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December 17, 2016

Pfeffernüsse cookies - Your happy herbal Christmas cookie

Written by: Matthew Wagner, L.Ac., M.S.O.M.

Eat your medicinal herbs and spices during the cold winter days with this best recipe for the Pfeffernüsse cookies!

I wouldn’t presume to know what your favorite holiday cookie is. People fight wars over which is better, chocolate chip, or oatmeal raisin. Now being an herbalist, of course I’m going to choose the far more complex and interesting oatmeal raisin over the generic and predictable chocolate chip. Call me granola. But, far be it from me to pass judgment. However, I WILL tell you why the Pfeffernüsse is far superior to any cookie ever made – at least from an herbal point of view. In fact, dare I say, it’s genius. 

Let’s consider what winter means for you. Winter is cold! Your body is warm. You may have noticed that these two temperatures are opposite? That’s why being in cold is generally miserable – it’s the opposite of life. When you look at the aging process, you see entropy on a human level. Little kids will run around in shorts in the snow, while grandparents wear thick sweaters in warm houses. As we age, we lose heat. As we lose heat, we lose function.

The cold winter weather will steal that heat away very quickly if you’re not careful. This may look like the predictable sore, achy muscles, back pain, tight shoulders, or headaches (People say all the time this is from shoveling snow. But, it’s not. It’s from being cold!). It can also feel like gas, bloating, cramping, general digestive upset, or generally feeling like “crap” – the perfect metaphor for bad digestion. This is why good food choices (i.e. warm, cooked, spicy) in the winter are so important.

Make Your Cookie Choices Count

Enter the pfeffernusse – the ideal warming cookie for the cold winter season. The cookie backbone is similar to any other cookie: 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 eggs. But the pfeffernusse employs multiple warming herbs and spices to ramp up digestive function, while tasting awesome. Plus, its spice combination and overall flavor profile mean you can get away with using less sugar, and healthier types of sugar (i.e. molasses and honey).

Let’s start with the spices*:

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon anise seed
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • ½ cup candied lemon peel

These are all very warming spices, which work primarily on the digestive system. This would treat cold, colicky-type pain, in general. However, we can also organize it by upper, middle, and lower GI. 

Upper and Middle GI 

Medicinal herbs and spices for holiday cookies

The cinnamon, anise, and citrus treat the upper. This would generally be a feeling of upper GI/stomach bloating, possibly with cough or wheeze. The anise will work to open up the lungs and clear phlegm and mucus. Additionally, citrus peel/zest (not juice!) is a wonderful digestive herb. It cuts through and breaks apart sticky phlegm, and moves stuck food in the stomach. So, it’s great for phlegm in the lungs with cough, as well as phlegm and stuckness in the stomach with a feeling of bloating and pain in the solar plexus region. 

Middle GI 

The spices that treat the middle abdomen are the cardamom, cloves, and ginger. These herbs all pierce through cold and are very effective at treating cold, cramping muscle spasms of the abdomen. Of these, cardamom is most effective in drying thin mucus, especially if there is loss of sense of taste, or bloating. Dried ginger is more intensely warming, and breaks apart old, congealed, deeply lodged phlegm and cold. The nutmeg and cloves are warming and resolve cold muscle spasms. The cloves are will help to treat hiccup/belching. 

Middle and Lower GI

The middle and lower GI are helped by the pepper and the nutmeg. The nutmeg is very effective at stopping cold diarrhea with pain. The pepper primarily warms the stomach and intestines, drives out cold, and aids in digestion. (There is a reason why pepper is on almost every table in America, and that is because it is actually a very good digestive spice). If we wanted to treat the lower GI even more – for example, if we had lower abdominal gas and cramping, we could add 1 tablespoon of fennel in place of the anise seed. So, we can see there’s a lot going in these cookies! 

Now, let’s take a look at our sugar choices. Instead of using white sugar, which is for all intents and purposes, junk (terrible on the digestion!) we’re using honey and molasses. Small amounts of honey are a “qi” tonic – a balanced energy source that adds tone and strength to the body. This can treat general debility – especially bloating, fullness, or cramping which are better with food. Molasses, on the other hand, builds blood. Of course, it’s high in iron, so, we could say it treats anemia. But, from a Chinese medical point of view, it treats the idea of blood as “functional category”. So, it treats such symptoms of TCM blood deficiency as dry skin, nails, and hair, blurry vision/poor night vision, and general fatigue. The beautiful thing with these cookies is that we’re treating to “vital substances” at once – “qi” and “blood”. 

Energetically, then, we have the spice’s qualities of acrid, dispersing, and warming balanced with sweet and strengthening qualities of the honey and molasses. This means that these cookies strengthen digestion while at the same time transforming and reducing the phlegmy accumulations a weak will often create. Not only that, but the spices guarantee that the sugars don’t get too “sticky” and create more phlegmy problems. All in all, these cookies are very elegant and balanced! This is the perfect winter cookie. 

*The amount of these spices is only a standard recipe suggestion. I would consider it to be the bare minimum. Spices are only medicinal in larger amounts. Not only that, but would you really trust someone who skimps on the spices?