Can you use Pumpkin Spice Medicinally?
This is a serious question! Many culinary herbs and spices are used in Chinese medicine and Western herbalism, so the popular seasonal spice mix might just help with a thing or two.
Let's first look at what's in pumpkin spice, aka pumpkin pie spice.
To be clear, pumpkin spice is just baking spices meant to be added into pumpkin pie, it contains no actual pumpkin. It's often added into recipes with pumpkin and sugar, but the spice blend on it's own has no other ingredients besides cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice. These are all warming spices that improve digestion, but they all have slightly different functions.
Cinnamon is particularly good at warming up the abdomen, reducing cramping and pain, and balancing blood sugar. Nutmeg's main function is to astringe the intenstines in cases of loose stools and diarrhea when caused by "cold" in the digestive system. Ginger is calming, especially for nausea or reduced appetite, it's also anti-inflammatory and can improve pain. Cloves also improve nausea, poor appetite, and hiccups. If allspice is used, it's anti-inflammatory as well and reduces flatulence.
But, what does this tell us? This mix of herbs is good for anyone with digestive upset/poor digestion caused by cold. But, what exactly does that mean?
What does "cold" in the digestive system mean?
In Chinese medicine the digestive system is thought of like a flame on a gas stove. Some people's digestion is turned all the way up and breaks down foods very well, this would be considered someone with strong digestive Qi (energy.) While there are other people who have their flame turned way down and don't digest foods well at all, this is considered weak digestive Qi with cold.
Symptomatically this can look like bloating, gassiness, frequent hiccups, cramping abdominal pain, loose stools and/or diarrhea. Patients with this presentation may also run cold and feel weak and/or tired. This presentation would benefit from a little pumpkin spice added in the diet, but of course if symptoms are severe I recommend seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner for a customer herbal formula and acupuncture treatment, and perhaps even a gastroenterologist if you haven't been already.
If you tend more towards heartburn, ulcers, constipation, feeling over heated, or if you're experiencing food poisoning/an infection with fever, then these are all examples of digestive weakness with elements of heat. In these cases adding pumpkin spice is like adding fire to fire. Ginger is the only herb that may be appropriate to use, but only fresh ginger, as dried ginger is too hot in nature.
How to use pumpkin spice?
That shouldn't be hard, there are thousands of recipes out there that call for it. If you already tend toward digestive upset, however, its best not to go straight for the pastries and sweets which are heavy and difficult to digest.
Instead, sprinkle it on a bowl of oatmeal, chia pudding, or yogurt with fruit like apple, persimmon, or pear. Add it into granola, a smoothie, or when roasting squash or root veggies. You can also brew some into your favorite tea or coffee, or sprinkle on top of a latte or cappuccino.