Would you like a list of winter spices or wonder what the best herbs for Christmas are that you can grow and use in recipes? This Christmas spices list is for you!
The holidays will soon be here and a home cooked dinner, along with all the trimmings, is on many menus this year.
Whether your tastes run to prime rib, or a home cooked turkey, knowing which Christmas herbs and spices to use is a must.
Side dishes like stuffing, Christmas cornbread and sweet potato all have their own set of preferred spices and herbs.
And who can forget a glass of spiced wine with oranges and cranberries? The right spices make all the difference for this popular brew.
Keep reading to for my guide to Christmas spices, and also learn which herbs to have growing in a kitchen garden this time of the year to flavor your holidays dishes.
The smell of a typical holiday dinner is a yearly happening that most of us really look forward to. Cranberry relish to serve with your choice of protein and pumpkin desserts along with all their glorious spices are two popular aromas coming from many holiday kitchen.
Both of these recipes, and so many more, are enhanced with the correct use of holiday spices and herbs. The experience is even better when you have grown the fresh herbs or ground the spices yourself!
What is the difference between spices and herbs?
Although they serve a similar function – adding flavor to a dish – there is a difference between a herb and a spice.
They both grow from plants, but herbs are the fresh part of a plant, whereas a spice is the dried root, stalk, seed or fruit of the plant.
Herbs are often used fresh, although they can also be ground. Spices, on the other hand and are almost always dried, and not used fresh.
To make it confusing, there is some crossover between the two groups, too. Ginger is listed as a herb in many recipes, while others call it a spice.
For me, ground ginger is one I consider a spice, but the root version I consider a herb. But to each his own!
What are winter spices?
Since fresh herbs are not available in most outdoor gardens this time of the year, their lack is more than made up by the rich, warming fragrance of winter spices. These are often referred to as pie spices, since many a pumpkin pie is made from them!
Included in my list of winter spices are these:
- Star anise
- Green cardamom
Interestingly enough, my mulled wine recipe uses 5 of these!
Some of the links below are affiliate links. I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you if you purchase through an affiliate link.
Christmas spices List
Christmas spices are as much a part of the holidays as Christmas plants, fir trees and holiday lights. Whether the smells come from allspice in a pot of mulled wine, or ginger in freshly baked gingerbread cookies, there are few smells that bring to mind the holidays more than those of Christmas spices.
Gingerbread spices are, without a doubt, some of the most popular holiday spices, but there are many others to consider too.
They are so popular in recipes that cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice have almost become a symbol of Christmas.
What would the holidays be without a gingerbread house, or some decorated gingerbread cookies? Ginger is one of the most popular spices for Christmas.
Ginger is zesty with a lemony taste. Dried ginger root is used for baking.
This Christmas spice can be dried, pickled, and candied. If you are looking for a way to add an extra pop of ginger to your holiday baking, try crystallized ginger.
It is a sugary variety of ginger that adds texture, a boost of flavor and sweetness to any holiday recipe.
If you are interested in growing ginger, check out my post of growing ginger from the root.
Cinnamon is found in almost all holiday baked dishes. The spice is produced from the bark of evergreen cinnamon trees, (Cinnamomum verum) native to Sri Lanka.
Most home cooks use cassia cinnamon, which is stronger then Ceylon cinnamon.
This Christmas spice is made by cutting the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. When this bark dries, the strips curl into the rolls we know as cinnamon sticks.
The spice is sold whole as sticks, or ground into cinnamon powder.
I use cinnamon sticks in everything from spiced wine, to my apple cider for adding a zesty taste. Cinnamon sticks are also useful in all sorts of Christmas decorations from Christmas wreaths to my holiday oven mitt hostess gift idea.
Use ground cinnamon in pestino cookies, a traditional Spanish cookie with a wine and cinnamon flavor. For a real treat, try some cinnamon sugar pretzels. They aren’t just for Oktoberfest!
As a side dish, there is nothing quite as tasty and easy to prepare as cinnamon baked apple slices! Try starting your Christmas day with eggnog muffins flavored with ground cinnamon for a festive breakfast idea.
To start your holiday gathering, serve some toasted pecans with cinnamon and maple for an appetizer that will wow your guests.
With all of these ideas for using it, it’s easy to see why cinnamon is one of the top spices for Christmas.
Find out about the health benefits of cinnamon. There are many!
Related to ginger and turmeric, cardamom is a winter spice made from the seeds pods of the cardamom plant. (Elettaria cardamomum) It is native to South India.
Sweet and spicy, cardamom is a popular holiday punch spice, and it can also waken your taste buds when a tiny bit is used in hot chocolate.
Cardamom is one of the more expensive spices available. Cardamom pods are triangle-shaped and consist of clusters of seeds.
The spice can be used as whole pods, by using the seeds or incorporating the ground powder.
I have memories from my childhood of sticking whole cloves into oranges and then dropping them into a punch bowl to add flavor to the Christmas punch.
Cloves are one of the oldest spices and come from the dried buds of flowers from an evergreen clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum). They have a very strong flavor and aroma.
Use cloves in mince pies, holiday punch, drinks such as wassail, and your favorite gingerbread spice mix. Take care to use cloves sparingly, though.
Although a small amount can add a warm peppery flavor to sweet and savory foods, they have a lot of essential oils which can completely take over a dish if too much is used.
Whole cloves can be used to stud baked hams or as a marinade for holiday hams. Be sure to remove whole cloves before serving!
More Christmas spices to try
The above spices are not the only ones to try this time of the year. Give these a whirl, too!
Much like Slimcados and cilantro, there seems to be a love hate relationship with coriander. Some love it, and others don’t.
Both coriander and cilantro come from the same plant – coriandrum sativum. Here in the USA, cilantro is the name for the leaves and stem of the plant, while coriander is the name for the dried seeds.
Outside the US, the leaves and stems are called coriander and the dried seeds are called coriander seeds.
Coriander can taste soapy to some, but the dried seeds have a spicy, pungent flavor that is quite intense. Use it in both sweet and savory dishes.
I love using coriander to add flavor to side dishes, and it can be a nice addition to holiday treats, too. Crushed coriander seeds can add a wonderful flavor to warm, wintry soups.
This spice is the seed of the evergreen nutmeg tree called myristica fragrans, found in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg has a strong, nutty and earthy flavor.
The full flavor of nutmeg is best experienced in buttery and creamy dishes that can help mellow out the bite of the spice.
I like grating whole nutmeg into my eggnog. It is also wonderful in scalloped potatoes. (Don’t knock it until you have tried it. The taste is amazing!)
For a fun party starter, use nutmeg to flavor some roasted pumpkin seeds for a healthy Christmas snack.
The dried and un-ripened berries of the myrtle pepper tree (pimenta dioica) give us what we know as allspice. This tree is native to the West Indies, Mexico and Central America.
Allspice is often mistaken as blend of spices, but it is actually a single ingredient spice that packs a load of flavor.
It is also called Jamaican pepper or myrtle pepper. No gingerbread recipe would be complete without it!
This Christmas spice has a rich flavor and tastes something like a combination of nutmeg, cloves, pepper and cinnamon. It is the perfect winter spice to add to pumpkin pies and apple pies.
Allspice in its whole form stays fresh longer and gives a stronger flavor. However, whole allspice berries are hard and need to be scooped out before serving.
Ground allspice is easier to work with but doesn’t stay fresh as long as the whole berries.
Allspice is closely related to cloves and is often found in biscuits, baked apples and my pumpkin cake with a toasted coconut frosting. Add a pinch of allspice to your Christmas Eve hot chocolate to make an indulgent holiday drink.
Use allspice with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon to make some individual sized pumpkin swirl mini cheesecakes.
If you are looking for a side dish for your holiday dinner, try my recipe for roasted butternut squash. It tastes wonderful when flavored with allspice.
This pretty holiday spices is the seed pod of the illicium verum plant, which is native to Southwest China and Vietnam. The pod is shaped like a star, hence the name, and usually has 8 points with each pod containing a single seed.
Both the seeds and the pod are used in cooking. They have a sweet, potent anise flavor similar to licorice and fennel. You can buy star anise whole and ground into a spice.
I use star anise in my mulled wine, but there are countless Christmas recipes which ask for it as an ingredient.
Its sweet flavor makes it a great Christmas spice to use in sweet desserts, such as star anise cookies, star anise biscuits and star anise cake loaf. The spice is also useful in cranberry sauce recipes.
In addition to flavoring holiday dishes, star anise is a key ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder.
The whole star anise pods will not soften when cooked and are inedible. This doesn’t matter when using them in mulled wine, but will in cooked desserts.
Ground star anise is easier to work with than pods. Use 1/2 teaspoon of the ground winter spice to each whole pod the recipe asks for.
Most of us are familiar with vanilla extract, both imitation and pure. However, for a strong vanilla taste, the vanilla bean pod should be considered for your holiday dessert making.
Vanilla comes from vanilla orchids (Vanilla planifolia) which form flat leaved vanilla pods. They are native to Mexico and Belize.
This is another expensive spice, but using them takes your holiday recipes to a whole new level. The expense is because vanilla vines are very hard to grow.
They take 2-4 years to mature and their flowers only bloom for one day of the year, so pollination is tricky!
The insides of vanilla bean pods are complex and potent.
Wait to scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod until you are ready to use them. They can be mixed right in along with the other ingredients.
One vanilla bean is equivalent to about 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Your recipe may only require part of a vanilla bean.
The best herbs for Christmas
In addition to the list of winter spices, there are also several seasonal herbs for Christmas that are perfect for holiday recipes. Many of these herbs even have Christmas legends associated with them!
Are you looking for some freshly grown herbs to use in your holiday meal? Need to know which ones to grow to make spectacular desserts and sides for the holidays?
But baby it’s cold outside, here in the USA! How can we talk about growing herbs?
Even though the weather is not suitable for growing herbs outdoors at this time of the year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, many common herbs for Christmas can easily be grown in pots indoors.
Even if you don’t grow your own herbs indoors, most of these herbs for Christmas are available in blister packs at the supermarket.
Sage, peppermint, lavender, rosemary and thyme all have a place in holiday dishes and all can be grown indoors.
This is a classic Christmas herb. It has a fragrant scent of pine and the needle-like leaves make this plant perfect for garnishing any holiday appetizer.
Use it not only in cooking, but also in your holiday decor, or in a bowl of homemade potpourri.
Retailers are even selling rosemary trees as an alternative to small Christmas trees.
The delightful scent of rosemary is evident in our house from Thanksgiving through to Christmas.
Not only is rosemary useful for cooking and decorating for the holidays, there are also legends based on rosemary.
As the story goes, Mary was travelling to Egypt and stopped to wash Jesus’ clothes in a stream. She hung them on a rosemary bush to dry.
As she gathered the dry clothes, she blessed rosemary with blue flowers, the color of her cloak and also because of its spicy fragrance.
Another legend states that the plant bloomed and bore fruit, out of season, on the night Jesus was born.
Many people believe that if you smell rosemary on Christmas Eve, it will bring happiness during the New Year.
As is the case with thyme, the stem of rosemary is woody, so strip the leaves off and use them in recipes.
Find out how to grow rosemary here.
Are you having a turkey for the holidays? Look no further than sage. It has a meaty-scented fragrance and pairs will with poultry.
Sage is also useful as a flavoring for stuffing. It has velvety leaves that are spicy and aromatic with a bold flavor that has notes of mint, eucalyptus, and lemon.
Combine sage and thyme leaves with butter and lemon slices and place them under the skin of your turkey. They will add juiciness and flavor to the breast of the turkey.
If you are looking for a hearty side dish, try this creamy potato and sausage casserole. It is a real crowd pleaser.
Sage is a member of the mint family and also works well in recipes that have sweet flavors.
Legend also tells us that Mary and baby Jesus hid in a large blooming sage bush when King Herod was searching for them. For this reason, sage is known as the herb of immortality.
Find out more about growing sage here.
What would the holidays be without peppermint? This Christmas herb is so versatile.
If you have a special dessert planned for the holidays, add a sprig of peppermint from your indoor herb garden. What a pleasant surprise for your guests!
Fresh peppermint leaves are also nice additions to holiday cocktails.
This seasonal herb is one of the most aromatic plants in the world. Try incorporating lavender into your favorite Christmas cookies for a delightful gourmet touch.
Lavender is also useful in making homemade potpourri and Christmas ornaments. Christmas gift wrapped packages are so pretty tied with sprigs of lavender.
Use lavender sparingly when you cook, since it has a strong, and sometimes overpowering flavor.
Lavender is another herb with a Christmas legend. The story goes that Mary washed Jesus’ swaddling clothes with this fragrant herb.
Another seasonal herb that compliments turkey is thyme. It also adds texture and flavor to potatoes and marinades.
Don’t stop at savory dishes though. Thyme is equally great to incorporate into your Christmas baking or even garnishing cocktails.
You can cook with stems of thyme or just with its leaves. However, if you use thyme stems, you will need to discard the stem before serving any dish they have been added to.
Find out how to grow thyme here.
How many fresh herbs should I use in my recipes?
A common question from readers is how to convert recipes that call for dried herbs when you want to use fresh herbs instead.
A good rule of thumb for using fresh herbs for Christmas is to use three times the amount of dry herbs called for in your recipe. That means if your casserole asks for 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary, use 3 teaspoons (one tablespoon) of fresh rosemary.
Also, if possible, add the fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking time to help preserve their color and flavor. Hearty herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary are more forgiving and can be added earlier.
Share this Christmas spices list on Twitter
If you enjoyed learning about holiday spices, be sure to share this winter spices list with a friend. Here is a tweet to get you started.The holidays are here and the aromas of the season fill the kitchen. Unsure about which spices to use? Head to The Gardening Cook to get the full list of winter herbs. 🌿🍗🍃 Click To Tweet
Christmas spice mix
Now that we know about the winter spices to use for the holidays, let’s put some of them to use in a Christmas spice mix. This spice blend will make your house smell like Christmas for days on end!
Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and cardamom are all featured in this spice blend.
This spice mix is perfect for gingerbread cookies, cakes and cupcakes, but don’t stop there! Sprinkle it on hot chocolate, mulled wine, eggnog, popcorn or a glass of hot tea to calm you after a night of tree-decorating.
If you enjoy giving personalized gifts, this spice blend makes a great Mason jar gift idea.
Print out the spice mix in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Pin this post about Christmas spices
Would you like a reminder of this post for holidays spices and herbs? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
You can also watch our video about Christmas herbs and spices on YouTube.
Christmas Spice Mix
This Christmas spice mix will make your house smell like the holidays, for sure. Use it to flavor gingerbread and other holiday treats.
- 2 tablespoon of ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon (or 2 cinnamon sticks)
- 2 tablespoons of ground allspice
- 1 tablespoon of ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons of ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
- Mix all of the spices together in a bowl.
- If using cinnamon sticks, keep them whole.
- Pour into an airtight container.
- Store in your pantry or cupboard. The spices will stay fresh for up to 6 months.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 19Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 2gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
Nutritional information is approximate due to natural variation in ingredients and the cook-at-home nature of our meals.