Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Tis' the season for all things pumpkin, not least what may be infamously known as pumpkin spice due to the popularity of the pumpkin spice latte.
And while some of you may be sick of the hype of pumpkin spice (which is actually just pumpkin pie spice), the constituents of this fall/winter spice blend are actually quite Ayurvedically appropriate for the season.
You see, we are entering into the Vata time of the year, where leaves are starting to fall off the trees, the weather is getting cooler and drier, and we are also reaping a rich harvest of fruits, squashes, and other fall produce. During this time, our agni or digestive fire also increases to help us burn the necessary fuel needed to get us through the winter months. It is more natural for us to require not only more nutrient-dense foods but also warmer spices to help us digest those foods. This brings us to the main popular constituents of pumpkin pie spice - ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice.
Spices are considered medicinal substances in Ayurveda and when used appropriately have amazing effects on the body. Each of these spices is known to be pungent, warming, and digestive. Let's take a closer look at what Ayurveda says about each of them:
Cinnamon helps alleviate coldness in the body and is an excellent circulatory stimulant. It helps improve digestion and helps stimulate appetite. In addition, it has a pleasant sweetness along with a warm pungency and slight bitterness.
It has a warming effect (virya), and is light, dry, sharp.
Ginger powder is the dried and powdered rhizome of the ginger plant. It is considered ama pachana, which means that it has the ability to reduce ama, or digestive toxins, from the body. It is also very effective in combating nausea and is an excellent digestive aid.
Ginger is hot and pungent in its qualities, so it is best used in moderation for those who are susceptible to pitta imbalances.
Nutmeg is quite an interesting spice and a powerful one at that. It is an effective nervine sedative and helps with insomnia and stress relief. It has a grahi effect, meaning that it helps the body better absorb nutrients and aids in digestion.
Nutmeg is pungent, bitter, and astringent, and has a warming effect on the body. Nutmeg powder is the ground kernel as depicted. The same fruit also produces the spice mace.
Cloves are a pungent, aromatic spice with a variety of uses. Clove buds are actually dried flower buds. They are often used as a local analgesic because of their numbing effect, and are also widely used for oral care.
On top of that, cloves are also considered ama pachana and help dispel toxic digestive waste. They are considered warming although some may argue that they also have a cooling effect akin to an icy-hot feeling.
Allspice is often mistakenly assumed to be a spice blend, but it is actually a berry. However, it does live up to those expectations to an extent because its flavors seem to be a mix of black pepper, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Allspice is from Jamaica and is not well-known in Ayurvedic medicine, but it fits well into the category of spicy, heating digestive spices. When you bite into an allspice berry, you get a hint of sweetness along with a clove-like icy-hot pungency.
Make your own Pumpkin Pie Spice
It is terribly convenient to get pumpkin pie spice at the grocery today, but if you want that super-fresh medicinal punch to your spices, I highly recommend grinding them together yourself right before use. Whole spices preserve their aromatic compounds much more effectively and also have a stronger flavor. A mortar and pestle help release the aromatic compounds the most effectively, but you can use an electric spice grinder as well.
References and Resources for further exploration
The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
Ayurvedic Pharmacology & Therapeutic Uses of Medicinal Plants: Dravyaguna Vignyan by Vaidya V.M. Gogte