Kitchen spices: cinnamon.

This month’s herbal blog party theme is “Kitchen Spices.” Our host is Dancing in a Field of Tansy.

These days, cinnamon is my favorite kitchen spice medicine.

Here are a few cinnamons from my spice shelf:

cinnamon

On the left, cassia or Chinese cinnamon. This is the most common cinnamon in the US—the one you can find in the grocery store, .

On the right, the “true” or Ceylon cinnamon, . It has a more subtle aroma than cassia, and it’s not so sharp.

The powder is Vietnamese / Saigon cinnamon, . It’s intensely sweet, very spicy, and much redder than the other two.

(Confused about the botanical names? Been reading old-time herbals? Here’s a clue: C. cassia = C. aromaticum; C. zeylanicum = C. verum.)

All the cinnamons have a lovely balance of warming and stimulating and soothing qualities — they’re wonderful for people with cold constitutions. The classic indication for cinnamon is a tendency to cold hands and feet, a reminder of cinnamon’s powerful stimulating effect on blood circulation.

Cinnamon strengthens the circulatory system and gets blood moving out to the surface of the body. (David Winston uses cinnamon for Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which circulation is severely restricted in the hands.) But cinnamon’s more than a circulatory stimulant. Remember this: cinnamon brings energy where energy has been drained. So while it’s classic for weak circulation with cold hands and feet, it’s also one of the most valuable old-time remedies for passive hemorrhage, including hemorrhage after childbirth.* Juliette de Bairacli Levy recommends a cinnamon-spiced wine to give strength to women in labor. Cinnamon strengthens basic vitality.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the indication for cinnamon is “deficient kidney yang.” Some symptoms: fatigue, aversion to cold, low back pain, cold hands and feet, abdominal pain, diarrhea /constipation, pale urine, white-coated tongue. Guess what? Most of these are indications of “cold” in European and American style herbalism. (I’ve also found that this list can be a pretty clear picture of some people diagnosed with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (IBS). And indeed, cinnamon is a classic remedy for digestive upset.)

Cinnamon is revitalizing for people who are cold and tired, drained of energy (think chronic fatigue). Now, don’t get any funny ideas: cinnamon is no substitute for rest. It is a supreme aid to convalescence, though: it’s capable of energizing tissue and getting tired or weak organs moving again. It’s also perfect for people who tend to “catch” every bug that comes along: increased vitality means increased immunity.

Cinnamon’s revitalizing power comes in handy these days, with so many people run down and drained by modern industrial “food.” Cinnamon helps the body use energy: it’s a specific for insulin resistance / metabolic syndrome. Consistent long-term use of cinnamon brings down blood sugar and triglycerides, those danger-signs of impending diabetes and heart disease.**

So, in case you didn’t get it yet, cinnamon revitalizes what is drained. It brings life to the pale, cold and weak. Not bad for your average kitchen spice, is it?

My favorite cinnamon tea (this week, anyway):

3 parts Cinnamon sticks

1 part Orange peel

1 part valerian, blackhaw or crampbark

1/2 part flaxseeds

Simmer as for flaxseed tea.

This tea is wonderful for increasing circulation, for “irritable bowel” and for menstrual cramps in people who tend to cold. (You can increase the valerian / blackhaw / crampbark for a stronger relaxing effect, but it won’t taste quite as good.)

An herbalist’s cheat-sheet for cinnamon:

Parts used: dried bark or twigs.

Actions: stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic, hemostatic, antiseptic.

Affinities: circulation, digestion, metabolism, uterus.

Taste: sweet, spicy, aromatic.

Vitalist energetics: warming, slightly mucilaginous but also slightly drying. Hildegard said it best in 1150: “Cinnamon is very hot and its power is great. It holds a bit of moisture, but its heat is so strong that it suppresses that dampness” (trans. Throop 1998).

Michael Moore energetics: skin, CNS, upper GI, renal, reproductive stimulant; lower GI, mucosa sedative.

Tongue indications: pale, coated.

Specific indications: insulin resistance, bleeding ulcers (Michael Moore), passive uterine hemorrhage, menstrual cramps associated with heavy flow and a feeling of cold.

Homeopathic mental indications: “Sleepy. No desire for anything” (Boericke).

*King: “For post-partum and other uterine hemorrhages, it is one of the most prompt and efficient remedies in the Materia Medica.” Ellingwood: “Cinnamon . . . is a hemostatic of much power and is positively reliable in all passive hemorrhages.”

**In one study, researchers gave people with type II diabetes 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day. “After 40 days, all three levels of cinnamon reduced the mean fasting serum glucose (18–29%), triglyceride (23–30%), LDL cholesterol (7–27%), and total cholesterol (12–26%) levels; no significant changes were noted in the placebo groups. Changes in HDL cholesterol were not significant” (Diabetes Care 2003). And here’s a study for the extra-geeky.

17 Comments »

  1. crabappleherbs said,

    January 7, 2008 @ 11:24 am

    I’m sorry the comments were closed on this post when I put it up — that was completely an accident. Comment away!

  2. jim mcdonald said,

    January 7, 2008 @ 11:51 am

    cinnamon excels as a stimulating diaphoretic, and is specific for when there is poor peripheral circulation, but the afflicted is either sweating profusely or has diarrhea, and is becoming dehydrated. So, its an example of a diaphoretic that checks perspiration, rather than promoting it. This action isn’t inhibitory; rather, it helps to prevent dehydration resultant from weakness in the periphery. Diaphoretics don’t, as is often stated, work by stimulating sweating, but rather by controlling ventilation via directing circulation and regulating/correcting tension or weakness in the periphery.

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    January 7, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

    Yes, jim, spread the diaphoretic gospel! (Do you know that at the Northeast Herbal Convergence last fall we were using the term “jim mcdonald diaphoretic”?)

  4. Kevin said,

    January 7, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

    Our family’s “secret” recipe for ragu for our pasta or gnocchi includes cinnamon. We are from the region of Friuli in northeastern Italy where the Venetian spice trade allowed access to many exotic spices. It was said that cinnamon was used to cover up the off taste of meat that was a bit too “ripe.” But, now, it is just part of the flavor.

  5. crabappleherbs said,

    January 7, 2008 @ 7:59 pm

    Kevin, cinnamon is really wonderful in tomato sauces — I generally use a little bit just to add richness, not enough so that people say “this tastes like cinnamon.” On the other hand, it’s also good in larger amounts sometimes. Here’s a great North African tomato sauce:

    tomatoes, canned or fresh
    a few raisins, plumped in hot water
    a few cloves of garlic
    cinnamon
    salt

    Blend everything in a blender and simmer until thick.

  6. jim mcdonald said,

    January 8, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

    > (Do you know that at the Northeast Herbal Convergence last fall we were using
    > the term “jim mcdonald diaphoretic”?)

    heh… nice. Its amazing how one’s online rants and blatherings get around…

  7. crabappleherbs said,

    January 8, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

    Yes, indeed. It was mainly me, Guido and Robin Rose. But the whole room caught on, eventually. You’re famous!

  8. Riana said,

    January 9, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

    this is a wonderful post, i adore cinnamon and i tend to get cold hands and feet so my body must be telling me to eat something with cinnamon in it. in fact, i was planning on making cinnamon rolls for this weekend. i already found the recipe that i want to use, how is that for kismet?

  9. crabappleherbs said,

    January 9, 2008 @ 7:57 pm

    Thanks, Riana!

    I’ve been making a morning tea from cinnamon and other spices whisked into hot water — so quick, and so pleasant…

  10. Celia said,

    January 18, 2008 @ 1:12 pm

    Ah! Cinnamon! Great post. Where would I be without it. I love it, crave it even, in practically any root teas and on oatmeal. An acupuncturist/herbalist in Minneapolis mixes it very well in a kidney yin/libido leaf tea, with damiana and ginger. Great for those achy, cold and stiff lower backs some of us get in the dead of winter.

  11. crabappleherbs said,

    January 18, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

    Thanks, Celia!

    My favorite mix (today anyway) is cinnamon, ashwagandha, ginger, and cardamom — for people who are cold and depleted to the point of anxiety and insomnia.

  12. Michelle P said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 9:39 am

    I introduced a friend to this site yesterday.
    She is recovering from colon cancer: surgery & treatments.
    Doctors have not helped her w/ a post treatment plan besides all
    the meds she is on. We searched around for colon healing foods.
    I printed out the flax seed tea page for her.
    She has flax & cinnamon in her kitchen & even w/limited energy
    will be able to make herself a cup of tea.
    Some herbal remedies as this are very simple while at the empowering for
    a recovering person, giving them the opportunity to be part of their own
    healing plan.

  13. Destination Wedding Venues Pro said,

    February 25, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

    I had no idea cinnamon is so good for one’s health, for so many different things. I heard it helps metabolism, so I started adding it in coffee and yogurt. Now i’ll try to eat more of it!

  14. Tara @ Nutrtion Boutique said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

    I love this post and the explanation of the different types of cinnamon. In TCM, we use two types of cinnamon: cassia is Rou Gui, and ceylon is Gui Zhi.

    We tend to use Gui Zhi more often than Rou Gui, as Rou Gui is thought to be hotter in nature and more for treating a deep cold in the lower abdomen. Gui Zhi is more for the upper body and a less extreme/more superficial cold.

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    June 16, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

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