In Greek and generally in medieval medicine man is said to be in the centre of two opposites: hot and cold, wet and dry. As long as the these elements are well balaced in our body we are healthy. An excess in any of the directions creates diseases. And of course we depend on our environment, that means, that in winter we are strongly exposed to cold and wet influences which affect our bodies. To prevent "colds" (as contemporary physicians state the common "cold" we catch has nothing to do with the temperature of the environment, but is a result of contagion) people used to eat food that was said to be "hot", such as certain spices, dried fruits and nuts. And it is not by chance these ingrediences are part of the traditional Christmas dishes in Central Europe. Especially the spices like cinnamon, clove, cardamom and pepper (all considered hot and dry) as well as ginger (considered hot and wet) that we get at every grocery store around the corner used to be more precious than gold and were carried with caravans and ships from Southeast Asia to Europe.
You can read the most amazing stories in the wonderful book by Jack Turner! Yesterday I prepared a wonderfully tasty Chai Syrup that concentrates the taste and the properties of all the above cited spieces. It is so easy and much more tasty than the commercial syrups which are also extremely pricey. It also makes a lovely christmas gift! Syrup consists of the same amount of sugar and water. Simmer it with the spices of your choice. Also the proportions depend onyour preferences; I made the syrup really spicy and hot; if you want to avoid this, reduce the amount of black pepper and ginger.
For 1 kg of sugar I used:
about 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom
1/2 tablespoon of ground clove
2-3 tablespoons of whole aniseed
1 cup of fresh ginger, cut into small cubes.
Filter and pour into small bottles. This step is messy! but it's worth it.
Use it to flavour your coffee, tea, hot milk or whatever!