Happy Thanksgiving! I'm taking a break for the holiday. Please enjoy this updated version of a previous post about the Celtic magic in typical Thanksgiving seasonings.
Mmm! Thanksgiving is in the air. The earthy goodness of sage seasons the turkey and stuffing. Pie spices—cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves—warm the house with the odor of autumn. But these herbs bring more than good smells and yummy flavor with them. Medical studies claim that all of them have health benefits. But there’s more! According to Celtic folklore, these herbs can work magic. Some bring luck or protection. Others can improve your finances. Some even attract love. So, as you pass around the sweet potatoes, you may be spreading a little bit of magic too. Here are the details.
This is a single spice that tastes like a combination of the spices found in pumpkin pies and apple cakes. Celtic folklore lists it as a healing herb and modern science agrees. According to WebMd, allspice possibly can aid in several intestinal issues from indigestion to abdominal pain. Additionally, it helps with obesity, diabetes, and menstrual bleeding. Be careful with the last one, though, as the spice slows blood clotting time.
On the magical side, Celtic folklore says allspice is a lucky herb which provides protection and helps with finding treasure. The spice’s oil is reputed to energize one’s spirit, and folklore recommends adding allspice to spells and charms to boost determination.
An antioxidant, cinnamon is believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease but it hasn’t been studied sufficiently yet for scientists to be sure. Studies have shown, though, that it lowers blood sugar and its role in helping with diabetes is being explored. Cinnamon also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, it is safe to consume in foods but it is available in supplement form as well. In excessive amounts, it can be harmful to people suffering from liver problems.
Celtic folklore considers cinnamon one of the warm spices which incite passion and aid in romance. According to the lore, it is a powerful herb. It provides strength, luck, and success. Cinnamon, it is said, also gives personal protection and increases one’s psychic ability. All of which leads to a good reason to have a second slice of pie!
Clove is a tiny spice but it’s packed with health benefits. It is an excellent source of potassium and beta-carotene. In addition, it contains chemical compounds which produce an anti-inflammatory effect, so it can ease arthritis and other pains caused by inflammation. Because of its anti-inflammatory property, this spice can help protect the lining of the stomach, reducing the risk of ulcers. Full of antioxidants, clove, according to WebMD, can reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as diabetes and some cancers. In addition, studies have shown it may reduce the symptoms of cirrhosis and fatty liver disease, and improve overall liver health.
Another of the warm spices, clove is associated, in Celtic folklore, with love and romance. As a bonus, it is said to attract money too!
Stuffing oneself is a Thanksgiving tradition. Thankfully, one of the traditional spices can help. Both folklore and modern medicine agree that ginger settles indigestion and quiets nausea. But it can do so much more. The spice is an anti-bacterial which helps the body fight off germs. It is particularly credited with preventing gum disease. Like cinnamon and clove, ginger is an anti-inflammatory that may reduce arthritis pain. While not technically a pain reliever, it has been shown to ease pain when used in a compress and seems to decrease muscle soreness if taken before exercising. In addition, it decreases menstrual pain in some women. Loaded with antioxidants, ginger can help lower the risk of heart disease and hypertension. A recent study also demonstrated that it helps lower LDL.
In Celtic folklore, ginger is an exciting herb. It draws adventure and new experiences. Another warm spice, ginger is said to increase sensuality and sexuality. It boosts confidence and increases success and prosperity. In addition, the lore says it provides protection and good health.
There is a long list of health benefits attributed to nutmeg. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that any of the claims are true. The spice has been shown, however, to contain chemicals that work on the nervous system and may reduce anxiety. Studies are being done to explore its benefit in the treatment of other emotional and psychiatric issues. Nutmeg also seems to have antibacterial properties.
Celtic folklore recommends carrying nutmeg as a good luck charm. It is said to provide protection and to attract money and prosperity. The herb is helpful, as well, in breaking hexes.
In medieval times, this herb was associated with remembering. As it turns out, scientific studies have shown it improves memory and increases alertness. It also helps with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The Celts considered sage a cure-all and it was part of any Fairy Doctor’s medicine chest. In addition, the herb was used in purification rituals and was employed to reverse spells.
Rosemary and Thyme
Of course, most people also use the other “poultry seasonings”—rosemary and thyme—to flavor their turkey. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” Ophelia says in Hamlet. Turns out she was right. Scientific studies have shown that rosemary improves memory and cognitive awareness. There isn’t enough scientific evidence yet to sat the same for thyme, but the keyword in that sentence is yet. Sage, rosemary, and thyme are all members of the mint family so it seems likely that thyme shares qualities with its cousins.
In Celtic folk magic, though, thyme is considered quite powerful. It is said to attract loyalty, affection, and romantic love. It also provides strength and courage and eases unbearable grief. Used in purification rituals, thyme is believed to banish evil spirits and negative forces. Perhaps that’s why it is said to ward off nightmares.
Rosemary, as well, is used in purifying. The lore says it can be used for protection and healing. Additionally, it is said, like thyme, to attract romantic love and was used in wedding bouquets. Because of its association with remembering, rosemary was used as well in funeral wreaths.
Sage, rosemary, and thyme are all members of the mint family. Their shared connection to memory helps to explain their presence in the English folk song, “Scarborough Fair”:
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme / Remember me to one who lives there / She once was a true love of mine.
In case you’re wondering, parsley is not related to the other three. It is a member of the Apiaceae family along with carrots and celery. The latter was very important in Irish folk medicine and there’s even an ancient Irish law regarding the amount that a patient can legally consume. Intrigued? Read about ancient Brehon Law by clicking here.
Likely, you have dishes that are an integral part of your family’s Thanksgiving tradition. It is also likely that the magical herbs mentioned above flavor those dishes. If you want to refresh the magic by adding a new dish (or a twist on an old one) to your feast, here are some recipes to consider.
1) Ina Garten’s Fresh Apple Spice Cake. This dessert is packed with spices, apples, raisins, and even a bit of rum.
2) Alton Brown's Glazed Carrots. This easy side dish gets its spice and sweetness from ginger ale.
3) Sweet Potato Gratin from Food Network Kitchens. An upgrade from the traditional sweet potato casserole, the magic in this dish comes from allspice and gingersnap cookies.
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I wish you and your family a safe and magical Thanksgiving!
Slan go foil!
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