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January 11, 2019
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Ol' Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, and what would she have there? If she was a good cook, it was seasonings for cooking. We generally call it a "spice cupboard," not herb and spice cupboard. I covered the herbs last week, so now I thought I'd look at spices.

A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark or other plant substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. The difference is, herbs are leaves, flowers or stems of plants used for flavoring or garnish. Spices can be antimicrobial and used in medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume, as well as flavor. The spice trade developed in South Asia and the Middle East by 2000 B.C.E. with cinnamon and black pepper. The spice trade route resulted in making the port city of Alexandria the main trading center for spices. Sailing spices around the world instead of the overland caravans made spices less expensive.

Biblically speaking, Joseph was sold by his brothers to spice merchants passing by and in Songs of Solomon, the male speaker compared his love to many forms of spices. The Middle Ages brought about a demand for spices found in Asia and South Africa by the wealthy Europeans. This is what propelled Christopher Columbus to sail the ocean blue, and why Vasco de Gama sailed to India.

The American Spice Trade Association defines spices as "any dried plant used primarily for seasoning purposes," which broadens the definition to include herbs, dehydrated vegetable, spice blends and spice seeds. Spices are grown in more tropical countries. Spices are usually dried and ground before using for seasoning.

Early uses encompassed magic, medicine, religion, tradition and preservation. Egyptians used spices and herbs for mummification, their demands for exotic spices and herbs stimulated world trade.

Earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Indian cultures.

My mother used spices as herbal remedies. I remember the delight of cinnamon toast, a mixture of sugar and cinnamon on toast, and her cinnamon rolls. She loved to make yeast concoctions. I used cinnamon on my staghorn fern to scale on other diseases. I am told, cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. I have cinnamon sticks, curled inner bark of the cinnamon Laurel tree, that I use in hot cider and to lie along counter where ants run. One of my must have spices.

Ginger is another helpful spice, it stops nausea and can relieve heartburn and bloating. Many boaters I know take along gingersnaps to help seasickness, and I use it to settle my stomach.

The other spice my mother used was cloves on my gums when I had toothaches and couldn't get to the dentist. It has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antivirus, antiseptic properties, as well as relieving flatulence, helping promote good digestion as well as metabolism.

Chili seeds contain capsaicin which puts heat into chilies, may lower risk of skin and colon cancer, suppress appetite and boost metabolism. A good bowl of chili helps clear my sinuses.

I've never used mustard seeds, which contain phytonutrient compounds that protect against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract; believed to reduce the severity of asthma. I heard about the benefits of old-time mustard plasters for asthma.

What I do use is turmeric or curcumin tea with a shake of black pepper, for its anti-inflammatory and antifungal purposes. It turns everything yellow, my cup, my spoon, my counter and the sink. A little bleach helps clear it up.

When I worked in the grocery store, a customer bought lots of garlic, often. It's good for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. You need to chop and press the clove to release its allium compound.

So, remember, spices can spice up your life with flavor and healthful compounds.

Just a heads up for next weekend. National Arbor Day is the 4th of April. Since 1886, Florida has celebrated its own Arbor Day the third Friday in January, so Jan. 19 is Florida's Arbor Day.

We celebrate one of the first Arbor Days held nationwide. January 18 is our day to celebrate. If you can't plant a tree, at least take a tree walk to see how many you might know. Or clean up the base of one already planted, that needs a little love.

Commemorate a tree to someone you wish to honor. If you have no spot available, contact the National Forest Foundation. They have space available where they need more trees. Don't forget that a palm is not a tree, it's a grass, but it serves the same purpose.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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