(Cinnmomum cassia, C. zeylandicum)
The fragrance of hot mulled cider, the spicy comfort of warm apple pie, the soft texture of a freshly baked cinnamon bun and the alluring coziness in a cup of chai tea all share the luxurious wealth of our beloved ancient herb Cinnamomum. Although everyone is familiar with the long curled sticks that look so pretty in a potpourri, many people are unaware of the many grades of cinnamon or prevalence of the closely related spice, Cassia (C. cassia) that is commonly sold as Cinnamon.
Over 90% of the world’s true Cinnamon (C. zylandicum) is grown in Sri Lanka, and is mostly prized as a culinary ingredient; its smooth flavor is much milder than Cassia, and costs a bit more. The cultivation of this cherished spice requires that young saplings –about two or three years old- be coppiced, that is, cut to the ground and harvested, subsequently, young shoots will spring up the following year, and the cycle is renewed.
The inner layer of the coppiced shoot is separated from the outer bark after a fermentation period of 24 hours. This thin, moist cambium layer naturally curls as it is dried, first in the shade, then in the sun, overall for about 3 or four days. These “quills” are about ½ inch in diameter may be inserted into larger rolls and bundled into “pipes” for export. The processed quills of Cinnamon are evaluated and sorted; the thinnest, finest textured quills are graded “00000”, while the coarsest quills get a “0” designation. The “quillings” are broken bits of cinnamon that chip off during drying and sorting, and these are sold for considerably less.
It doesn’t take long for powdered cinnamon to lose its flavor, as the volatile oils evaporate quickly, therefore Cinnamon should be purchased whole to be ground at home in a spice mill or in a coffee grinder used only for spices. Poor quality Cinnamon and the rough bark of Cassia may damage home grinders if they are too coarse; the finer the quality of Cinnamon, the more easily it crumbles. Ceylon Cinnamon is considered to be of the highest quality obtainable.
C. Cassia is a very close cousin to Cinnamon, and is legally allowed to be sold as such in both the US and France; in other parts of Europe and in Australia, it is illegal to misrepresent Cassia as Cinnamon. Cassia often includes both the inner and outer bark and is harvested from tree at least seven years old; it has a much sharper and bold flavor and is valued as an herbal remedy more so than true Cinnamon.
Native to China, Cassia has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), primarily for the treatment of “Cold Central Qi.” Rou gui, as it is called in Pinyin, is a wonderfully warming herb that can help restore libido, bring strength to a weak lower back, relieve certain types of asthma, increase the appetite and stop watery diarrhea. When symptoms are associated with chilliness and lassitude, Cassia is the go-to herbal pick-me-up.
As for a medicinal diet, Cinnamon/Cassia is the perfect accoutrement for our damp, cold winters. Flavoring meats, soups, squash, teas and baked goods with this sweet and spicy seasoning not only helps improve digestion, but it brings our core temperature up while allowing the surface of our body to acclimate to blustery weather conditions.
Current medical studies are researching the use of Cassia for the treatment of a variety of conditions including insulin dependent Type II Diabetes; one study found compelling evidence to support the use of cinnamon/cassia, but subsequent studies have not been able to duplicate the positive results. So, although it appears that Cinnamon/Cassia may lower blood sugar, the jury is still out on its effects on Type II Diabetes. In any case, modest amounts of the spice can improve digestion and may even lower cholesterol, just be cautious if you are taking blood thinning drugs or are pregnant.
The twig of C. cassia is known as Gui Zhi in TCM and is used in a slightly different way; when taken at the onset of a cold exhibiting such symptoms as an excessively runny nose with clear mucous, chills, and aversion to draughts, Cinnamon Twig will help push the illness back out of the body. If the normal attempts at getting up a good sweat don’t begin to resolve this pathogenic invasion, Cinnamon Twig is generally very helpful, particularly in combination with fresh ginger.
Cinnamon Twig is also great in a formula when it comes to some cases of Renaud’s Syndrome because it can help lead warmth out to the extremities and assist poor circulation. I use it with many clients in a custom built formula that also addresses the underlying issues, often with herbs that nourish the blood and move stagnant Qi. When I add ear reflexology to the treatment, my clients and I literally watch their fingers turn from white or purple to a healthy pink color.
I also have available in my pharmacopeia the essential oils of Cinnamon Bark and Cinnamon Leaf; both are energetically very hot in nature and must be applied with a carrier oil, or sandwiched between milder oils. I use either of them for skin parasites like lice or scabies, or for intestinal parasites by applying the oil –diluted or specifically layered- to the belly and putting a couple of drops in rice to be eaten. For achy muscles and joints, I use different layers of healing oils, including Cinnamon, to create a natural icy/hot combination that brings fast relief.
Cinnamon Bark essential oil can eradicate a plantars wart in about two weeks; use it undiluted directly on the wart after showering and immediately put on a sock. It helps to open up the wart and to pull out the roots with tweezers. Cinnamon Leaf essential oil is a great natural way to get rid of the spider mites that seem to thrive in the dry indoor environment while our houseplants are overwintering. Simply add 40 drops of Cinnamon Leaf essential oil to 4 oz of water in an atomizer and mist the plants daily.
Please remember that the medicinal-grade essential oils that are used safely in therapy are NOT the ones you can readily buy at a retail establishment. Feel free to contact me for quality oils, I am happy to help. Also, a word of caution about the Cinnamon essential oil: it is VERY hot!! Do not put it anywhere else on your skin because it will burn like the dickens (although so long as it’s medicinal-grade, it should do no permanent damage).
If, despite caution, the oil still manages to burn you, DO NOT wash the area with water!! The nature of essential oils is to be absorbed by oil/fat (your skin cells) and repelled by water, so washing with water will only serve to intensify the burn by thrusting the oil faster into your fat cells. The best thing to do if you feel the burn is to apply a heavy amount of any type of oil you have on hand, (olive, sesame, canola, vegetable) and the heat will diminish in a few moments.
Cinnamon is a well-known aphrodisiac, and certainly the smell of it cooking is no deterrent to cozy feelings of intimacy. The oil, when used intentionally, can help individuals and couples get to the core of their issues, bring more closeness to a relationship and help open up communication. Once valued more than its weight in silver, Cinnamon is a treasure we could all take a new look at.
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