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Spice Up Your Commute and Bring Down Your Stress

Aug 17, 2007
The next time you start to bite into a fragrant cinnamon roll, stop to consider this valuable, delectable spice. Over the past 300 years, Holland, Portugal, England, and France have fought wars to gain control of the cinnamon market. Now you can easily purchase this spice in your local grocery!

Similarly, the next time you prepare to brush your teeth with a peppermint-flavored toothpaste, pause and imagine a time when peppermint was believed to have magical properties! The value and mystique of these two plants continues to the present day.

Cinnamon: "my fortune is yours"

Originating in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), cinnamon has been a highly prized spice for centuries. Cinnamon is mentioned in the Bible, and the Chinese wrote about cinnamon as far back as 2800 B.C. The ancient Egyptians used it for embalming, and medieval Europeans used it as a preservative.

Around 1 A.D., 350 grams of cinnamon were equal in value to 5 kilograms of silver; in other words, cinnamon's value was 15 times its equivalent weight in silver! It's no wonder that hundreds of years later, the English Victorians referred to the cinnamon plant as a flower meaning "my fortune is yours."

Over the centuries, cinnamon has been used as a preservative and flavoring, as well as for medicinal purposes, such as for morning sickness, diarrhea, coughing, and sore throats. It has also been valued as an astringent, antiseptic, and aphrodisiac. Currently some researchers are studying how beneficial cinnamon may be to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Peppermint: "a magical potion"

Peppermint also has been enjoyed throughout the world for centuries. For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans created festival crowns out of peppermint leaves, flavored their sauces and wines with it, and prescribed it for medicinal purposes.

Peppermint has been valued as a symbol of wisdom and virtue. But, paradoxically, peppermint also has been valued as a magical plant for passion and love, using the power of the goddess, Venus.

Legends around this plant have evolved since the Greek myths linked peppermint to Hecate, ruler of witches and magical creatures. Peppermint has been a common ingredient in recipes for magical potions, and it has been said that:

In English folklore, finding a flowering mint plant on Midsummer's Day brought eternal happiness.
In French folklore, carrying a bouquet of mint and St. John's Wort protected you from wicked spirits.
In Italian folklore, using peppermint helped to protect children from sickness and silk worms from evil spells.
Peppermint has long been thought to be particularly useful for digestion, dizziness, seasickness, and nausea. It has also been used as an anesthetic or antiseptic.

Modern-day commuters' benefits

Although the fortunes of war over cinnamon and the magical spells of peppermint are disappearing into the past, these two plants continue to be associated with delicious flavors and therapeutic effects. A recent study at Wheeling Jesuit University has added new benefits for commuters. Results of the study, presented at the 2005 Association for Chemical Reception Sciences Conference, showed that commuters were affected by peppermint and cinnamon while driving. These scents helped to:

Decrease tiredness, anxiety, and frustration
Increase alertness
Stimulate the central nervous system
Here are some recipes to add cinnamon and peppermint to your commute, as well as a delicious, healthy recipe for when you get home.


Cinnamon Car Freshener

1/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, heat applesauce on low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Using a teaspoon, gradually add cinnamon until the mixture turns soft and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat.

When cool enough to handle, knead remaining cinnamon into dough to make a pliable, clay texture. (If necessary, wear gloves to prevent the cinnamon from irritating your skin.) Roll flat and cut a circle; or use cookie cutters to cut out any other desired shape. Use a pencil to poke a hole about 1/2 inch from the edge.

Heat oven to 200F. Put the cinnamon circle on the oven rack and bake until completely dry. (Check every 5 minutes.) Remove from oven. When cool, tie a ribbon through the hole and hang from your car's rearview mirror.

Commuter's Peppermint Tea

1 cup boiling water
1 Tbs. peppermint leaves

Pour boiling water over peppermint leaves into a small teapot, and let it steep 5 to 10 minutes. Strain and pour into a cup. Breathe in the peppermint aroma as you savor the taste of the hot tea.

Peppermint Lip Balm

1 Tbs. beeswax
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract (don't use imitation extract)
3-5 drops pure peppermint extract

Fill a small saucepan 1/3 full of hot water and place on stovetop. Put beeswax and extracts into a glass measuring cup, and then place in the saucepan. Heat the water and stir frequently until the beeswax melts. Pour into clean, travel-sized containers. Close tightly, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken and Lentils

1 pound (2 cups) red, orange, or green dried lentils
8 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
8 oz. (1/2 of a 1 lb. pkg.) frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and rinsed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. chili powder

2 Tbs. olive oil
1-1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 scallions, chopped
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 to 2 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Place the dried lentils in a colander; rinse and pick through to remove any debris. In a large pot, bring water and salt to a boil. Add lentils, cover and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until lentils are tender, approximately 25 minutes. Drain well. Mix in raisins, chopped apricots, and spinach; rinse and drain again. Place in a large serving bowl. Mix together olive oil, vinegar, cumin, and chili powder. Pour over lentil mixture and toss. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (If available, use a ridged, grill-style skillet.) Add chicken strips and saute' until thoroughly cooked. Add remaining ingredients and cook until garlic, scallions, and spices are fragrant. (If necessary, add 1/4 cup warm water to keep from browning too quickly.) Place chicken mixture on top of lentil mixture. Serve warm or chilled.
About the Author
For more information, contact Dr. Nguyen at drnguyen@softdental.com or visit www.softdental.com.
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