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:
On the left, cassia or Chinese cinnamon. This is the most common cinnamon in the USâ€”the one you can find in the grocery store, Cinnamomum aromaticum.
On the right, the “true” or Ceylon cinnamon, C. verum. It has a more subtle aroma than cassia, and it’s not so sharp.
The powder is Vietnamese / Saigon cinnamon, C. loureiroi. 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 herbalistâ€™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 (18â€“29%), triglyceride (23â€“30%), LDL cholesterol (7â€“27%), and total cholesterol (12â€“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.