Cinnamon is one of my favourite kitchen cupboard herbs. With a multitude of uses and a rich, sweet and pungent flavour, it’s no wonder it’s so popular in culinary and medicinal recipes.
The cinnamon we commonly find in the supermarket is Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or Ceylon cinnamon, which is native to Sri Lanka as the name implies. There are several varieties of cinnamon used in cookery but the other type most widely used medicinally is Cinnamomum cassia. This is a stronger and more pungent variety native to China and is usually what will be referred to as cinnamon in any Traditional Chinese Medicine texts. The inner bark is most often used but the twigs also have a place in TCM with slightly different indications. C. zeylanicum is the only variety I have worked with medicinally and, though it is sweeter and milder than cassia, I have found it to be a great ally in healing a wide variety of ailments.
The use of cinnamon stretches back further than history. It was imported to Egypt around 2000 BCE and is mentioned several times in the Bible. Offered to kings and Gods it was once worth more than silver and colonial powers expended many lives and resources attempting to gain a monopoly on it. How fortunate we are now to have such easy access to cinnamon that we can all be Goddesses and Kings in our own kitchens!
Stimulating, warming, pungent, aromatic and sweet it is an ideal remedy for this time of year to help get us through the last of the cold weather, boost the circulation and raise the spirits. It’s commonly added to hot drinks for the treatment of colds and flus, not just for its warming and diaphoretic qualities but for its potent antibacterial and antiviral activity as well.
It also has some anti- fungal properties and some herbalists recommend its use in the treatment of gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut flora, symptoms of which may include bloating, gas and colic. This makes sense to me because these afflictions often occur where there is a lack of ‘digestive fire’ which cinnamon most certainly helps to boost. In layman’s terms this means that the digestion is weak and food is not properly broken down encouraging opportunistic bacteria and fungi to flourish in the gut and compromise the balance of healthy bacteria. Cinnamon not only enhances digestion and absorption but stimulates the appetite and calms nausea. Being astringent due to its high tannin content, it has been traditionally used as a gentle remedy for diarrhoea in children and the elderly.
Aside from its benefits for digestive health cinnamon is a prime remedy for the respiratory system. When I take cinnamon tincture it is in the lungs that I first and most strongly feel its effects as it immediately opens the chest and deepens breathing. This is in part due to the high volatile oil content which lends cinnamon its aromatic qualities. It is most useful for moist, phlegmy coughs where it has an expectorant action and helps dry mucus. I have also found it useful where there is shortness of breath due to tension and stress as it gently relaxes and expands the lungs allowing for deeper breathing to occur. An essential oil is made from cinnamon which I particularly enjoy in the oil burner (it’s lovely mixed with orange or tangerine) though it’s really too potent for use on the skin.
I also like to capitalise on the digestive properties of cinnamon by making an infused vinegar of cinnamon, cardamon and bay leaves. This can be easily done by adding equal quantities of each herb to a jar with a plastic lid (vinegar erodes metal) then covering in apple cider vinegar and leaving to infuse for a month. These three herbs are used together in many Ayurvedic formulas for improving the digestion and are collectively known as the ‘Three Aromatics’. Infusing them in vinegar seemed to me a good way of incorporating them into my diet on a daily basis as it can be used freely on salads and veggies or taken in warm water with a little honey. As the great Hippocrates said, ‘let food be thy medicine’.
I also like to make a cinnamon tincture for use in individual formulas. This one was made in 45% alcohol, 1 part herb to 4 parts liquid but it would be very simple to make via the folk method which simply involves filling a jar with broken cinnamon quills, covering it in vodka and leaving to infuse for 2 weeks if you want more of the aromatic qualities or 4 weeks if you want a more astringent tincture for use in diarrhoea or heavy menstrual flow.
Of course you can also use powdered cinnamon freely in food and drinks. It’s delicious on porridge, in smoothies or mixed into a paste with a little raw honey to make a healthier version of cinnamon toast. Hey, if its good enough for royalty then it’s good enough for me!