In our post on Ten Tips for Slow Food Success, we talked about your domain, your kitchen, and how to stock foods that best facilitate a slow, thoughtful, and healthy approach to meal preparation. In this post we will take a closer look at that pantry, and its potential for healing spices, through the eyes of Hildegard of Bingen.
The Hildegard Kitchen: Spice Up Your Health
Lovingly referred to as “hormones of the kitchen”, a Hildegard-inspired kitchen contains numerous traditional healing spices. Many of the healing spices found in a Hildegard kitchen grow easily in a backyard or potted Hildegarden.
While these fresh healing spices are well worth the effort, seasons change and some are just not cooperative in certain climates, so dried, packaged, and store-bought spices are a perfectly good way to keep your kitchen stocked.
The Hildegard Healing Spice Rack
The traditional healing spices favored by Hildegard are packed with beneficial nutrients and healing properties. But they are also represent a natural, delicious way to liven-up your meals. Hildegard’s use of spice was done in consideration of their healing properties but also according to their flavor profiles and how she believed they would manifest within the body based on balance of the four humors.
You don’t need to go to such depths to enjoy the flavor and health benefits of these healing spices, but you should definitely look into some of the potential benefits of the more familiar healing spices, and perhaps start to experiment with some of the less familiar.
Hildegard’s 13 Favorite Healing Spices:
Hyssop is an ancient herb with Biblical roots. Believed to possess healing and cleansing powers, Hyssop was often used both ceremoniously to ward off evil, sickness, and to cleanse the soul but also as an elixir to ease respiratory ailments and joint pain. It is still used today as a remedy for arthritis. Most often it is prepared in a tea or added to a bath. The volatile oils of hyssop are powerful and should not be freely ingested without proper handling and dosage.
Sage can be grown in a lot of climate zones but is also easily sourced, both fresh and dry, in most markets. Sage supports the body’s detoxifying functions, contains anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, and may help brain functioning.
Nutmeg opens the heart, cleans the senses and supports a clear cognitive function. Nutmeg is a wonderful spice that is readily available in its prepared, finely ground form, but we recommend sourcing the freshest, whole-nut version that you can fresh-grate to unlock the optimal flavor and aromatic qualities.
Spearmint is easy to grow. Often a bit too easy as it tends to overtake a garden rather quickly. It adds a spicy flavor; it warms the stomach and supports digestion. Spearmint is great for teas, chopped into salads like Tabbouleh [Link: internal recipe], chutneys, sauces, and dips.
The Dittany root strengthens the heart and promotes active blood circulation.
Mugwort herb is aromatic, spicy, and slightly bitter; it promotes circulation in the stomach. Mugwort is a staple of Chinese medicine and was quickly adopted by European healers. In addition to its healing properties it has long history of culinary uses including for spicing meats, flavoring soups and drinks. Its cousin, Artemisia Absinthium, a.k.a. “wormwood” is a principal ingredient in Absinthe. Prior to the cultivation of hops, mugwort was often used in making beer.
Hildegard thought water mint is best when cooked with food, but it can also be used fresh in tea or salads. It adds a mild-minty taste to the food and promotes good digestion.
Bertram / Akarara / Pellitory
Along with Galangal and Thyme, the root of Bertram, Akarkara or Pellitory is considered one of the three primary spices in a Hildegard kitchen. These spices can be added to almost any food. The Bertram root stimulates digestion by improving the absorption of nutrients in the gut / intestines.
Galangal root powder gives food a healthy focus. Galangal acts as an antiviral, supports digestion, and stimulates body functions. Galangal is an ideal winter food for cold prevention to support immune defenses.
Cubeb or tailed pepper has intense flavor and is perceived as cool. It produces a cheerful heart, promotes clear thinking and supports brain performance.
This wonderful evergreen herb is easily grown in your garden and can be dried and stored for use throughout the winter. It has many antioxidant properties, is naturally antimicrobial, and is nutrient dense. Thyme can add a unique flavor on its own but also pairs well with rosemary, marjoram, and sage. Thyme is a versatile healing spice, essential to the Hildegard kitchen.
The licorice root is particularly suitable for sweet desserts. According to Hildegard, licorice strengthens the voice, supports a balanced mind, and brightens the eyes. Licorice tea is a great natural remedy for respiratory issues and some research is indicating that it influences the bile response leading to better elimination of excess cholesterol. It can be soothing to the digestive tract and can act as a mild laxative.
Hildegard had high regard for cinnamon. Recent studies show that the regular intake of cinnamon can have many positive affects, including supporting the regulation of blood sugar. The warming qualities of cinnamon make it a natural fit for easing discomfort brought on by colds and flu. There are many trace minerals and it is dense with antioxidants which make it a great culinary spice. There is even some indication that the aroma of cinnamon can increase brain functioning.