Happy Halloween! Of course, October 31st falls halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, when darkness begins to set in earlier.
Years and years ago on these dark, fall evenings in “the auld sod,” the Irish traditionally carved a turnip to hold a light and keep spirits away. In America, when millions of Irish arrived in the 1800s, they found pumpkins made a better vessel for transporting a light. It quickly became the subject of popular folktales.
When I was young, we would bring pumpkins home the day before Halloween. We carved one that afternoon and kept the others fresh for Thanksgiving. Later, when my daughter was young, I once tried to find a pumpkin the day before Halloween, and there were none to be had. We had to settle for an elongated yellow squash (actually the same species as pumpkin) and carve that instead.
Nowadays, the pumpkins and autumn paraphernalia seem to appear on porches and front stoops as early as the end of August — right after the summer beach equipment goes back into storage.
Health benefits associated with pumpkins
Native Americans made a dish that included pumpkins and squash in combination with beans and corn (called succotash). This “complete,” balanced dish remains traditional in New England.
In early Colonial America, pumpkins were carved for their filling and healthy inner flesh, which was often used in stews and pies. They also roasted the highly nutritious seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of much-needed minerals like magnesium, selenium and zinc.
If you’ve never roasted your own pumpkin seeds before, it’s very easy to do. After cleaning off the pulp, dry the seeds out on a paper towel, toss with extra virgin olive oil and salt, then roast in the oven at 325°F for 10 minutes.
Pumpkin spice — much more than a Starbucks flavor of the month
Another popular fall staple is pumpkin spice — you see some form of it nearly everywhere you turn lately. But “pumpkin spice” doesn’t actually have anything to do with the gourd itself. People just started adding spices to the bland pumpkin meat to make it more palatable.
Typically, “pumpkin spice” is a blend of ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and sometimes allspice
As it turns out, many of these spices are highly medicinal.
Cinnamon blocks inflammation-promoting compounds in the body, including unhealthy fat metabolites (arachidonic acid) and toxic biochemicals (such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, often involved in systemic inflammation). The widely available variety called cassia cinnamon thins the blood, helps prevent blood clots, and controls blood sugar. (I’ll give you all the details for natural approaches to controlling blood sugar and Type II diabetes in my new upcoming online learning protocol — stay tuned for details on its release in the coming weeks.)
However, if you take a blood thinner drug, you should use the other variety of cinnamon called Ceylon. It will give you the anti-inflammatory benefits without potential drug interaction side effects.
Nutmeg fights inflammation as well. In fact, nutmeg oil can alleviate inflammation by slowing production of COX-2, which is how ibuprofen works. Nutmeg tea also eases digestive discomfort.
Mind you, I have some concerns about nutmeg. By some accounts, nutmeg at high doses can cause hallucinations. Also, pregnant or nursing women and infants should not take it.
Ground ginger can help soothe your digestion. And in China, men and women have used ginger to treat stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, and even pain for more than 3,000 years. It’s probably one reason why ginger plays such a prominent role in Asian cooking to this day. In the West, we have our own ginger remedies. In fact, when you were a kid, did your mom give you a glass of real ginger ale to settle your upset stomach? That might not have been a bad idea back in the day, when ginger ale actually contained some real ginger. But nowadays, most ginger ale on the market contains artificial ginger flavoring. Instead, to soothe an upset stomach, I recommend adding fresh, cut ginger to hot water for a nice, soothing infusion.
Cloves, like ground ginger, improve digestion. They work by stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes. They also help reduce flatulence, gastric irritability, dyspepsia, and nausea. Some research even suggests they help control blood sugar levels. You can roast cloves and eat them with honey.
Allspice is widely used in Caribbean, Mexican, and other Central American cuisines. You make it by grinding the dried, unripe berries dropped from the native pimento tree. Research shows certain active compounds in allspice offer medicinal qualities. Like other pumpkin spices, allspice contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds also help stimulate digestion. Allspice also contains important minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium.
So, tomorrow morning, don’t be tempted to toss those uncarved pumpkins. Instead, put them to good use. Or at least keep as them décor for Thanksgiving.
P.S. I can’t leave you today without mentioning the potent powerhouse cacao (chocolate). As I always advise, avoid milk chocolate with added fats, sugars, and low-quality ingredients. Instead, opt for dark chocolate with at least 80 percent cacao to gain all the healthy benefits. So, tonight, introduce the young trick-or-treaters who come to your door to some dark chocolate. And save a piece or two for yourself!
“Five uncelebrated spices to add to your anti-inflammatory arsenal,” Elephant Journal (www.elephantjournal.com) 8/3/2017
“13 Surprising Benefits of Cloves,” Organic Facts (www.organicfacts.net) 10/11/2017
“Allspice nutrition facts,” Nutrition and You (www.nutrition-and-you.com)