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Cinnamon

Latin Names: Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Spanish / Ceylon Cinnamon); Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese Cinnamon); Cortex Cinnamomi (Cinnamon bark); Ramulus Cinnamomi (Cinnamon branches / twigs)

Other Names: Kinamomon (Greek); Darshini, Qirfah al-Darshini Arabic; Salilkhah (C. cassia in Arabic); Darchin, Pust-I Darchin (Persian); Darchin-i  Khata’i  (C. cassia in Persian); Twak (Sanskrit); Darchini  (Hindi, Urdu); Rou Gui / Gui Pi (Cinnamon bark in Chinese); Gui Zhih (Cinnamon banches / twigs in Chinese); Canela (Spanish Cinnamon).

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom; Lauraceae (Laurel family)

Part Used: Bark and branches / twigs; leaves, essential oil of bark or leaves

Basic Qualities: Hot 3 (Chinese), Hot 2 (Spanish / Ceylon); Dry 2

Other Qualities: light, penetrating, opening, stimulating, aromatic, slightly astringing

Taste: Sweet, pungent, slightly astringent; very aromatic

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – mildly thins the blood and improves its circulation. Phlegmatic - removes watery discharges from ulcers and wounds that are in a state of putrid decay and corruption; liquefies and dissolves thick or turbid phlegm from the lungs and chest, or from the stomach and intestines, facilitating its expulsion; dissolves cold, damp rheumatic humors as a warming anodyne. Choleric – Can aggravate or bring out latent heat and inflammation, especially in excess; the Chinese Cinnamon is stronger in this respect. Melancholic – thins and attenuates thick, congested flatus, facilitating the expulsion of gas from the intestines; Cinnamon’s aromatic properties also open up the flow of vital energy in the lungs and chest, as well as the GI tract.

Tropism: Cinnamon’s penetrating and dispersing properties give it an affinity for many organs and parts of the organism: the head, the lungs and chest; the stomach, liver and intestines; the muscles, channels and meridians; the skin and pores; the kidneys, adrenals and urinary tract.

Constituents and Pharmacology: The main active principles in Cinnamon are to be found in its essential oil; being slightly astringent, tannins are also present in the bark. The essential oil consists mainly of Cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, eugenol and phellandrene. Coumarins have also been discovered in Cinnamon (Mills 1991, Bone 2003).

Medicinal Properties: aromatic, anodyne, antiseptic, antirheumatic (branches / twigs); circulatory, digestive and metabolic stimulant (bark); diaphoretic (Spanish / Ceylon, branches / twigs), stomachic, carminative, tonic.

Cautions and Contraindications: Because of its strongly heating and stimulating nature, Cinnamon should not be used, or used only with caution and in small doses, by those who have a lot of heat, choler and inflammation in their bodies, either latent or manifest, or those who are in a chronically hyperstimulated state. Don’t use with bleeding in the GI tract. Use very cautiously during pregnancy, as Cinnamon is a uterine stimulant.

Medicinal Uses: To warm and stimulate the digestion as a stomachic and carminative, and relieve gas and bloating. To clean up foul or turbid phlegm or superfluous humors in the stomach and intestines in intestinal putrefaction and candidiasis. As a warming anodyne and mild antirheumatic to relieve aches and pains in the muscles and joints due to cold and damp (Spanish, branches / twigs). As a warming, stimulating diaphoretic to sweat out chills and pathogenic factors in colds and flu (Spanish, branches / twigs). As a warming pectoral and expectorant to loosen up and dissolve phlegm congestion in the lungs and chest (Spanish). As a metabolic stimulant in type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (Chinese). To treat nocturia and/or excessive urination due to cold in the kidneys and urinary tract, and to enhance male virility and semen production (Chinese). Charred black, powdered and mixed with Castor Oil to make a Kohl or Collyrium eyeliner to dissolve thick phlegmatic fluids from the eye.

Preparation and Dosage: Generally speaking, the Spanish / Ceylonese Cinnamon can be used more freely, and in larger doses, than the Chinese, since it is milder in nature, and less heating. A good general rule, in powder and tea formulas, is to have up to 5% of the formula by volume for Chinese Cinnamon, and up to 10% for Spanish Cinnamon. Chinese Cinnamon branches / twigs (Gui Zhih) are pretty much like Spanish Cinnamon, but can be more likely to provoke or aggravate heat and choler than the latter. The same general formulation rules can also apply to alcoholic tinctures and medicinal wines. As for the essential oil, 3 to 5 drops maximum is the standard dosage for oil of Cinnamon bark; oil of Cinnamon leaf should be used very judiciously and cautiously in massage oils and liniments, as it is very heating, and can even be caustic – do NOT take internally!

Herbal Formulation: Cinnamon, in all its forms, generally combines best with other digestive herbs of a similarly warming, stimulating, aromatic nature. Chinese Cinnamon, being more heating and stimulating, can strengthen and reinforce the action of other tonic and adaptogenic herbs. Spanish Cinnamon, as well as Chinese Cinnamon branches / twigs, can be used with other diaphoretics to treat colds and flu, and with other warming anodynes and antirheumatics to treat rheumatic and muscular aches and pains.

Classic Combinations: Spanish Cinnamon with fresh Ginger as a warming diaphoretic tea to treat colds and flu. With Valerian root to treat intestinal gas and bloating, putrefaction and candidiasis. With Cardamom to strengthen the stomach and digestion, and to remove foul or turbid superfluous humors from the stomach and intestines. With Cardamom and Dried Ginger to treat a weak, sluggish digestion. With Bay Laurel leaves as a warming anodyne to improve circulation, open the channels and dispel rheumatic and muscular aches and pains due to cold and damp.

Description: Cinnamon is mainly taken to be the bark of two different species of Cinnamomum tree – C. cassia, and C. zeylanicum, as well as other closely related species, with the former being referred to as Chinese Cinnamon, and the latter as Spanish or Ceylon Cinnamon, called Canela in Spanish. The Chinese also use the branches or twigs of the C. cassia tree, which they call Gui Zhih; its properties closely resemble those of the Spanish Cinnamon, but are a bit more heating and penetrating than the latter. In volume 2, or the Materia Medica section of his Canon of Medicine, Avicenna also describes several other varieties of Cinnamon, but these have been omitted here for simplicity’s sake. Practically speaking, the main varieties available today are the ones described above, with the main ones being the Spanish and Chinese Cinnamon bark. In addition, the exact botanical identity of these other varieties is unclear.

In distinguishing or differentiating the basic therapeutic qualities and nature of the Spanish versus the Chinese Cinnamon, we can say that the Chinese is hotter and more stimulating; it is also slightly more astringent and penetrating, giving it a tendency to be more stimulating and tonic in nature, and to target the deeper parts of the organism. In contrast, the Spanish Cinnamon is milder and gentler, not as heating, is less astringent, and consequently more superficial and dispersing in nature, targeting the GI tract and digestive organs, the lungs and chest, the skin and pores, and also the head and sinuses; it excels as an aromatic digestive herb, as a warming anodyne and antirheumatic, as a mild decongestant for the lungs, chest and head, and as a warming diaphoretic for colds and flu. The great Greco-Roman physician Galen used both kinds of Cinnamon in his herbal practice, although it is said that he preferred the Spanish variety; however, he uses both varieties, Spanish and Chinese, in his famous tonic electuary, which is called Jawarish Jalinoos in Unani Medicine. Physically and visually, the Chinese Cinnamon bark is thicker and heavier, whereas the Spanish Cinnamon is thinner and lighter.

The Chinese classify their own variety of Cinnamon bark, which is very heating and stimulating, as an herb to warm the interior and disperse chills. It is said to warm the Life Gate Fire, or Ming Men Huo, of the Kidney Yang, or the kidney and adrenal energy, which they see as being the main metabolic fire of the body. Both Avicenna and Chinese herbalists state that Cinnamon can be used to warm and strengthen the kidneys to treat nocturia due to cold or weakness. Secondarily, by virtue of stimulating this “pilot light” of the Life Gate Fire, Chinese Cinnamon also warms and stimulates the metabolic fires of the Spleen / Pancreas, or digestion and assimilation, and the Heart as well, warming and stimulating the circulation of blood, especially to the extremities. Gui Zhih, or the twigs and branches of the Chinese Cinnamon tree, is pretty similar in its effects to the Spanish Cinnamon, or Canela, and is used as a warming, stimulating diaphoretic in colds and flu, as well as an antirheumatic and warming anodyne for muscular and rheumatic aches and pains in the muscles and joints due to cold and damp; it also stimulates the Spleen / Pancreas, resulting in a more balanced and efficient metabolism of blood sugar, and a curbing of a sweet tooth.

Cinnamon bark, whether it be Spanish or Chinese, is one of the most important digestive herbs used in herbal medicine, and blends well with other digestive herbs of a similar warming and aromatic character. Avicenna wrote that Cinnamon warms and stimulates both the liver and the stomach, and attenuates and lightens thick, heavy gas or flatus in the GI tract so it can be more easily expelled; it also is useful in removing obstructions from the liver. The aromatic properties of Cinnamon smooth and facilitate the flow of the Natural Force, or vital energy through the stomach, liver and intestines. When holiday time comes around, with its plethora of sweets and rich foods, Cinnamon is used as a spice or condiment, along with other stimulating aromatic spices like Allspice, Nutmeg, Mace, Ginger and Cardamom, to improve their digestion and assimilation.

The therapeutic properties of Cinnamon, as well as its wonderful flavor and aroma, are due mainly to its essential oil content, which consists primarily of cinnamic aldehydes. One of the first things that ancient herbalists discovered is that many aromatic substances have strong antiseptic properties for fighting infections and sepsis, and Cinnamon is a good example. There is a little bit of the Doctrine of the Signatures going on here, in that sepsis or putrefaction, with its putrid odor, is countered by medicinal substances with a sweet, pleasing fragrance and aroma. Although it is not a full-fledged antimicrobial herb, seasoned herbalists have a good, healthy respect for the antiseptic properties of Cinnamon, which, in conjunction with other antimicrobial, adaptogenic and immune stimulating herbs, can help the body recover from chronic sepsis and infection. In Chinese herbal medicine, Gui Zhih, or Cinnamon branches and twigs, is especially used for this purpose, but the Spanish and Chinese barks also have this antiseptic property. The antiseptic properties of Cinnamon, which include antifungal, anti-yeast and anti viral properties as well, focus on the skin and pores, the muscles and joints, and the respiratory and GI tracts. 

Cinnamon has been getting quite a bit of attention in medical circles, and in the media lately, as a possible treatment and remedy for type 2 diabetes. It is said to lower insulin resistance, stabilize and stimulate the metabolism of blood sugar in both hyper- and hypo-glycemia, and help people get off the blood sugar roller coaster. The taste, qualities and energetics of Cinnamon in this regard are quite interesting: Like sugar, its primary taste is sweet, but in contrast to the heavy, rich and cloying nature of sugar, Cinnamon is also light, penetrating and stimulating, due to its secondary pungent and astringent tastes, which improves blood sugar metabolism. The therapeutic strategy employed here is stimulating the digestion and metabolism, primarily of blood sugar, but secondarily of blood lipids and cholesterol as well, and for this purpose, the more heating and stimulating Chinese Cinnamon has been the one used in clinical studies. So far, Cinnamon has gotten mixed reviews from the medical community, who are hesitant to recommend it unconditionally, and offer it with some caveats and qualifications as part of an overall treatment regimen that also involves diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

Practically speaking, Cinnamon is not nearly as powerful in lowering blood sugar as prescription drugs like Metformin; therefore, its use as an extra or auxiliary therapeutic tool, as part of a total anti-diabetes regimen involving diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications is stressed. In other words, sprinkling a tall stack of pancakes, swimming in butter and syrup, with a little Cinnamon just won’t cut it; you must also switch to a low sugar, low carb diet as well as embarking on a fitness regimen. Cinnamon is also much more likely to be beneficial and successful in treating borderline, light or incipient cases of type 2 diabetes than it is for those who have extremely high blood sugar, obesity, and sedentary habits. Dosage recommendations for treating type 2 diabetes range from a half a teaspoon per day up to 6 grams daily, which is about 2 to 3 teaspoons. In addition, those who have a lot of heat and inflammation in their bodies, either latent or manifest, may find Cinnamon hard to take in these large daily, ongoing doses; it may bring on crises of inflammation and heat, excessive sweating, skin rashes, tongue and mouth ulcers, etc… wherever these may be lurking in the body.

Cinnamon is used as a cooking spice, which everyone knows, to both enhance the flavor and improve the digestibility of sugary, starchy or rich foods. With its great taste, Cinnamon and its essential oil or extract are also classified as a condiment, or an herb that is often included in herbal formulas to improve the taste of the medicine, or to mask the unpleasant taste of other ingredients. In tooth pastes, Cinnamon is doubly useful, both for its great taste, as well as its antiseptic properties. Being strongly aromatic, Cinnamon and its extract and essential oil, is used in incenses, as well as in perfumes for its sweet aroma. Being a warming anodyne, the essential oil of Cinnamon bark makes a welcome addition to massage oils, especially where a warming, relaxing effect is desired. With such wonderful versatility and usefulness, Cinnamon has always been, and will probably always be, in high demand, in cooking and cuisine, in herbal medicine, in aromatics and perfumery and in cosmetics and bodywork products.

Sources: The Canon of Medicine, vol. 2 by Avicenna, pp. 245 – 252. Compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar, @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar, Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications, Chicago , IL, USA.

Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice by Sebastian Pole, pp. 160 – 161. @2006 by Elsevier, Ltd.

DISCLAIMER:  The information contained on this page is intended for educational purposes only, to inform the reader as to the traditional uses of the herb or medicinal substance, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or medical condition.  The author advises the reader to consult with his or her physician before use.