Cinnamon is a small evergreen tree native to South Asia in the Laureacea family. It’s sometimes listed as Cinnamomum zeylanicum, which is it’s old botanical name. It’s widely cultivated primarily in Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Madagascar, as well as China, India, and Vietnam. The trees typically grow 30-40 feet in height, and have silky panicles of unpleasantly odored yellowish flowers that develop into purple berries, and ovate-oblong leathery leaves with prominent veins. It’s typically harvested by coppicing the tree, or cutting it to the ground every two years, forcing new growth from it’s base. The outer bark is cut off, and then the inner bark is beaten to loosen it and harvested immediately. It’s processed while the bark is still wet and then dried over following few hours in a well ventilated area. There are about half a dozen varieties of cinnamon grown commercially and several cultivars of each variety.
Cinnamon is a carminative, astringent, aromatic, stimulant, and antiseptic, and a common flavoring in toothpaste, making it useful for killing decay causing bacteria, infections, and fungus in the mouth. It can also be sprinkled on minor cuts and scrapes after they have been washed to help keep infections at bay; another of it’s chemical constituents, eugenol, is a natural anesthetic, helping with minor pain. It’s also useful for treating candida infections as well as urinary tract infections. Cinnamon also helps with digestion and break down foods with high fat content, making it a great spice to add to baked goods and other sweet treats. In Aryuvedic medicine, cinnamon is used to strengthen and harmonize circulatory flow, and as a diaphoretic and expectorant. It’s considered an especially useful herb for those with weak constitutions, and helps strengthen the heart, warm the kidneys, and promote Agni, or the ‘digestive fire’. Japanese research also suggests that cinnamon may help lower blood pressure. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Cinnamomum Cassia, commonly known as just Cassia or Chinese Cinnamon, is used as a diaphoretic, stagnation of blood and chi, and for treating colds, fevers, the flu, and rheumatic joint pain. The bark is used as an internal warming stimulant, while the the superficial parts of the tree, such as the twigs, are used for external complaints.
Cinnamon has been used for centuries, with it’s earliest records dating to around 2700 BC in Chinese herbals for treating diarrhea, fever, and menstrual problems. Ancient Aryuvedics used the herb similarly. The ancient Egyptians used it in their embalming mixtures, and it soon spread and was used widely in ancient Greek, Roman, and Hebrew cultures as a perfume and digestive aid. It eventually made it’s way to Europe, where it became popular as a remedy for sinus problems, colds, flus, cancer, and “inner decay and slime”. By the 17th century, Europe was primarily using cinnamon as a culinary spice, only using it medicinally for flavoring. In early America, physicians used cinnamon as a remedy for stomach cramps, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, uterine problems, and colic. Cinnamon is the basis for the three aromatics in Aryuveda, along with cardamom and bay leaves, which help promote digestion and absorption of medicines.
Cinnamon can be eaten freely and is quite safe, however, cinnamon oil should not be ingested, as it can cause nausea, vomiting, and kidney damage. Mix the powdered herb into teas or savory and sweet foods. Pregnant women should limit the amount of cinnamon they eat to culinary amounts, as excessive use may cause miscarriage.
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