Spice Up the Holidays with Five Thanksgiving Herbs and Spices

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Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, I walk into a house full of family, friends and food. Year after year, some things never change. I can always count on the aromas of juicy turkey, delicious stuffing and appetizers that I eat way too much of yet somehow manage to find room for second helpings and dessert. Many aspects of my Thanksgiving traditions may be familiar as these tastes and aromas are common throughout the US. Flavorful herbs and spices such as sage, nutmeg, bay leaves, thyme and cloves not only enhance your holiday meal, but they also can provide some additional health benefits.


Sage, a popular spice, has long been used as a spice and for health or medicinal purposes. A few studies discuss its use to improve sore throat, mood or blood cholesterol levels, but these findings are preliminary. Sprinkling sage on mashed potatoes adds more flavor to the dish without adding calories or salt. The next day, turn your turkey leftovers into turkey soup and add sage to the broth for extra flavor.


Nutmeg is a spice that has been popular all over the world for centuries. Besides its use for flavoring foods and beverages, nutmeg has been used as a traditional remedy for stomach or kidney disorders. Also, nutmeg extract has been studied for potential anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing purposes but mainly in animal models. This Thanksgiving, use nutmeg to add some warmth to a vegetable dish, such as carrots. Nutmeg also adds to the sweetness and spice of pumpkin and sweet potato pie filling. Both pumpkins and sweet potatoes contain vitamin A, which contributes to eye health, immunity and metabolism.


Including bay leaves in a Thanksgiving recipe may help your guests digest the big meal. Bay leaves have been associated with gastroprotective activity as an aid for digestion in animal studies. Bay leaves pair well with mashed potatoes. Also, use bay leaves as a flavorful rub for your Thanksgiving turkey and remember to use safe food handling practices when preparing the holiday meal.


It’s about time to add thyme to this list, especially during cold and flu season. Thyme extract has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of bronchitis. Thyme pairs well with green beans, so mix things up by adding it to the traditional green bean casserole. It brings flavor to a fall salad full of your favorite greens, fruits, vegetables and walnuts. Also, thyme is a tasty addition to your Thanksgiving stuffing.


Clove, one of the most valuable spices, has been used as a food preservative for centuries. Clove essential oil has also been associated with having antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, and antiviral activity. The strong taste of clove, along with cinnamon and nutmeg, brings warmth to classic Thanksgiving desserts like pumpkin pie and bread pudding. Clove can also be used in savory dishes like chicken and dumpling stew.

This holiday season is a great time to enjoy the seasonal and tasty herbs and spices that flavor Thanksgiving dishes and desserts. Including these spices in traditional holiday dishes such as mashed potatoes, pumpkin and sweet potato pies and day-after-Thanksgiving turkey soup enhances not only their tastes but can also contribute additional benefits as well. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

This blog post includes contributions from Morgan Manghera, a communications intern at the George Washington University.