutmeg generates heat, yet the outer shell, known as mace, is cooling and used primarily in summer
Cinnamon is a warming spice. In South American cultures, it was combined with chocolate and sometimes cayenne.

Ground cinnamon is a warming spice, as is black cardamon. Bay leaf is another warming spice that is only used in the winter in India, and in the U.S., we use it primarily in soups and stews in winter, as well.

Why are these herbs and spices in our meals in winter? Why did that first mythical cook at Plymouth Rock, sitting in front of her fireplace decide to cook up a pumpkin with cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves? Or why did the turkey at Christmas, with all the stuffing and gravy, evolve to require sage, rosemary, thyme, turmeric and black pepper? Simply because those herbs and spices warm the body in winter, combining perfectly with the foods of the winter season. Our bodies don’t crave cooling flavors in winter, they find solace in the plants that warm us inside.

Whether you’re a cook in South or North America, South or North India, China or Bhutan, the seasonings you choose for the season relate to how those herbs and spices make your body feel. Chicken soup in the cold of winter, iced mint tea with lemon in summer, those are the things our bodies crave, and more important, what our bodies tell us we need.

A look at the ingredients in chai tea, the traditional winter spice blend in India, gives clues to what warms the body. (Chai is available from us here at Long Creek Herbs if you’d like to order it, or call us at 417-779-5450). You’ll find it contains the following warming spices: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, cardamom, black pepper and black tea. A cut of hot chai warms not only the hands when you hold the cup, but the body and the soul.

"Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul."... from The Koran


Sharon Lovejoy said...

Oh yes, I LOVE reading your blog and learning, learning, and pedaling faster & faster to try and keep up with you.

I especially loved the part about Indian school children carrying whole black peppercorns in their pockets. Wonderful!

Love, love,


Lya Sorano said...

The other evening, making a vegetable soup with beans, carrots and kale, I realized I had no dried Rosemary. Who needs dried Rosemary? It grows 4 or 5 feet tall in several places in my garden. So, with a flashlight and a pair of scissors, the mission was accomplished. The soup was divine. The recipe is on "Feed Your Good Dog".