Cinnamon: The Yummiest Medicine?
As a kid growing up in Acton, MA, I used to sip hot apple cider through a rather unique straw: a cinnamon stick. It was surprisingly effective as a straw, but it would also tantalize my youthful taste buds with a continuous subtle hint of delicious cinnamon. I doubt I am alone in associating cinnamon with happy childhood memories: winter holidays by a fire, surrounded by family and music; comforting breakfasts and desserts; happiness and magical camaraderie.
Cinnamon is obtained by peeling away the inner bark of evergreen trees native to Sri Lanka, southwest India and parts of Asia. As the bark dries, it curls into the delightful cinnamon sticks – also called quills. It has been revered as a medicinal (and tasty) spice since biblical times. In the Bible, the first century CE Roman emperor Nero burned a year’s worth of cinnamon on his wife’s funeral pyre as a symbol of the depth of his loss. Cinnamon was used in ancient Egypt for embalming purposes, as a medicinal herb, and in beverages. It was even mentioned in one of the earliest books in Chinese botanical medicine, dated to about 2700 BCE. Cinnamon was also one of the first commodities traded consistently between Europe and the Near East. All in all, cinnamon is not exactly a new superfood – people of several cultures have known how amazing it is for literally millennia.
There are over 200 types of cinnamon. The most popular kinds are Ceylon cinnamon (considered “true” cinnamon) and cassia (a Chinese variety). North American companies frequently use cassia in lieu of Ceylon cinnamon or heavily supplement with cassia because it is significantly less expensive than Ceylon cinnamon – even though the taste is harsher and far less refined. There is a simple test to determine whether your cinnamon has cassia mixed in: cassia is full of starch whereas true cinnamon is not. Starch turns blue when it meets iodine, so unleashing an iodine dropper upon a sample of your cinnamon will reveal its ingredients. Cassia will turn blue and true cinnamon will retain its golden brown color.
Like most delicious plant foods, cinnamon has many healing qualities. Some of the scientifically confirmed effects of cinnamon are that it has antibiotic, diaphoretic (inducing perspiration – helpful for detoxing), antiulcerative, digestive, anticonvulsant, diuretic, and carminative (flatulence relieving) properties, as a sedative for smooth muscle, and as a stimulant for circulation.
In North America, cinnamon is most frequently used as a supplement to help regulate blood sugar. In one scientific study of 60 people with type 2 diabetes, 1 to 6 daily grams of cinnamon for 40 days reduced fasting blood glucose by 18 to 29 percent. Triglycerides were reduced by 23 to 30 percent, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27 percent, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 percent.
The essential oils in the bark are responsible for cinnamon’s healing qualities. The oils contain many volatile substances, including the active components cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, eugenol, trans-cinnamic acid, and cinnamyl alcohol. These oils have been demonstrated to have antifungal, antiviral, bactericidal effects, and antioxidant properties.
Ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks should both be stored cool, dark and dry in a tightly sealed glass container. Ground cinnamon stays good for about six months and cinnamon sticks stay good for about a year.
Word of caution: much like spinach, cinnamon contains moderate amounts of oxalate and thus should be avoided by those with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones. Also, there have not been sufficient tests done on pregnant and lactating women to ensure cinnamon’s safety when used as a supplement during these times – although cassia appears to be safe.
Here are some recipes to help any cinnamon-consuming endeavors you may have (I mean, who can blame you?):
- The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods – Tea recipe: 1-inch slice of fresh ginger, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ lemon, 1 cup hot water. Either grind or juice the ginger, add all to the hot water and enjoy.
- Susan Power’s Rawmazing Cinnamon Bun recipe
- Our Squirrel Breakfast recipe
- And finally, our marvelous Chai Milk recipe
The Renegade Health Show has a very informative video about how cinnamon is harvested:
I have been doing quite a bit of recipe experimentation with cinnamon recently, so Vibrant Maine is bound to post new cinnamon recipes soon! Until then, toodle-loo!