We all use spices and herbs when we cook during the year. At Christmastime, however, certain spices, and certain herbs just make the holidays real. They add a different taste to our food and smell to our air. You’re no doubt familiar with the smell of freshly baked pumpkin pie — what holiday does it make you think of?
Smell isn’t everything, though. How about the taste of hot chocolate, egg nog, holiday cookies or candy canes? Our childhood Christmas memories are likely full of the aromas of certain spices or herbs.
Spices and herbs produce the smells of the holiday. There are many customs, legends and memories created by these spices and smells. They add flavor and aromas to the season; normal dishes have an extra festive flair when you put just the right spice or herb in them. Not only do the spices and herbs smell wonderful, but they also have proven health benefits.
Most of the herbs and spices we associate with this holiday are exotic and come from warmer climates. Spices were once sold at the price of gold — and believe it or not, they were sometimes the reason for wars between countries. That is how important they were. (And now we can buy them to our heart’s content in the grocery store!) Spices and herbs played a big role in the history of mankind.
The Top Ten Christmas Spices and Herbs
1. Rosemary. Here is an herb that has many uses. It can be used for cooking, baking or decoration. You can find rosemary plants, including decorated ones, in garden centers, even during this time of year. It is a very popular herb to use with turkey or roasts, as well as in stews and soups. It is also a wonderfully fragrant plant to add to holiday centerpieces. Medicinally, rosemary has be shown to be helpful in reducing headaches and encouraging healthy skin and hair.
2. Bayberry. This is actually a fruit, but its fragrant smell and special wax have become very popular at Christmas. The wax from the fruit is often added to candle wax; this is where you get your bayberry-scented candles. Bayberry is also known as wax myrtle or myrica. It is said to help treat diarrhea.
3. Cinnamon. This spice is used worldwide and comes from a cinnamomun vernum tree. It was once a prized spice and given to visiting dignitaries. It is a common spice today, and is used in dishes to eat and added to seasonal decorations. Cinnamon is also good for combating nausea and indigestion. You can use it in baking, cooking and teas.
4. Lavender. Lavender is a favorite scent for women. It has a calming effect and soft fragrance. It is symbolic of purity, immortality and cleanliness. Perhaps for this reason, it is often used in aromatherapy. It is also used for patients who suffer depression.
5. Myrrh. This, of course, was given to the baby Jesus. Myrrh comes from Commiphora Myrrha Tree resin. It is another spice often used during church services. This spice was worth more than frankincense in the ancient world. It is used as an oral antiseptic.
6. Ginger. Used in all forms, ginger is mostly used in baking and cooking. It can be candied as well, and used in teas and popular holiday drinks. This spice helps to ease nausea, gas, congestion and inflammation.
7. Cloves: Buds of the clove plant are often used for baking and cooking, and putting in drinks and teas, and in wonderfully smelling decorations of the season. It has anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities and can help in digestion.
8. Nutmeg. Often used in baking, cooking, drinks and teas, nutmeg also helps settle and relax nerves.
9. Sage: This herb is a well-known, fragrant anti-inflammatory. It reduces irritations in your intestines and stomach. It also helps with sore throats. It is often used in baking and cooking.
Other herbs and spices we can’t forget to mention: At Christmastime, you will also smell or taste juniper, peppermint, allspice and vanilla. Cranberries also can be included here, as the red berries are used for cooking, baking and decorating.
Spices and Herbs as Gift Ideas
You can use herbs and spices as Christmas gifts. Make your own steak seasoning, rosemary salt or roast seasoning mixtures. A favorite is a rub made from rosemary and garlic. Create away and wrap with care to present a unique homemade gift to a special someone.
So choose your herbs and spices and get creating this season. Let your decorating skills come alive, and cook those family meals with confidence and love. No matter what you make or which dish you cook, your food will taste amazing and your home is going to smell festive. All it takes is a little dash of this, and a pinch of that.
What are your favorite Christmastime herbs and spices? Share your suggestions in the section below: