In this article we will look at some unrelated spices - Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove & Pepper – and their medicinal effects.
(Cinnamomum Zeylanicum Bl. and other species of Cinnamomum)
There are many sorts of Cinnamomum and cinnamon oil is prepared from several of them. But the main source for the genuine spice, cinnamon, is the dried inner bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum. (However see about cassia below.)
Traditionally this spice has been used against pain related to menstruation - and the oil can be used as an antiseptic. The spice has a pronounced effect against bacteria-caused stomach ailments - also as a prevention.
Interestingly, cinnamon has the same blood sugar regulating effect as turmeric. Taking cinnamon with each meal can prevent diabetes and some diabetics can reduce or eliminate medication by taking up to one tablespoon of cinnamon after each meal.
WARNING! If you are a diabetic and want to experiment with this, do so only under supervision of your physician! If your need for medication is suddenly reduced while your intake is unchanged - it would be too high, and that can lead to a life threatening condition.
Healthy people can use cinnamon to lower the risk of developing diabetes. Since it is regulating blood sugar, it is not a bad idea to eat some cinnamon in connection with sugar or other quickly blood sugar raising foodstuffs.
Cinnamon is relatively safe. There are people that have used up to three tablespoons per day for many years without any negative side-effects.
The fear of coumarin, a compound in cinnamon with potential negative impact on liver health, is exaggerated. You would have to eat a very high amount cinnamon to reach a level where you risk damage. It is not realistically possible to eat that much.
But beware of Cassia! It contains much more coumarin. While the risk of liver damage is negligible with genuine cinnamon, it's very real with cassia.
Cinnamon from cassia bark is different from genuine cinnamon (from the genuine Cinnamon tree). In North America, what's sold as Cinnamon is usually Cassia, while in Europe, Cinnamon comes from the Cinnamon tree.
Cassia is also called Chinese cinnamon; the tree originates from China. The spice is rougher and contains less essential oil. It's a product of lower quality than genuine cinnamon. Because of its coumarin level, I advise against eating cassia at all.
From nut, and Latin muscus, meaning musk.
Nutmeg is the hard, aromatic kernel of the seed of Myristica fragrans, or moschata, a tree that grows in the East Indies and has been introduced to Sumatra, India, the West Indies and Brazil.
Nutmeg is grown and used as a spice.
Medically it is a fairly strong antioxidant, and it stimulates blood circulation and digestion.
Nutmeg contains myristicin and elemicin, which, in high doses, can generate hallucinations. They can also cause nausea, headache and heart problems.
Occasional use of nutmeg as a spice is beneficial for the health, and in no way harmful. I would advise against exaggerated consumption though.
Latin clavus, a nail, due to its shape.
Cloves are the dried flower buds of Caryophyllus aromaticus, a tree, originally from the Molucca islands (a part of present day Indonesia). Their use in China is documented from 266 BC, and in Egypt from Pharaonic time. During the 4th century, they existed in Europe as a spice of extreme luxury.
For a long time it was believed that cloves came from the island of Java. Marco Polo stated that, and before him Ibn Khurdadbah, around 870 AD. But Niccolo Conti established in the 15th century that they came to Java from the Molucca islands.
Control of the Molucca islands was the same as control over the trade with cloves and nutmeg. It was not until 1770 that the French successfully cultivated clove trees on Mauritius, from where production spread to many tropical areas.
By distillation, cloves give an essential oil whose main component is eugenol. It is used within dentistry for disinfection. It is also one source material for synthetic vanillin.
Cloves are used as a spice - and in the tobacco industry, for flavouring.
They are quite a strong antioxidant and drive out certain parasites. Chewed, they can help keep the gum in a good condition. It's a good habit to chew a few pieces of cloves every day.
The only warning is that they are strong, and too much of them can cause gastric irritation.
Pepper is a word derived from Sanskrit, pippala, which is used for several spices. We will take a look at the genuses Piper respective Capsicum.
The plant Piper nigrum gives us three important peppers.
Black pepper: the dried drupes, harvested before they are completely ripe.
White pepper: the ripe drupes; they are dried and their skin is removed.
Green pepper: unripe drupes, dried (nowadays mostly vacuum dried).
All these contain strong antioxidants, they stimulate glandular function, drive out some parasites, stimulate digestion and prevent intestinal fermentation and rotting.
No toxicity is known, but they are very strong, especially black and white pepper, and can cause gastric irritation if you take too much.
Black pepper, the black gold of Kerala [a part of India where they grow it] deserves special attention. First because it has a pronounced anti-diabetes effect, which is possibly due to its very high content of the mineral chromium. Second, because combined with turmeric it increases the turmeric's cancer-fighting power by 2000 times!
The word stems from Latin capsa, box. The fruit are hollow. The Spanish found these peppers in the Americas. There is no botanical relation between Piper and Capsicum.
This is a genus of subshrubby plants of the nightshade family. Many species are cultivated for their fruit, which contains capsaicin (also found in the seed). Moreover it contains beta-carotene, lycopene, bioflavonoids, vitamin C, silica, and small amounts of certain B-vitamins and vitamin E.
They are strong antioxidants, stimulate digestion and prevent intestinal fermentation and decay. Internally they cleanse the blood vessels, and stimulate circulation and respiration. They prevent macular degeneration and cataract, and probably cancer. Capsicum has an anti-rheumatic effect and applied on the skin it reduces pain.
Red peppers have also been prescribed against malaria, typhus, and cholera. In South America some Indians claim that they improve vision.
Cayenne pepper is made of the ground pods of various species, especially Capsicum fastigiatum. It is the ultimate detoxifier. A teaspoon in a glass of pressed lemon, or diluted apple cider vinegar, flushes toxins out from the body. Done daily during a cancer treatment, it can make the difference between success and failure.
Chilli is the dried pod of Capsicum annuum, so-called red pepper. Other fruit of this family are paprika, pepperoni, etc.
As spices these red peppers are very hot. There is a scale for measuring the hotness (pungency), it is called Scoville. Sweet pepper with no capsaicin has zero SHU (Scoville Heat Units), ordinary Cayenne pepper is 30,000-50,000 SHU, while the strongest peppers, like Indian naga jolokia is rated at more than 1,000,000 SHU. Chemically pure capsaicin is rated at 16 million SHU, and the strongest chemical known in this respect, resiniferatoxin, is rated at 108,800 millions SHU.
(This article is based on material previously published in TMA/Meriondho Leo and in my e-book “Spices & Herbs”, 2018.)
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(The lead image shows cinnamon. Photo by Uwe Baumann/Pixabay, CC0/Public Domain.)
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