baby, it's cold outside (kick up the heat with cayenne!)
When it’s cold outside, I’m tempted to kick up the heat and stay in.
Just this morning, when the alarm rang at 5:30 am, I snuggled under the covers for another 15 minutes, contemplating whether or not I could weather my morning workout.
Even if you love the chill on your cheeks and you’re a self-proclaimed snow-bunny, you may find that there are moments, as the season shifts, that you’re drawn inside, to rekindle your glow and to counter the bite.
It’s no surprise!
Traditionally, winter is a time to focus INWARD, not outward.
It’s a time to receive, not act.
Without rest and conservation now, we just don’t have the force to flourish in the spring. Think of winter as the rest-and-digest of the seasons—even if it’s still warm where you are.
And while you’re taking a moment to stop, breathe and absorb the fact that it’s natural to turn inward during one of the busiest times of the year, go make yourself a warming drink—an elixir, as I like to call it.
There’s a reason I turn to elixirs when the sky is gray and the wind starts blowing and (I’ll admit it), I begin to layer my sweaters and wear out my fingerless gloves.
Sure, the elixirs serve some scrumptious warmth. Yet they also provide me with the opportunity to pack in some superfoods and spices to augment my healthy eats.
While I’m not blending a bunch of parsley into my hot brew, as I might in my warm-weather smoothie, spices afford a bunch of benefits that should not be overlooked!
Yet mostly, elixirs are a potion—a remedy for soothing what ails you. That may be a belly ache, but this time of year it can also be a certain fear and flurry that comes with the season.
Kick up the heat, take a seat, and stop for a beat! Let’s have a cuppa.
what’s in my spice cupboard today?
This red spice that’s best known for turning up the heat in your Tex-mex, and on your tongue, has a long history of use as a home-remedy, especially in the Americas.
Cayenne’s spicy kick and its healing properties come from the active agent called capsaicin that you’ll find in plants in the chili pepper family.
Heat seekers can consume more capsaicin by exploring a wide range of spicy peppers (from jalapeños to habaneros), or simply stick with the more standard red cayenne powder that you can find on the shelves of any grocery store.
Cayenne is best known for its ability to decrease pain in the body, especially joint pain and headaches. It’s believed that capsaicin short-circuits pain by depleting nerve cells of a chemical called substance P (which helps transmit pain signals along nerve endings to the brain). By reducing substance P, capsaicin works as a natural pain reliever.
Capsaicin also regulates blood flow by equalizing blood pressure from your head to your feet, making it a key addition for those with high blood pressure. And keeping in the heart health realm, cayenne helps clean the walls of the arteries and helps the body reduce excess LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
If you’ve got cold feet (literally, not figuratively), cayenne may be the cure for you. It improves circulation and brings more blood to your extremities keeping your fingers frostbite-free and your toes toasty. That increased blood flow can also support the reduction of peripheral neuropathy!
Just as cayenne turns up the heat on your tastebuds, research shows it can elevate your internal temperature (hello metabolism), and may even increase the number of calories you burn while decreasing cravings for salty, fatty or sweet foods.
And as we make our way into cold and flu season, keep that cayenne handy since it can help clear respiratory passages and open up your airways. Just a dash on your meals will make a breakthrough in your breathing issues. (My late hubby used to put a sprinkle into his hot ginger, lemon and honey tea when he was fighting an upper respiratory bug.)
Last but not least, you know I can’t consider a spice without commenting on how it might help with digestive issues. Cayenne stimulates your GI by increasing enzyme production and the flow of gastric juices. This all adds up to improved digestion and absorption of your food.
Even if you aren’t a fan of heat, consider adding just a touch of cayenne to your meals to capture the healing properties of this spectacular spice.
And continuing on with our theme of spice-infused teas and elixirs, I’ve got one of my favorite cayenne-inspired creations to share below.
But wait! Before you pull out the cayenne from your cabinet, two words of warning:
Capsaicin can irritate the mucous membranes including eyes, lips, nose and tongue. Always use caution when cooking with any type of chili (especially fresh peppers).
Cayenne is in the nightshade family (along with all peppers). If you have a known or suspected sensitivity to nightshades, keep the cayenne in your cabinet for now. Instead continue to explore the spices we’ve already covered in our spicy series.
superfood mexican hot chocolate
At first glance the pairing of cocoa and cayenne can seem odd, but it’s long been a favorite for Mexican-inspired hot chocolate drinks and desserts.
This perfect pair was made famous with the sensual cinnamon and cayenne-infused hot chocolate that Julia served her customers in the movie Chocolat.
Make yourself a mug of this superfood-infused variety that adds maca (one of my favorite adaptogens) to the mix. It’s sure to turn up the heat on a cold winter night.
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk, cashew milk (or other nut milk of choice)
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
- 1 cinnamon stick (plus one for garnish)
- 2 Tbsp unsweetened raw cacao (or carob) powder
- 1 tsp maca powder (optional)
- scant pinch of cayenne
- stevia or maple syrup to taste
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, gently heat all ingredients and stir until well-combined. Remove cinnamon stick and serve warm with an extra cinnamon stick for stirring.
Makes one mug but can easily be doubled if you’d like to serve one to your sweetie, too!
I’m betting you’ll be ready and willing to take on this week’s at-home assignment! All you need to do is head to your kitchen and blend up a batch of hot chocolate.
Just promise me you’ll pass on the kind that comes in the packet and make a mug infused with some of our favorite spices.
Once you’ve got your cup, curl up on the couch, get cozy under your favorite blanket and carve out some time to cultivate rest and relaxation. It’s what the season calls for.
P.S. My good friend Summer Bock is hosting the Better Belly Summit beginning on December 8th. Register now (it’s free) and catch my talk, Beyond the Microbiome—How gut health fits into a larger paradigm.
cayenne home remedies
Explore some of these favorite folk remedies to treat everything from colds to constipation using cayenne.
Mix a few dashes of cayenne with 2-3 teaspoons of coconut oil. Apply it to painful joints several times a day (be sure you don’t have any open cuts). You may feel a mild burning sensation but this will decrease as you continue to use it. You can also purchase cream with cayenne in it.
Mix 1/8 tsp (or less to start) of cayenne powder in a glass of warm or room temperature water and drink. You can also add freshly-squeezed lemon for a double dose of digestive help.
Mix a dash of cayenne with warm water and gargle with it or use it as mouthwash.
Sprinkle a dash of cayenne pepper in your socks, the increased circulation will help keep your toes toasty.
Cold & Flu
Try the herbal remedy known as Fire Cider (a mix of garlic, onion, hot peppers, cayenne and more). Find recipes at Mountain Rose or Wellness Mama and create your own cold-busting concoction.