If you’re looking forward to the holidays because of all the good food and drinks, you’re not alone. Many of the recipes that are featured this time of year include spices that are warm and aromatic. This includes nutmeg and cardamom.
Nutmeg is one of the ingredients found in pumpkin spice, along with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice. It’s also used in baked goods, savory entrees and seasonal beverages, such as eggnog, warm cider and mulled wine. The warm, woody and spicy flavor of nutmeg makes it a common ingredient in Moroccan and Indian cuisines as well. While you may think from its name that nutmeg is a nut, it’s actually a dried seed, which is ground into a spice.
In Chinese herbal medicine, nutmeg is called Rou Dou Kou and is used for its warming properties and its ability to stabilize and bind your intestines to stop diarrhea. It also stokes your digestive fire and helps to move things along in your gut. It can help relieve pain from gas and bloating and restore a poor appetite. Nutmeg oil is also used in some dental products for its antibacterial properties.
Another spice used in holiday baking is cardamom. It’s warm and has an intense and slightly sweet flavor. Cardamom is used in savory Middle Eastern and North African dishes to flavor meat, lentils and rice. Closer to home, cardamom is also a baking spice, which pairs well with nutmeg and cinnamon.
There are two varieties of cardamom; white cardamom and black cardamom. The flavor of white cardamom has been described as slightly sweet, warm and citrus-like, which makes it a good spice for baking. Black cardamom has a more intense flavor; strong and smoky with hints of menthol that makes it better suited to savory recipes.
As a Chinese herb, white cardamom, or Bai Dou Kou, is spicy and warm, but it’s also considered to be aromatic or strongly fragrant. Like nutmeg, Bai Dou Kou warms up your digestive tract, but it also treats dampness—your body’s inability to metabolize fluids. Bai Dou Kou is used to transform dampness in your gut that’s often caused by food poisoning. It can help relieve symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, gas and bloating. It may also be added to formulas when internal cold or lack of digestive fire is causing these symptoms.
Black cardamom, or Yi Zhi Ren, is acrid and spicy like white cardamom, but it’s not considered an aromatic herb and it’s slightly warmer than white cardamom. Yi Zhi Ren is used in formulas to warm your body at its core. In Chinese medicine systemic cold can be compared to a low pilot light in your body. When there’s not enough heat, your body can’t complete functions such as digestion and metabolizing urine. Symptoms of this include diarrhea, frequent urination, urinary incontinence and involuntary ejaculation in men. The actions of black cardamom are to warm, stabilize and bind, which means it helps warm you up and retain physiological body fluids.
Nutmeg and cardamom are versatile spices. They can be used both in baked goods and savory recipes. As herbs, nutmeg and cardamom are also useful as a chief herb or as a secondary addition in a number of Chinese formulas. Because nutmeg can become slightly toxic if used in large amounts, it’s important to seek out the expertise of a credentialed Chinese herbalist if you’re using it for health reasons. At BodaHealth, our practitioners are experts in herbal medicine, experienced and happy to work with you to prescribe a formula best suited to your health care needs. For more information on how Chinese herbs can help you, please give us a call at BodaHealth.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.