Search

Pumpkin Spice Medicine

No, your pumpkin spice latte is probably NOT medicinal in the way I mean. It uses flavored syrup. But if you do any fall cooking with actual spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, star anise and/or fennel seeds you are adding Interior Warming Herbs from the Chinese Herbal Materia Medica. Let’s discuss each one in turn.


Cinnamon is further distinguished in Chinese medicine between the twigs and the bark. Generally, it is considered acrid, sweet, and hot. It tonifies yang, dispels cold, opens channels, and can alleviate pain. Because of its tasty warm nature, it is used in a lot of cool weather cooking. However, if you experience yin deficiency heat signs and symptoms (notably night sweats), cinnamon might not be your friend as it will increase the heat you experience. On the other hand, if you’re someone who can tell a cold front has arrived because your body tightens up and is a little more painful than usual, talk to your herbalist about adding additional cinnamon into your diet.

Cloves (Ding Xiang) are acrid and warm. They particularly warm your digestive organs and return a rebelling stomach to an appropriate downward flow. They too tonify yang. Again, if you are already too warm, say experiencing a fever with your winter cold, cloves are a bad idea. However, if you experience reflux or nausea, this might be something worth talking with your herbalist about including in your formula.

Ginger is a big player in Chinese Herbal Medicine and it is treated differently when fresh and when dried. Here we’ll talk about dried ginger (Gan Jiang) and I don’t necessarily mean the kind that has been turned into a candy with lots of sugar. Ginger also warms your digestive system and restores yang like others in this category. Additionally, dried ginger warms the lungs and dissolves phlegm, warms channels, and dispels cold and damp. As with other warming herbs, if you’re already too warm then additional ginger is a bad idea. If you have a slow digestive system, however, it may be worth discussing its inclusion in your diet as it does stimulate peristalsis.

Star Anise (Da Hui Xiang) is acrid, sweet and warm. It disperses cold, warms the kidneys, alleviates pain, regulates qi and improves appetite. As with all other of the herbs in this category, people with excess heat should avoid star anise. However, if cold weather gives you a pain in the back, some salt-fried star anise might be just the thing to warm it up and alleviate the pain. Discuss this option with your herbalist. It is also commonly included in formulas to treat hernia.

Fennel seeds are offered at Indian restaurants for good reason. Known as Xiao Hui Xiang in the TCM Materia Medica, they disperse cold, warm the liver and kidney, relieve pain, regulate qi and improve appetite. It is speculated that these latter functions are achieved through stimulating peristalsis. It might be a good idea to have some on hand for Thanksgiving as it will help alleviate bloating, indigestion, and abdominal fullness after eating. You know by now that these warming herbs are a bad idea for those with too much heat already. However, it might be a nice addition to your star anise for cold-induced low back pain. Talk with your herbalist if you think fennel seeds might be for you.