CINNAMON
Common Names

Cinnamon , Cassia Bark, Sweet cinnamon
Botanical Name
Cinnamomum zeylanicum, C. cassia
Family
LAURACEAE

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What is it?

The inner bark of Cinnamon, a long-lived tree that grows up to 10 meters in height, is native to Sri Lanka but is now widely grown in South East Asia.

The history of Cinnamon is at least as spicy as its subject. Cinnamon was one of the most important of the prized spices that changed the path of Europe from the time of Marco Polo right up until the Colonial powers set forth to control the trade routes.


TREE


BARK


POWDERED

How has it been used?

As a medicine, Cinnamon has been much used to help with ‘cold and debilitated’ conditions. People that habitually get tired and run down in the cold season would find that regularly taking Cinnamon stopped them getting sick and helped them to feel warmer.

Avicenna, in his Canon of Medicine, one of the most influential medical books in history, writes of Cinnamon being markedly heating and drying and describes it as being 'highly attenuant (blood-thinning) , and cleansing. It is useful in cough and it clears chest congestion, it removes hepatic obstructions and strengthens liver and stomach'. He wrote that 'the oil of cinnamon is a wonderful drug for chorea' i.e. what we would today call 'involuntary movement disorders'

Cinnamon has a strong history of use in rapidly helping with excess bleeding, especially from the womb. Likewise, Cinnamon has traditionally been used for, diarrhoea, colic, excess flatulence, nausea or a slowed and weakened digestion.

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Science on Cinnamon

~ There has been, in recent times, a great deal of interest into Cinnamon's biochemical activity in potentiating insulin with consequent potential for the treatment of diabetes and the metabolic disorder. Research suggests that cinnamon bark constituent, methylhydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP), might improve insulin sensitivity. It seems to mimic the activity of insulin, stimulating glucose metabolism. It also appears to work synergistically with insulin, possibly by improving insulin signaling pathways and alternative pathways that cause increased cellular glucose uptake. (Anderson RA, Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, et al. Isolation and Characterization of Polyphenol Type-A Polymers from Cinnamon with Insulin-like Biological Activity. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52:65-70)

~ Further studies indicate that Cinnamon potentiates insulin activity by affecting protein phosphorylation in the intact fat cell; the insulin potentiating activity of cinnamon was not correlated with its total chromium content. (Khan a et al: Biol Trace Elem res 24(3):183-188, 1990) (Quale JM et al: Am J Chin Med 24(2):103-109, 1996)

~ Cinnamon oil has demonstrated antifungal and antibacterial properties in vitro, including activity against a range of dermatophytes (Lima EO et al: Mycoses 36(9-10):333-336, 1993). Cinnamic aldehydfe has been identified as an active fungitoxic constituent (Singh HB et al: Allergy 50(12):995-999, 1995)

~ Administration of cinnamon treatment for 1 week improved oral candidiasis in 5 patients with HIV infection (J. M., Landman, D., Zaman, M. M., Burney, S., and Sathe, S. S. In vitro activity of Cinnamomum zeylanicum against azole resistant and sensitive Candida species and a pilot study of cinnamon for oral candidiasis. Am J Chin Med 1996;24(2):103-109)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of nearly 60 further studies and articles on Cinnamon are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Cinnamon

In a nutshell, I would say that for Cinnamon in food, beverages or as a usual herbal extract; no problem for any age, pregnancy, breastfeeding etc. However, Cinnamon as an essential oil or as a concentrate needs to be treated with a great deal of caution as there is a real and high possibility of allergic reactions of the skin or mucous membranes. This is most likely because of the cinnamic aldehyde which is known to be a potent contact sensitiser.

Theoretically, cinnamon bark may lower blood glucose levels, and have additive effects in patients treated with antidiabetic agents; it should be used with with caution and dosage adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary. Antidiabetes drugs include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, metformin (Glucophage), pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), and others (Anderson RA, Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, et al. Isolation and Characterization of Polyphenol Type-A Polymers from Cinnamon with Insulin-like Biological Activity. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52:65-70)

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Personal experiences

I personally ascribe a great deal of value to this common kitchen spice and I find that adding just a very small amount of Cinnamon extract into a herbal formula can have a remarkable effect on the treatment's ‘temperament’. Cinnamon helps the medicine to travel deeper into the body and at the same time it can effectively counter-balance a remedy that might otherwise turn out to be too cooling and/or cleansing.

Anyone that wants to test this out for themselves and especially anyone who is studying herbal medicine could try taking a very small dose (e.g. a few sips of a Cinnamon tea or a few drops of its tincture) and then feel for themselves what happens next. If you do this with a quiet and attentive mind then I think the first thing you will notice is just how rapidly Cinnamon gets to work! It's almost as if it literally drops into your core without needing to go through a lot of processing beforehand. Once there you can readily feel the herbs 'action' i.e. what it is doing in your body. The kinds of words we use for this can only be a reflection of the feeling but if you are open to this kind of experiential learning then I expect you will soon know what is really meant about this herb when it is said 'warming, stimulating, nourishing'...

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

As a herbal medicine in its own right Cinnamon is ideal for people with 'cool' constitutions and adding some Cinnamon to the classic Ginger decoction (recipe below) provides a deep and lasting antidote to winter chills and common colds.

In terms of dosage; subtle is the way with Cinnamon. I think you should just be able to smell and taste it but not so much that it dominates everything else. If you put too much cinnamon in a herbal medicine it is the same as putting too much into baking or cooking, what should be a pleasant, warming spice can quickly become overpowering if we are not careful. As an example, I would only use about 2.5-5% of Cinnamon extract in a formula, i.e. about 5-10mls in a 200ml bottle.

Cinnamon works particularly well with Angelica in convalescence or fatigue. It combines with Licorice root for low immunity and reduced resistance to stress and it combines with Ginger to improve circulation and vitality.

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Ginger & Cinnamon Decoction

The fresh Ginger along with Cinnamon makes this a medicine to use when you want to get a deep acting medicine into the blood and the bones.

Instructions

~ 1 dsp well chopped Fresh Ginger Root (about as much as the last joint of your thumb)
~ 1/4 tsp of fresh cinnamon powder (less than 1-year old from the spice cupboard!) or, even better, a small piece of cinnamon stick (about as much as would fill half a teaspoon when crumbled).
~ 1/4 to 1/2 fresh lemon
~ 1 tsp honey (optional but recommended)
~ Approximately one and a half large cups of water.

Break the small piece of cinnamon into a few pieces or use the fresh powder, add the chopped ginger and put together into a saucepan with approximately one and a half large cups of water. Bring the water to the boil then gently simmer for about 5 minutes until you have about one cup of the tea remaining.

Take off the heat, squeeze in the 1/2 lemon and then strain through a sieve into a cup. Stir in the honey and drink whilst it is still hot. After a while you should notice a powerful feeling of warmth spreading through your body. People who find this decoction particularly beneficial can make larger amounts of the tea and put the extra in a thermos to drink later, especially on a cold damp days!

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Cinnamon is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Cinnamon can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Cinnamon is often used to correct the effects or improve the flavor of other drugs.

Upon the nervous system cinnamon first stimulates and then relaxes.

Internally, it is very useful in diarrhoea, colic, cramp of the stomach, flatulency, and to allay nausea and vomiting.

For post-partum and other uterine haemorrhages, Cinnamon is one of the most prompt and efficient remedies in the Materia Medica. To a limited extent it controls haemorrhage from other parts of the body, yet its most direct action is upon the uterine muscular fibres, causing contraction and arresting bleeding.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd