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Independent health store advice on Christmas spices

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health store can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This month we speak to Pam Buckle, manager of the Natural Remedies department at Wild Oats Natural Foods in Bristol.

Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom are traditionally associated with Christmas and, fortunately, they happen to have several health benefits too.

Cinnamon, ginger and cloves can all be used in mulled wine, which is a lovely way to welcome your visitors with the smell of Christmas. Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree and has many traditional uses in cooking. You can either use the sticks or the ground version of the spice and it can be added to apple pie, apple sauce and hot chocolate. You could also start the day with half a teaspoon of cinnamon in your porridge or you could add it to smoothies and raw energy balls. It balances blood sugar so can be particularly useful if you’ve overindulged in too many sweet things at Christmas.

Good for digestion

Ginger root is the rhizome of the ginger plant and has so many traditional uses. It’s warming in cold weather, it’s anti-inflammatory and it helps the digestion if you’ve overeaten or have an upset stomach. Ginger can be added fresh or dried to various dishes – one of my favourites is a warming squash and chickpea stew. You can also make a really easy ginger tea by simply grating some fresh ginger and pouring hot water over it before straining and drinking.

Nutmeg is another lovely Christmassy spice. It is traditionally used in cakes, pumpkin pie and as a topping for rice pudding. It can also be grated into some warm almond milk which makes for a very soothing bedtime drink. There is a word of warning about nutmeg though as it should only be used in small doses because it can be toxic or even hallucinogenic in large amounts.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Cardamom is also associated with the festive season, as well as spicy Indian food. You can use the whole seed pods in things such as stir fries and rice dishes, or you can just open up the pods and take the seeds out. The seeds can be ground up and added to coffee or hot cider. Also, they can be chewed to freshen the mouth. Cardamom is rich in minerals and is good for helping with stomach cramps and nausea. It can also help the body to detoxify, and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree which are used to flavour foods and drinks such as apple pie and mulled wine. They can also be studded into an orange to make a traditional festive table decoration. Cloves can be used as a natural anaesthetic, so if you find yourself suffering with toothache over the Christmas period and you can’t get to a dentist you could actually chew one or put a drop of clove essential oil onto the area with a cotton bud. This should only be used as a temporary measure to relieve the pain though.

Lastly, although not actually spices, frankincense and myrrh are tree resins which are traditionally associated with Christmas. They create a lovely festive scent when burnt as incense and are often found in natural beauty products.

All these things can be purchased from your local independent health food store, so do stop by when you are doing your Christmas shopping!

Wild Oats Natural Foods

Wild Oats is owned by Mike Abrahams, run by the department managers and is a long-standing institution in Bristol. It stocks an extensive range of organic and whole foods including groceries, chilled foods, frozen foods, raw and superfoods plus food for special diets. Wild Oats also stocks a range of natural toiletries and household items, babycare and bodycare products as well as natural remedies and supplements. The friendly staff members have a deep level of knowledge in specialised fields and many are health practitioners in their own right, meaning that customers get the best possible service when visiting the store. To contact the store, call 0117 973 1967 or visit

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