Pumpkin Spice: A Brilliant Herbal Remedy Hiding in Plain Sight

Pumpkin spice is so hot right now it may feel like another passing fad. But from an herbal medicine perspective, it is easy to see why this spice combination is a hit, and why it’s probably here to stay. Not only is it delicious, but it is also a brilliant herbal combination designed to support digestion and to ward off upper respiratory infections, especially during these chilly months when it is traditionally enjoyed.

Here’s a breakdown of the medicinal properties of each of the tasty herbs in the traditional spice mix. And sorry, pumpkin isn’t an integral part of the herbal combination, though it is a tasty way to enjoy it.

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  • Cinnamon - In western scientific understanding, cinnamon is becoming well-known for its ability to help manage blood sugar in diabetics and for mitigating insulin resistance (where a much higher level of insulin is needed to cause the same blood sugar-lowering effect—often considered pre-diabetes).[1] From an older herbal medicine perspective, cinnamon is well known for its warming properties, its ability to create a light sweat (thereby reducing fever), and its ability to support healthy digestion.[2] 
  • Ginger - Also a very warming herb, ginger has traditionally been used as a digestive tonic. Of course, its most famous use is to quell nausea and vomiting, but its traditional uses extend to a wider range of digestive issues, including burping, flatulence, and abdominal cramping. Ginger also has a powerful effect on the blood, improving circulation, improving blood lipids, and lowering blood sugar. Finally, ginger has been used to treat colds, and is know for its ability to loosen congestion in the lungs.2
  • Nutmeg – Like ginger, nutmeg is warming and used for a wide range of digestive issues, including nausea, indigestion, gas, low appetite, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. In addition to these traditional uses, nutmeg has an effect on the nervous system, calming anxiety and supporting sleep. Nutmeg also helps with runny noses (especially in kids) or congestion in the lungs or sinuses.2
  • Clove – Also a very warming herb, clove is used to promote blood flow in the stomach and lungs—suggesting similar uses as each of the other herbs in this combination: upper respiratory tract infections, cough, and asthma, as well as nausea, indigestion and gas.2

Taken together, we can see how each of these four herbs is warming, and helps support healthy lungs and upper respiratory tract as well as digestion: cinnamon with a special focus on blood sugar and throwing of the start of cold, ginger with a special focus on helping the stomach move food downward, nutmeg to calm the body and support rest, and clove to reinforce the formula’s effect on the stomach and lungs. What a perfect combination for this chilly season of feasts, colds and flus!

Generally, herbs are a gentle way to support healthy functioning of the body, but as with any medicine, dose can determine effectiveness and toxicity—it is possible to have too much of a good thing! If you’re tempted to bulk up on a high dose pumpkin spice to address symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment. We may be able to find a more targeted way to address your issue.

Recipe: Knock-your-socks-off pumpkin spice tea

Likely, this recipe is more flavorful than the spice combo you’ll get in a pumpkin spice latte or in a baking mix. Also without any other ingredients than the fresh herbs themselves, it offers an opportunity to taste just the herbal combination.

  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • A thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger, chopped into ¼-inch slices
  • 6 cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Combine the first three herbs in the boiling water and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Add the nutmeg, stir to combine and simmer briefly. Strain the tea and serve immediately.

[1] Mollazadeh H, Hosseinzadeh H. Cinnamon effects on metabolic syndrome: a review based on its mechanisms. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2016;19(12):1258-1270.

[2] Khalsa KP, Tierra M. The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, The Most Complete Guide to Natural Healing and Health with Traditional Ayurvedic Herbalism. Lotus Press; 2008.

Katy Morrison, ND, LAc