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As winter approaches we are instinctively drawn to the immediate warmth and comforting effect that spices have on our entire system, both physically and emotionally. It is interesting to look further into the therapeutic properties of some of our individual festive spices and their benefits both from a traditional herbal perspective and within the aromatherapy context as a whole. All spices help to bring heat into our whole metabolism: they stimulate the circulation; support the immune system as well as having powerful anti-septic, anti-bactericidal and anti-viral properties. In fact, if we look more closely at the individual properties of many of our classic and best-loved spices, we find that they each have distinct healing and remedial qualities.

For example, in traditional herbalism, fresh green cardomom pods are used as a valuable digestive aid whilst simultaneously fortifying and stimulating our whole system. A few cardamom pods can be added to a festive punch to give it an added richness. The essential oil has a lovely earthy-rich aroma, which when vaporised in a diffuser, acts as a great ‘pick-me-up’. This quality is valuable for helping overcoming nervous exhaustion whilst at the same time helping to keep air borne infections at bay, since it has excellent anti-microbial properties: a useful combination during times of stress.

Allspice a classic scent we associate with the festive season as it is used in so many Christmas recipes such as spiced biscuits, festive fruitcakes and Christmas puddings. The scent of this more unusual essential oil is really lovely … it is particularly rich, warm and fragrant, being somehow reminiscent of a combination of cloves, ginger, and nutmeg … thus it’s name! The oil makes a delightful room fragrance in its own right creating a warm and welcoming mood in the home. It is also a great oil to add to blends (in moderation due to its potency) to add a rich, spicy depth.

Ginger is the supreme spice for helping to overcome any dampness or cold within the body … so it acts as an excellent preventative for any kinds of chill. Like cardamom, it aids digestion and stimulates the circulation, for example, when the fresh ginger root is used in cooking or as a warming tea. As an essential oil, it is especially valuable used in massage oil blends or to overcome cold conditions such as cramp, muscular pain and stiff joints. Used in a room diffuser, the its warm, soft- sensual aroma imparts a feeling of comfort, helping to combat depression and anxiety … plus it is reputed to have aphrodisiac properties!

Cinnamon is another classic Christmas scent, reminding us of mulled wine and festive puddings. It has a characteristic sweet, rich-spicy aroma but it can be quite powerful, so it is best used sparingly! Cinnamon bark has been used as a traditional ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years because of its many therapeutic benefits: it is restorative, supports the digestion and helps overcome respiratory conditions such as colds, coughs and flu. Used in vaporisers, the essential oil is comforting and soothing … plus recent research indicates it also helps boost brain activity with benefits that include an increased attention span and better visual recognition memory capacity.

Clove buds are very powerful anti-septic agents … they are the classic toothache remedy as when they are chewed they also acts as a painkiller. The scent of clove oil is sharp and pungent so it is best used sparingly in vaporisers or blends. Clove oil can be added to a mouth wash gargle formulation for all kinds of tooth or gum infections … also to help soothe sore throats and prevent the onset of a cold in the early stages. Clove buds stuck into oranges also feature as part of the traditional Christmas decorations to be hung around the house or on the tree … although the origin of this rite is most probably based on the fact that these spicy, aromatic oranges would actually disinfect the home environment when people congregated over the festive season.