I have a great fondness for the herbs we have in our kitchens, that we use daily or regularly in ways that are often not considered directly medicinal only to realize that our use is quite medicinal. Cinnamon is one of these wonderful herbs for me, a true kitchen herb, a herbal ally of my youth, my formative years, a delightful addition to many culinary dishes, beverages, crafts and more. I have many fond memories that are triggered by the sweet aroma of this spice. In my adult years and most certainly in my herbal schooling I came to understand the ability that cinnamon has in returning the body to balance through its many amazing healing abilities.
Understanding the different ‘Cinnamons’.
Etymologically speaking, there is a “real” Cinnamon — Cinnamomum verum — which translates from Latin to “true Cinnamon.” This species, also called Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is Ceylon Cinnamon. This type of Cinnamon is sourced from Sri Lanka, which was called Ceylon during British Colonialism. However, this does not mean that other types of Cinnamon are any less real.
Ceylon Cinnamon has a lighter, sweeter taste than other varieties. It is also more expensive, and less commonly available in North America. To Cinnamon connoisseurs, Cassia varieties are better suited for heartier or savory dishes, while Ceylon is preferred for desserts and sweets. However, the difference in taste is slight, and the choice for most consumers comes down to how much they prefer to pay for Cinnamon. I love the scent of Ceylon cinnamon with its light hint of pine and lemon.
Cinnamon is native to India and Sri Lanka though it is also considered to be native to the Tenasserim Hills of Myanmar. Cinnamon (C. verum) and cassia (C. cassia) were among the first spices sought after by most early European explorers in the 1400s and 1500s. The Portuguese, occupying Sri Lanka in 1536, and the Dutch, taking over in 1656, established virtual monopolies on the trade. From a product collected from wild stands, it became a cultivated crop in Sri Lanka around 1770. It is likely to be present in many more tropical countries, especially in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Africa.
Botanical Description of C. zeylanicum
The C. zelyanicum tree grows from 20 to 30 feet high, has thick scabrous bark, strong branches, young shoots speckled greeny orange, the leaves petiolate, entire, leathery when mature, upper side shiny green, underside lighter; flowers small white in panicles; fruit, an oval berry like an acorn in its receptacle, bluish when ripe with white spots on it, bigger than a blackberry; the root-bark smells like cinnamon and tastes like camphor, which it yields on distillation. Leaves, when bruised, smell spicy and have a hot taste; the berry tastes not unlike Juniper and has a terebine smell; when ripe, bruised and boiled it gives off an oily matter which when cool solidifies and is called cinnamon suet.
Botanical Description of C. cassia
The cultivated trees are kept as coppices, and numerous shoots, which are not allowed to rise higher than 10 feet, spring from the roots. Their appearance when the flame-coloured leaves and delicate blossoms first appear is very beautiful. The fruit is about the size of a small olive. The leaves are evergreen, ovaloblong blades from 5 to 9 inches long. The trees are at their greatest perfection at the age of ten to twelve years, but they continue to spread and send up new shoots. The bark may be easily distinguished from that of cinnamon, as it is thicker, coarser, darker, and duller, the flavour being more pungent, less sweet and delicate, and slightly bitter. The fracture is short, and the quills are single, while pieces of the corky layer are often left adhering. The best and most pungent bark is cut from the young shoots when the leaves are red, or from trees which grow in rocky situations. The bark should separate easily from the wood, and be covered inside with a mucilaginous juice though the flavour of the spice is spoiled if this is not carefully removed. The wood without the bark is odourless and is used as fuel. When clean, the bark is a little thicker than parchment, and curls up while drying in the sun. It is imported in bundles of about 12 inches long, tied together with strips of bamboo and weighing about a pound.
Source: Maude Grieves: A Modern Herbal
The bark of the various cinnamon trees are commonly use as cinnamon bark and powder in our culinary and medicinal use however the leaf is also used in the aromatherapy trade as well as the twig in Traditional Chinese Medicine (called Gui Zhi).
Carminative, astringent, stimulant, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, mildly hemostatic, mildly anodyne, demulcent, and antioxidant.
Cinnamon can resolve vomiting and nausea, relieve flatulence, help encourage healthy circulation, has the ability to fight off viruses and pathogenic invasions, resolve a fungal imbalance, help to resolve heavy blood flow, help reduce pain, soothe sore and inflamed tissues such a sore throat, balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Herbal Energetics of Cinnamon:
Cinnamon has a hot energy and a sweet pungent taste promoting good circulation and ‘allowing for Qi to freely circulate’. Cinnamon’s warming energy strengthen kidney Yang having a upward moving dynamic that helps to relieves tension and diffuses blocked energy in the upper body, particularly shoulder and neck region. Cinnamon has an excellent ability to disperse cold and stagnant conditions.
Uses and Recipes:
Because of its pleasant flavour, cinnamon powder is an easy ingredient to add as an accent to many types of foods, desserts and drinks. There are countless traditional and cultural dishes which incorporate this popular spice.
For therapeutic use as a digestive aid it is particularly delicious and effective when prepared as a tea, although cinnamon is incredibly easily to add into everyday meals and beverages.
My favourite everyday use of cinnamon is to add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder to my daily kefir smoothie with blueberries, hemp and chia seed. I also add a few pinches of cinnamon to ground coffee before brewing in a French press. Baked squash with cinnamon sprinkled on top is one of the best medicines for a sore tummy making it an excellent remedy for post gastric infections.
When a cold or flu sets in and you feel the cold damp invasion settle in your bones consider brewing a strong infusion of cinnamon and taking warm in teaspoon dosages to resolve the tension and stagnation in your shoulders and neck and help to offset the virus.
A terrific sore throat recipe is to combine 1-part cinnamon powder, 1-part slippery elm powder to 4-parts honey. Take 1 teaspoon and allow to slowly slide down the throat, add to a warm tea of lemon and ginger.
In colder, damper weather, when cinnamon is included you are less likely to embody your environment. Daily use of cinnamon helps to keep blood sugar and lipid levels in check, circulate energy and protect against viral invasion, balance gastric bacteria levels, and soothe sore mucous membrane.
Therapeutic/Medicinal use of Cinnamon should be avoided by pregnant women because of its stimulating effects. Consult the advice of a medical doctor or healthcare practitioner when taking therapeutic doses if you are diabetic or are taking prescribed medications, especially blood thinners. Avoid daily consumption of cassia cinnamon, particularly in the form of a dietary supplement if you have liver disease or inflammatory liver disorders. Avoid large dosages of cinnamon if you have a hot or Pitta constitution.