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Spice up your life - the healing benefits of warming spices

I love cooking and as a medical herbalist I regularly use food as medicine. Using heat producing spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne and turmeric during autumn and winter helps to keep your body functioning optimally. They also pair beautifully with seasonal foods such as root vegetables.

Before I share some of my own healthy recipes with these delicious ingredients, let’s look at why including these spices into your diet at this time of year can be incredibly beneficial.


In general, warming spices increase circulation, bringing blood to the surface of the skin. This, along with removing excess water from tissues helps to raise your body temperature and keep you warm. They also help digestion thereby improving your energy which can become sluggish in these cooler seasons. Ayurvedic medicine believes that our digestion must work harder in the cooler half of the year to fuel our digestive fire. In Chinese medicine, yang foods, which includes these spices, are used to warm and activate our energy. Western herbal medicine and scientific evidence report similarly on the benefits.


  • Anti-nauseadue to the gingerols which increase digestive responsiveness to empty the stomach and support the release of blood-pressure regulating hormones to calm the body and reduce nausea. Ginger can, therefore, reduce motion sickness, pregnancy morning sickness and nausea and vomiting brought on by medications including chemotherapy.

  • Anti inflammatory and pain reducing - gingerols also act as a COX-2 inhibitor like common medications used for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis to reduce pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis can also benefit from it. In addition, they block inflammatory prostaglandins (these dilate intra and extra cranial arteries causing headache) therefore reduce migraine pain.

How to use

  • Use fresh and powdered ginger cooked into curries, stir fries and soups.

  • Try fresh grated ginger in smoothies and salad dressings.

  • Make a tea with some slices of fresh ginger and lemon – its lovely with added mint leaves and honey.

  • Add six drops of ginger essential oil to a small amount of carrier oil (eg. almond, olive, jojoba) and swirl into your bath to relax sore muscles and relieve cold symptoms. Add other essential oils like rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus or oregano for extra benefit.


  • Expectorant - helps open respiratory passages therefore easing asthma symptoms.

  • Anti-inflammatory and diuretic - can lower blood pressure.

  • Anti-bacterial - used to treat bad breath and help prevent cavities. Many Indian restaurants offer it to chew on after a meal to act as a digestive and freshen breath and it’s often used in chewing gum for the same reasons.

  • Enhances the natural killer cells and may therefore help prevent tumours.

How to use

  • Use the crushed seeds in curries and soups.

  • Find it used in many Scandinavian baking recipes.

  • It combines nicely with chocolate, coffee and chai drinks.


  • Circulatory stimulant - effective for warming cold hands and feet.

  • Supports metabolic function and sugar imbalances by decreasing glucose and insulin levels therefore beneficial for those with Diabetes Type 2 at a dose of a half to two teaspoons per day.

  • Reduces bad LDL cholesterol.

  • A digestive - for indigestion, flatulence, bloating and cramps.

  • Stimulates appetite that has been reduced due to illness.

  • Antimicrobial and anti-fungal due to cinnamaldehyde which can: heal teeth and gum issues and reduce infection in diahorrea; dry and clear mucous secretions; possibly inhibit the build up of tau protein in the brain which is an indicator of Alzheimer’s; and possibly help protect neurons, normalise neurotransmitter levels and improve function in Parkinson’s disease.

How to use

  • Use in sweet and savoury dishes, smoothies and hot drinks. A sprinkle in a meat or veggie chilli gives a great depth of flavour.

  • Make a tooth powder with it. Just dip a wet tooth brush into a small dish of powdered cinnamon and then gently brush teeth and gums.


  • Circulatory stimulant and anti-inflammatory due to the active constituent capsaicin - useful for: increasing circulation to cold hands and feet; promoting mucus secretion to clear chest and sinus infections; and stimulating digestion.

  • Protective effective on the stomach lining and may prevent peptic ulcers.

  • Relieves pain by blocking substance P, a pain transmitter in the nerves.

How to use

  • Topically for arthritis, back pain, sciatica, shingles pain and headaches. Infuse into a sterilized lidded glass jar or bottle, 1 part cayenne powder to 4 parts oil such as olive or vegetable / nut oil. Leave in a cool, dark place and shake daily for about 10 days. Massage into the pain area. You can also sprinkle a bit of cayenne between your shoes and socks to help warm the feet when outdoors Note: Do a patch test first to ensure your skin doesn’t react negatively.

  • As a food, powdered cayenne adds a little kick to savoury and sweet dishes. It combines nicely with chocolate.

Note: If on Warfarin or blood thinning medication, check with your doctor before adding cayenne to your diet.


  • Anti inflammatory due to curcumin which inhibits mediators of the inflammatory response. Using turmeric, especially when combined the black pepper is beneficial for easing rheumatism, arthritis, inflammatory skin and bowel conditions and asthma. It may also help in reducing exercise induced inflammation and muscle soreness to increase recovery in active people

  • Curcumins also lower cholesterol and thins blood

  • A bitter so it stimulates the digestive process.

  • Manages metabolic syndrome.

How to use

  • Topically it can help fade scars, lighten pigmentation and reduce spots. I recommend buying a prepared oil as making your own can get messy and stain things.

  • Internally, use the powder or fresh root in curries, sauces, soups, smoothies and golden milk.

My warming recipes

Here are a few of my favourite ways of using these warming spices during autumn and winter.

Julia’s golden soup


1 large onion roughly diced

1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger diced

3 large carrots in large dices

1 sweet potato in large dices

1 butternut squash in large dices

½ cup dried red lentils

6 cardamom pods split with seeds removed

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon cumin

Handful of fresh coriander chopped

Black pepper and salt to taste

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2L of vegetable stock

Handful of toasted and chopped nuts such cashews or hazel nuts.


Heat oil on a low temperature until melted

Add onion and sauté until translucent

Add ginger and sauté for another minute

Add the rest of the chopped vegetables and sauté for a few minutes

Add the spices and mix around

Add the lentils and mix in with everything

Add the stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer with lid half on for 45 mins or until vegetables are very tender.

Add the fresh coriander and whiz with a handheld blender or in a food processor.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or coconut cream and sprinkle over some fresh chopped coriander and toasted chopped nuts

Julia’s Moroccan vegetable tagine


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large onions sliced

4 cloves of garlic sliced

1 red chilli finely diced

1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger finely diced

1 tablespoon each of cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, allspice

¼ teaspoon dried ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg, fenugreek seeds, cardamom seeds

¼ cup each of chopped fresh coriander and parsley

2 tablespoons sundried tomato paste

2 large tomatoes in large dices

1 large carrot, sweet potato and potato in large dices

¼ butternut squash in large dices

½ red capsicum and fennel in large dices

1 zucchini in large dices

½ cup chopped green beans

1L boiled water

1 can of drained chickpeas


Heat oil on a low temperature

Add onion and capsicum and sauté until onion is translucent

Add fresh ginger, garlic and chilli and sauté for another 3 minutes

Add the tomato paste and all the spices. Mix through.

Add the boiled water. Cover and simmer for 20 mins.

Add the carrots, sweet potato, potato, butternut squash, and fennel and simmer until half cooked

Add the tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, fresh coriander and parsley and chickpeas

Simmer until all vegetables are tender

Taste and season if required.

Serve on a bed of steaming quinoa, couscous or rice and sprinkle with more fresh chopped coriander and parsley

Julia’s spiced mocha


3 teaspoons of good quality dark drinking chocolate powder or grate the equivalent from a piece of 70% dark chocolate

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of ground star anise

1 cup of your favourite coffee

1/3 cup coconut milk (or milk of your choice)for frothing

Note: if you like it sweet, add a dash of vanilla syrup. If you like it spicy, add a pinch of cayenne powder.


Place the chocolate and spices in your coffee cup

Pour in your coffee and stir well

Top with frothed coconut milk and sprinkle with chocolate and cinnamon

Note: if you don’t have a milk frother then you can heat the milk and froth with a hand whisk/blender or put in a sealed jar and shake vigorously.

Enjoy and experiment with making up your own recipes or trying new ones from a cook book or internet search. I'd love you to share your favourites

Always seek a qualified Medical Herbalist before using herbs to treat any condition.

Always check how the herb interacts with any medication you are taking.


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