Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cinnamon!! Let Me In!!

(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.

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email  if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment or are interested in participating in classes, workshops or retreats.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Noni: Polynesian Master Healer

(Morinda citrifolia)
Morinda citrifolia, a member of the coffee family (Rubiacea) is a small tree that can grow up to 30 feet tall with large, shiny green and simple, deeply veined leaves. The tree will flower throughout the year, and mature in about 18 months to produce a multiple fruit that appears as an individual (like a pineapple). The fruit itself is ovoid and turns from green to a translucent white when fully ripe; a mature tree can produce up to eighteen pounds of this seedy fruit yearly.

A celebrity herbal remedy that has generated much interest in the recent past, Noni was Introduced either by ancient Polynesians or carried by ocean currents, or perhaps both. This non-invasive tree is found in many low-lying tropical primary forests and can adapt to a wide variety of harsh conditions from drought to rainforest, heavy shade to full sun, and tolerate saline and lava alike. Many botanists believe that if necessary, the noni would be able to self-pollinate; truly this is a most self-sufficient, pioneering plant!

Although noni was considered a staple food in some Pacific Island nations, it was mostly considered a “starvation fruit” to be consumed only during famine. In some cultures, the seeds were roasted and eaten, but the consumption of “cheesefruit” itself was limited to only a few communities.  The dried fruit powder contains about 70% carbohydrates and approximately 30% dietary fiber with 5% protein and a small amount of fat. It also contains a significant amount of potassium, iron and vitamin A, as well as a fair amount of vitamin C, but still only half the amount as that of an orange. 

The noni has several names, depending upon the region of Polynesia you’re in, such as great morinda, Indian (or beach) Mulberry, nuna’ akai, dog dumpling, and mengkudu.  Noni is considered one of the most important medicinal plants in all of Polynesia, and its uses are as adaptable as its tenacious ability to survive. Noni’s modern commercial appeal is quite different than its historical applications; in traditional Polynesian cultures, the most utilized part of the plant was not the ripe fruit, as is popular today, but the green fruit, the leaves and the root bark. 

Some traditional cultures actually identify three varieties of noni; one has small leaves, many small fruits and its bark and roots produce a dye for fabric, another exhibits the well-known putrid odor and is mainly used by herbal laypersons for juice while a third variety produces fruit with little or no odor and displays long, strap-like and highly medicinal leaves. These leaves make a very effective bandage; when heated, the leaf will stick to itself and its anti-septic and healing properties make it ideal for dressing all types of wounds. If macerated, the herb can also be applied as a paste or poultice to the site of injury to reduce inflammation and prevent or draw out infection. 

Particularly of note are the traditional uses of ‘ura in the Rotuma region of Fiji where poultices are often utilized, sometimes with the addition of sea salt, coconut oil or other herbs, for fungal infections and the fast relief of painful stonefish stings. Midwives also have a method of preparing noni with coconut oil and curcuma to be applied as a paste to the new mother’s body which supports post-partum health; to promote lactation, young leaves are heated and applied to the breast while prayers are offered to the gods Ku and Hina. 

Internally, the juice of the fruit may be combined with sugarcane syrup and the very oily kukui nut to make a powerful purgative and blood purifier. Another preparation, sometimes called aumiki’awa, includes red clay and is used for Tuberculosis, however the name of this formula also describes a different preparation that is used for hangovers… another handy remedy!
Generally, preparation of the ripe noni fruit involves a fermentation process sometimes called pake; the ripe fruit is placed in a jar, covered with spring water and left in the sun for three weeks followed by a week in the shade. The potent and unpleasantly fragrant brew is strained, refrigerated and taken in two ounce doses up to three times daily. Some home herbalists will puree the ripe noni and take little shots of it daily to help control diabetes. There is some debate about whether the ancient uses of noni included these fermented brews, as there is little evidence to support such preparations; it is assumed that this is more of a modern application of the herb, utilized by younger herbalists.

The young green fruit is also applied externally for bites, stings, oral ulcers and skin infections; it is quite effective in the treatment of staph (Staphylococcus aureus), a current concern on the Hawaiian Islands. Internal uses of the unripe fruit include the relief of menstrual cramps, arthritis, gastric ulcer and indigestion; the ripe fruit is popular for the treatment of a myriad of diseases including malaria and hypertension. The root and inner stem bark are also used for external infections, but is considered extremely abortive if taken internally and shouldn’t be used by pregnant women.

A popular article by Dr. Heinicke of the University of Hawaii, published in a botanical journal sparked much of the current interest in Noni.  The NIH is supporting research on the contemporary uses of noni juice, particularly in the treatment of breast and colon cancer; these phase I studies have been spearheaded by Dr. Brian Issell at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii. Papa Kaluakaihua, a traditional Hawaiian healer, utilizes noni for these purposes and more, ”I have used noni to help people with cancer, kidney problems, diabetes and tumors… to me, noni is the most important of the herbs used in medicine.” 

It is believed that few Kahunas used noni internally in any capacity except for emetics and cathartics until the mid-nineteenth century; historically, its uses externally were therapeutic and mystical. Due to the significant presence of butyric acid, the ripe noni smells like vomit; traditionally its bad odor was indicative of its power against disease-causing malevolent spirits. Some of the ritualistic uses of noni involved applying a salve over the whole body of the afflicted and then burying the patient in the hot sand to purge the toxic influence. Methods that encouraged sweating, massage and the simple application of hot noni leaves all served to extricate malevolent influences and to restore health and vigor. Legend speaks of the Togon god Maui, who was resurrected after his body was covered with noni leaves.

Noni wood contains alkaloids that can be used to stun fish, making it easier to catch dinner. A strong insecticidal hair wash is also made from the strong roots, and octanoic acid in ripe fruits is poisonous to fruit flies, some ant species and cockroaches; this compound is also toxic to honeybees. Another species of ant, the weaver ant, has developed a reciprocal relationship with noni; the insect provides protection against predation while the plant provides a steady supply of food.

Other traditional uses for Morinda citrifolia include a dye for batik made from the roots (yellow) or the bark (brownish maroon); the anthraquinones in the dye are also highly effective for the treatment of intestinal worms. The fibrous bark can also be pounded into a type of felt to be made into fabric. An ancient Hawaiian chant describes a taunt from the pig god Ku to the fire goddess Pele referring to the process of cloth and dye making: 

I have come now from Puna.
I have seen the women gathering noni,
Scratching noni,
Pounding noni,
Marking with noni.

Noni has proven its adaptability and value throughout Polynesia in both ancient and modern times. The tree has managed to convince humans to help it colonize new territory; Europeans have introduced noni to other tropical regions including Puerto Rico, Florida and the US Virgin Islands. In areas where it has become naturalized, noni offers many benefits for agriculture; it provides windbreaks, supports vining crops, gives shade to coffee plants and prevents soil erosion. It’s likely that noni’s widespread use will continue to thrive and new applications for this diverse plant are still to be discovered.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), “HerbaLisl” is a Registered Professional Clinical Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild, and a Nationally Board Certified Chinese Herbalist with the NCCAOM (the same board that regulates licensure for acupuncturists throughout the US). In addition, she is a certified practitioner and teacher of Auriculotherapy, Medicinal Aromatherapy and Chinese & Western Herbal Medicine. Lisl is a Reiki Master who utilizes other energy techniques such as Acupressure, Therapeutic Systematic Realignment (TSR), Taoist breathing techniques, toning, vibration and works with stones and crystals; she incorporates spiritual counseling, dietary wisdom and meditation/visualization into her deeply informative and revealing sessions. A renowned diagnostician, teacher and published writer in private practice for over a decade, she continues to develop her knowledge of botanical medicine, agriculture, elemental medicine and shamanism. Lisl is joyfully committed to assisting others on their journey of self-enlightenment through the wisdom of Gaia. 
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