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Grenada: In a nutshell

“We do everything with spices,” my guide, Roger Augustine, tells me, smiling under a straw hat. That’s quite apparent, here in Grenada, where scents of nutmeg and cinnamon waft from every doorway. At St George’s spice market, the island’s natural bounty spans across tables — and the colour spectrum.

Grenada: In a nutshell
St George's Spice Market / Stephanie Cavagnaro

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I arrive on a Saturday through the capital’s winding streets, passing a horseshoe harbour shaped by an extinct volcanic crater, stout British-style telephone boxes (Grenada was once a Crown Colony) and buildings constructed from egg white, limestone and molasses. “They don’t build them like they used to,” Roger jokingly remarks.

Overcast skies pass overhead, but it’s a sea of colour in the enclosed market, where spice vendors attempt to steal my attention. I let my nose lead the way, past tiny packets of ginger, curled up cinnamon sticks, allspice and bay leaves.

The 120sq mile island is an agricultural Garden of Eden. Nicknamed ‘the Spice Island’, Grenada is the world’s second largest exporter of nutmeg. As I squeeze through a labyrinth of stalls, it’s everywhere.

Walter Staib, a culinary ambassador at my Sandals LaSource resort, picks up a small mesh sack of nutmeg. “In the 17th century, if you had a bag of that,” he tells me, “you could buy a house — including the servants.”

A stallholder describes nutmeg’s potent aphrodisiac properties. There’s even a spiced drink for men named ‘under d’counter’ for that singular purpose. I pass on the potion, but sip some saccharine black wine instead, made from sea grapes.

I’m on the lookout for balls of ground cocoa and spice — to make cocoa tea; a creamy, sweet hot chocolate. A vendor with big, barely-blinking brown eyes susses what I’m up to and explains how to make the traditional island drink. Pointing to a packet of tea balls, she says, “In the cold, when you drink a cup of this hot, it sort of warms your body up.”

Everything here seems to have a medicinal purpose. Mauby (a drink made from tree bark) is touted as a blood thinner; thyme is used for headaches; and turmeric, which locals call saffron, is used for inflammation. I overhear Roger explaining, “When you have a cold, you’ll want to drink sea moss.” My interest piqued, I ask him what I could take to help prevent a cold, as I’m feeling run down after a long flight.

Roger suggests herb zebapique. He warns me it’ll taste very bitter but assures me this is a good thing. “If something tastes too good, spit it out, it’s normally not good for your body.” After lots of sweating, Roger explains, I’ll be fine. “Zebapique?” he yells repeatedly across the market, until a woman wearing a crucifix motions us over and stuffs a handful of dried leaves into a small packet. I give her $2 and plonk the herb in my bag.

Back at Sandals LaSource Grenada, staff make me a hot mug of Zebapique tea. It’s so startlingly bitter, I’m nearly sick after each sip. I try to gulp the acidic liquid down, but only manage half a cup. Later that day after paddling in Caribbean seas and loafing along Pink Gin Beach, I feel completely rejuvenated — the bitter elixir was worth it. Almost.