Toast to Your Health

The holidays are fully upon us, and many people enjoy trying new or different celebratory beverages during this time. Here are a few flavorful ingredients that will add extra flavor to your drinks, while conveying some health benefits at the same time.

Allspice - Pimenta dioica - from an evergreen tree native to South and central America. The fruit, which looks like a large peppercorn, is used as a spice. Contains Eugenol and Limonene, the former an anti-inflammatory and the latter helps to relieve heartburn. Use as a powdered spice in desserts. You can also find allspice liquer, which mixes beautifully into holiday drinks.

Bitters- Formulas of "bitters" typically contain artichoke, blue gentian and other bitter-tasting herbs. These formulas cause an increase in bile secretion, and help to rid the liver and GI tract of excess fats and toxins. Bitters are a liver's friend, helping to reduce the toxic load of this all-important waste-cleaning organ. Drink with or without alcohol. You will find that bitters can help to reduce an overly full feeling.

Cinnamon - Cinnamonum zeylanicum - The bark of a small evergreen native to southern India and sri lanka, cinnamon is used traditionally to relieve nausea, bloating, gas, coughs and colds. More recently cinnamon has been shown to act in an insulin-like manner, to help lower blood sugar levels. Cinnamon contains a compound called MHCP, which mimics insulin. Half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder daily can reduce blood sugar. You can also steep cinnamon sticks in hot drinks.

Coriander- Coriandrum sativum - An annual herb native to the Mediterranean and western Europe. The seeds have a long history of use to aid digestion. The compounds in coriander exhibit broad protective powers, including anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity. Soak a handful of coriander seeds in a cup of vodka overnight. Strain the vodka, and you have a flavorful new liquer.

Cranberry - Vaccinium macrocarpon - A super fruit native to North America, cranberry is extraordinarily rich in antioxidants, notably proanthocyanidins, which prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. Thus cranberries are beneficial in helping to prevent and treat UTI. Cranberry also demonstrates significant benefit to the heart, and possesses potent anti-aging properties. Cranberry juice or concentrate makes a good mixer.

Nutmeg - Myristica fragrans - native to Indonesia's spice islands, nutmeg contains a range of aromatic compounds beneficial to overall digestion. Nutmeg contains anti-inflammatory agents as well, which help to relieve pain. Nutmeg is also rich in the super antioxidant quercetin, which provides powerful protection to the body and brain. A bit of ground nutmeg in egg nog is a traditional holiday pleasure.

Peppermint - Mentha piperita - native to Europe and North America. The leaf has been widely used to quell digestive upset, relieve indigestion, reduce bloating and gas. You can drink peppermint tea and eat the fresh leaves. A sprig of fresh peppermint in a drink imparts a burst of cool flavor.

Rosemary - Rosemarinus officinalis - a fragrant bushy evergreen native to the Mediterranean. Possesses super-powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and liver-protective properties. Traditionally used to enhance liver health. Soak a few sprigs of rosemary overnight in either vodka or gin, and you have a great mixer ingredient.

Thyme - Thymus vulgaris - Leaves of this small Mediterranean bush used traditionally and in modern times to relieve chest and respiratory disorders, coughs, colds and bronchitis. Good as a tea or in lozenges, a few bits of fresh thyme will zest up any clear-colored drink.

Remember to drink responsibly, and to enjoy holiday beverages in moderation. Very happy holidays to you!

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com