Spices have a history, a long history. Wars have been fought over the spice trade--ever since the spice trade began. A nation might become powerful and mighty because it captured or stole the trading of spices from another nation. The Arabs held the power for a thousand years. The Romans stole it from the Arabs and ruled the spice trade for another thousand years (give or take a few hundred years). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the fledgling European nations began their explorations of the world via sail, and they became the world power that traded spices. The Dutch, Spanish, English--they all took turns being "the most powerful nation" since they controlled the spice trade. There's a brief but fascinating history timeline here. Western civilization, such as it is, grew along with the spice trade. Those little cans of stuff in your kitchen, the ones with the interesting smells and tastes, have a long and varied history.
I've been interested in this because spices also have a rich medical history: they've been used in medicines probably ever since the first human figured out how to eat them and incorporate them in cooking. Tumeric, for instance, has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, is good for digestion and is a source for antioxidants. It can also help keep food fresh.
Here's a quote about the uses of cinnamon from the article I've taken some of this information from:
In tests at Weber University, Cinnamon oil has proven more effective than Ampicillin in inhibiting the growth of Staphylococcal infections and unlike conventional antibiotic drugs, essential oils tend to leave beneficial bacteria intact while killing disease producing bacteria (pathogens). Additionally, bacteria do not acquire resistance to the oils as they do with antibiotics. Today when so many illnesses and bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, the therapeutic effects of essential oils and their immune-boosting abilities may be just what we need.
When you are considering your food storage (and you are, aren't you?), you'll want to make sure you also store spices and herbs. They can help you preserve food, they add a lot of flavor to what might otherwise be rather dull eating, and you can use them as home remedies in the form of teas, or capsules or tinctures. I'll be featuring spices in this blog as well, though I certainly can't forage for most of them where I live. Wish I could! Plenty of herbs grow here, but most of our spices come from Asia and the near East.
Seems to be the "world's superpower" status is changing with the US about to drop by the wayside and China to take on that banner. It is likely that China will control the spice trade from here on in. In past centuries, the lower classes didn't have the access to spices that the wealthy classes did, so they used wild herbs instead. If I can obtain spices, I will. If not, there's all the abundance of wild plants and herbs here anyway. The culinary/medicinal spices will make great barter items as well. They have for most of human history, and no doubt that will continue.
For more information on spices, The Epicentre is a great resource. If you're interested in a particular spice, check out the encyclopedia of spices. There's also historical information, recipes and lots of other goodies. Read and enjoy!