Cinnamon, the well-known aromatic spice that infuses warmth and depth into our favorite culinary delights, is much more than just a flavor enhancer. From the cozy aroma of chai tea to the indulgent sweetness of Cinnamon rolls, this widely used herb has woven itself into the fabric of culinary experiences worldwide. However, beyond its culinary allure in the kitchen, Cinnamon offers a vast array of health benefits that often go overlooked.

Join us on a journey as we delve into the lesser-known facets of this beloved kitchen spice. We’ll uncover the potent medicinal properties that have been celebrated for centuries across cultures and unearth the science-backed health benefits that make Cinnamon more than just a culinary staple. From aromatherapeutic and antioxidant benefits to digestive system support, brain health, and more, let's unlock the secrets of Cinnamon and its remarkable impact on well-being.

Plus, at the end of this article, we’ll share our favorite herbal chai tea recipe with you – the perfect cozy beverage to enjoy during those long and cold winter nights. Let's discover the incredible ways in which Cinnamon emerges as a powerhouse of health, wellness, and vitality, beyond tantalizing our taste buds.

what is cinnamon?

Cinnamon comes from the bark of several species of evergreen trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum. The inner bark is harvested, sliced into small squares, and dried. As they dry they naturally curl into classic Cinnamon sticks, also known as quills, or they are ground into the powdered form that is commonly used in cooking and baking. You can also find quills that have been chopped up into Cinnamon chips, which are ideal for incorporating Cinnamon into tea blends.

There are four main varieties of Cinnamon, with the most commonly known types being Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and Cassia Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia). There is also Saigon Cinnamon or Vietnamese Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) native to Vietnam, and Indonesian Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmanni) from Indonesia. 

It’s commonly thought that Cassia Cinnamon and Ceylon Cinnamon are primarily used for medicinal purposes, while Saigon Cinnamon and Indonesian Cinnamon are used for culinary reasons, but they are often considered interchangeable and have been used for thousands of years for somewhat similar purposes as medicinal and incense spices. In the culinary realm, there are nuances in flavor.

Ceylon Cinnamon, often referred to as "True Cinnamon,” originates primarily from Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), as well as parts of India, Madagascar, Brazil, and the Caribbean. It's considered to have a milder, sweeter flavor compared to Cassia Cinnamon.

Cassia Cinnamon, on the other hand, is native to China and is sometimes referred to as Chinese Cinnamon, but is also cultivated in other Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. This type of Cinnamon has a stronger, spicier taste compared to Ceylon Cinnamon.

Cinnamomum verum tree

history & Folklore

Cinnamon has a rich history across many cultures in both the culinary world and aromatic medicine realm that can be traced back to ancient times. Chinese herbalists wrote about Cinnamon as early as 2700 BC, and Cinnamon has a long tradition of use as incense in the renowned Japanese Koh-do incense ceremony.

Ancient Egyptian literature and art reveal that Cinnamon was used for culinary, medicinal, and spiritual purposes. It is one of the sacred ingredients of Kyphi, the Ancient Egyptian temple incense that played an important role as a sacred fragrance in many ceremonies (along with other aromatic plants like Frankincense, Myrrh, Benzoin, Labdanum, Spikenard, Calamus, and Saffron). Cinnamon was also commonly used in Ancient Egyptian perfumery, medicines, and unguents (a type of fragrant ointment), and incorporated in embalming procedures.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices included in the Old Testament. The herb is also mentioned many times in the Hebrew Bible as being used as an incense herb and an important ingredient in holy anointing oils. Cassia Cinnamon is also present in the famous Ketoret incense mixture, a sacred Hebrew incense offering. Ketoret was burned in daily ceremonies at Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple. 

Cinnamon was highly prized in ancient times and regarded as a gift fit for kings and gods. This herb is believed to be one of the most sought-after culinary spices in the 15th and 16th centuries. At one time, it was even considered more valuable than gold. One theory of why Cinnamon became such a popular kitchen spice is not only for its lovely aromatic flavor but also for its action as a natural preservative due to its antimicrobial properties. Research has shown that Cinnamon effectively prevents the spread of pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli [1].

The Health Benefits of Cinnamon

circulatory system

When it comes to herbal energetics, Cinnamon is warming and moving. This herb has been utilized for thousands of years in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and many other ancient systems of medicine for its warming, drying, and stimulating properties. It’s known to help stimulate blood flow and support the circulatory system and can be beneficial to those with poor circulation or who often feel cold.

In Western herbalism, this warming aromatic herb is known as a stimulating diaphoretic, helping to move blood to the skin’s surface, opening up pores and releasing internal heat, often inducing sweating. Cinnamon helps flush out illness and is traditionally used to address fevers that can accompany the cold or flu.

digestive system

The warming and stimulating properties of Cinnamon extend to the digestive system, where it helps support digestion and fuel the “digestive fire.” In addition to its favorable flavor in cuisine, Cinnamon is also commonly used culinarily as a digestive aid, providing digestive balance with heavier meals. Perhaps that is why this spice is often paired with dairy or heavier holiday meals to help aid in digestion. 

Not only does Cinnamon help support the efficiency of the digestive system, but it can also soothe common digestive ailments when used internally. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and carminative qualities, Cinnamon can relieve excess gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, and a host of other digestive issues.

respiratory system

In Ayurveda, a common remedy for respiratory ailments like coughs, colds, and sore throats is to make an herbal steam and inhale the vapor of Cinnamon sticks in just boiled water. As incense and a steam inhalant, Cinnamon has been traditionally used to soothe asthma, bronchitis, sinus congestion, and many other respiratory illnesses. This aromatic herb is an expectorant that helps move out stagnation in the chest, especially when there is a weakened constitution, like during times of illness. Cinnamon can help move excess cold and dampness out of the chest and respiratory system, bringing balance to the lungs.

brain health

Due to Cinnamon’s ability to stimulate blood flow, it also helps promote healthy blood flow to the brain. Recent scientific studies suggest that Cinnamon has a positive effect on cognitive function, supporting the mind, learning, and memory [2]. Using Cinnamon in incense form or cuisine and other internal uses may improve visual-motor response speed, strengthen memory, and stimulate attention and mental awareness. There are also various scientific studies on Cinnamon and its neuroprotective effects for those struggling with Alzheimer’s disease [3].

aromatherapy use

When used in incense or aromatic medicine, Cinnamon is considered a gentle, balancing herb in the emotional realm. Just as Cinnamon is warming to the physical body, it is warming to our mental and emotional bodies. It can help dissolve cold thoughts or feelings, bitterness, resentment, dissatisfaction, sadness, and feelings of being jaded. Cinnamon can help you learn how to loosen up and let go. The aroma of Cinnamon can break up thoughts or feelings of stagnation, especially when you are feeling stuck in a thought cycle or “stuck in a rut.” 

If life's challenges have dimmed your inner vitality due to stress, grief, depression, or anxiety, Cinnamon stands as the ally to rekindle your fervor and zest for life. This aromatic herb possesses a subtle yet profound ability to unearth the smoldering embers within, reigniting your spirit. It's akin to inviting the warmth of a hearth fire into the depths of your psyche, tenderly comforting and kindling a gentle glow.

Much like the serene ambiance around a campfire shared with cherished ones, Cinnamon exudes a soothing, embracing warmth. It serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness, reassuring us that solitude isn't our only companion. With its gentle touch, Cinnamon encourages us to stay open-hearted, embrace love, and welcome community into our lives.

Safety/Contraindications

Topical use: Never apply an essential oil directly to the skin. Essential oils should always be diluted with a carrier oil like olive, coconut, or sunflower oil before applying topically. Cinnamon essential oil is often known to cause skin irritation and reactions due to its potency, even when it’s properly diluted. Use extreme care if you choose to apply Cinnamon essential oil to the skin. 

It's generally recommended to avoid using Cinnamon bark essential oil topically. According to essential oil safety experts, if you are attempting to use Cinnamon bark essential oil topically, do not exceed a 0.05% dilution ratio. If using Cinnamon leaf  essential oil topically, you can use a slightly higher dilution ratio, but do not go above a 0.5-0.6% dilution ratio. Do not use Cinnamon essential oil topically on children under the age of 2. Check out our Proper Essential Oil Dilution Chart & Guide here

Internal useAs a gentle reminder, never consume an essential oil. Avoid higher therapeutic doses of Cinnamon for extended periods, especially if you are currently taking blood thinner medication, are pregnant, or nursing. Always consult a medical professional when you are considering taking herbs beyond occasional culinary use.

DIY Herbal Chai Tea Recipe

This is a cozy, caffeine-free herbal chai recipe with all aromatic plant ingredients. Feel free to add in some black tea at the end if you’d like to make this a caffeinated beverage! (Steep the black tea separately for several minutes and combine.) The ingredient estimates are rough and can be edited to your liking.

Ingredients:
One handful of Cinnamon sticks
One handful of fresh Ginger Root (start with a few chunks and add more if you like it spicy)
One handful of Cardamom pods
½ handful of Fennel seeds
⅙ handful of Black Peppercorns
1-2 pieces of Clove (if you add more it might be bitter!)
Touch of Vanilla (extract or beans)

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a big pot of just boiled water, cover, and reduce to a simmer. It’s important to keep it covered so the beneficial volatile oils don’t evaporate!

Allow to simmer for 1-3 hours. The longer it goes, the stronger the tea.

Place a tea strainer in your mug and ladle in your chai to fill your cup ¾ full. Fill the remaining ¼ with cream or a milk of your choice and stir in honey or a sweetener you prefer. Optional: sprinkle some powdered Cinnamon on top and other herbs you love. Get cozy and enjoy!

If you enjoyed this plant monograph and would love to learn more about individual plants in our 1+ hour plant talk sessions, join us in The Aromatic Medicine Garden. Let us help you deepen your wisdom and confidence in working with aromatic medicine and teach you how to make their many aromatherapuetic and herbal preparations.

Click here to learn more about our Aromatic Medicine Garden Membership and discover how you can expand your understanding of aromatic plants into new heights.

Cinnamon Latin Names: Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese Cinnamon), Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon Cinnamon), Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon Cinnamon), Cinnamomum burmanni (Indonesian Cinnamon)
Cinnamon Common Names: ​​Cassia, Chinese Cassia, Sweet Wood
Genus: Cinnamomum
Plant Family:  Lauraceae 
Parts Used: bark, twig, dried fruits (buds)
Herbal Energetics and Actions: alterative, analgesic, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antibiotic, anticonvulsant, antidepressant, antidiabetic, antidiarrheal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, aphrodisiac, astringent, cardiac stimulant, carminative, circulatory stimulant, decongestant, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, drying, emmenagogue, emollient, expectorant, febrifuge, hemostatic, insecticide, parasiticide, stimulant, stomachic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge, warming
Body Systems Affiliation: circulatory, digestive, respiratory, brain, musculoskeletal, reproductive and genitourinary systems
Aroma: spicy, warm, woody, pungent, sweet, sharp, slightly balsamic

Article Written By Melissa Szaro

references

1. Hong, Y.J., Bae, Y.M., Moon, B., & Lee, S.Y. (2013). Inhibitory effect of Cinnamon powder on pathogen growth in laboratory media and oriental-style rice cakes (sulgidduk). J Food Prot. Jan;76(1):133-8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23317869/

2. Nakhaee, S., Kooshki, A., Hormozi, A., Akbari, A., Mehrpour, O., & Farrokhfall, K. (2023). Cinnamon and cognitive function: a systematic review of preclinical and clinical studies. Nutr Neurosci. Jan 18:1-15. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2023.2166436. 

3. Momtaz, S., Hassani, S., Khan, F., Ziaee, M., & Abdollahi, M. (2018). Cinnamon, a promising prospect towards Alzheimer's disease. Pharmacol Res. Apr;130:241-258. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29258915/

© 2023 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.

*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.