Spice Up the Holidays with these Classic Herbs and Spices

Christmas atmosphere: spices, candies, cones and nutsIf someone were to ask you what the holidays smelled or tasted like, what would you say? Would you say fir trees and gingerbread cookies? What about scented candles, honey ham, or perhaps peppermint? The correct answer is all of the above, and a whole lot more, because everybody has their own unique idea of what the holidays are about. For many of us, our memories of the holidays are deeply infused with the tastes and smells swirling all around us this time of year, and are inseparable from the holiday traditions that we celebrate.

The food we eat, and the joyous scents we smell, often contain more holiday magic than the commercialized aspects of the season do. They are as much a part of the season as the traditions that we celebrate, and they are truly one of a kind.

That said, there are certain herbs and spices that we definitively associate with the holidays more than any other. They permeate our noses and our taste buds every year, and it wouldn’t be the same without their familiar and deeply gratifying tastes and scents. With holiday season in full swing, we wanted to try our hand at identifying some of these definitive tastes and scents that help to make the holidays, well, the holidays.



I think we can all unanimously agree that the holidays wouldn’t be complete without cinnamon. In fact, according to a 2009 study, it’s been scientifically proven that smell of cinnamon is most intimately connected with Christmas. It’s no coincidence that coffee houses and cafés across North America begin selling drinks heavily infused with cinnamon around the holidays. There’s just something about this spice that makes it more enjoyable when it’s cold outside and the magic of the holidays is in the air.

Cinnamon sticks  and  turmeric on wooden

Having company for the Holidays? You need to try this Stacked Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree recipe!



Peppermint is another no-brainer when it comes to the holidays. Peppermint has a longstanding tradition in holiday lore and was popularized by the candy cane, which is found almost everywhere this time of year. However, despite popular belief, candy canes do not grow on trees. The real source of that minty, sweet, taste and refreshing smell is the peppermint herb. Peppermint is a mint hybrid that is a cross between spearmint and watermint, indigenous to Europe and the Middle East. To put Peppermint’s popularity into perspective, more than 1.8 billion (with a B) candy canes will be made for the winter holiday season.

Fresh Green Pepper Mint

This Peppermint Chocolate Cake recipe is a must-try!



The fact that you can purchase Rosemary Christmas Trees on the internet for around forty-five dollars should tell you everything you need to know about the popularity of this herb during the holidays. Rosemary is a common cooking herb with a pine-like scent that bears a strong resemblance to a sprig of Douglas Fir. This herb is commonly used to add flavor to the pork, lamb, ham, or turkey on your table, permeating your room with a mouthwatering aroma. This same aroma has a long association with Christmas and dates back to the Middle Ages where it was spread across floors on Christmas Eve. As people walked around the rooms, the aroma filled the air.

Festive cooking concept Christmas Tree

Prepping your Holiday Ham? Check out this Ham with Rosemary, Garlic, and Lemon recipe from Fine Cooking.



There’s something about vanilla that elicits an unmistakable sense of warmth and coziness. Any time you get a whiff of fresh vanilla as you enter your local bakery, or take a sip of your vanilla latte from your local coffee hangout, you know that warm and fuzzy feeling. Vanilla is a common culinary flavor, used throughout the year, but it’s also one of the most popular flavors of the holidays. In fact, the scent of this iconic spice has been proven to correlate to positive memories associated with the holidays, celebrations, confectionery treats, ice cream, rewards, and generally all things good and tasty.

Holiday Spices

Check out this amazing Christmas Vanilla Roll Cake recipe as fast as you can!



More than any other time of year, the holidays are about flavor and lots of them. One spice that stands out in a sea of holiday flavors as one of the most traditional, is Ginger. The Ginger spice has an exotic tang when it hits your tongue. It has one of the most unique aromas and a one-of-a-kind flavor profile that makes it a favorite holiday must-haves when used in cookies, ciders, lattes, chutneys, cakes, and pies. It can also be utilized in crystallized form, eaten fresh, and used medicinally for colds (which is great for winter). There is little doubt that Ginger is one of the most festive spices of the holidays.


This classic Gingerbread Cookie recipe from Taste of Home is a must-try!


Orange and Orange Peel

Yes, you read that correctly. Orange is on our list of Holiday spices and herbs, and it’s not a mistake. The reason it made the list is because this citrus fruit is used as a spice during the holidays where it’s sweet and citrusy flavor enhances many of the sugary and spice-filled foods and beverages consumed throughout the holidays. By definition, a “spice” is “an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food or beverages,” which is exactly what orange and orange peel do in classic holiday drinks such as hot spiced ciders, holiday punch, and chocolate orange black tea. It’s also used generously in countless holiday dishes and desserts such as cookies, trifles, macaroons, cakes, and especially in icings and cake ornamentation.

christmas mulled wine with cinnamon sticks, anise and orange

Cold outside? Make sure to try this hot Mulled Cider with orange recipe!



If you liked this article then you’ll love the Hungry Gardener’s Guide to the Fall Harvest!

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