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Cinnamon has warming qualities as well as a role in helping digestion

Cinnamon

Cinnamomum spp Lauraceae

Cinnamon is one of the most valuable plant remedies in human history, much favoured for its warming digestive effects and to build strength during recovery from illness.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Digestive remedy
  • Counteracts effects of cold on the body
  • Improves blood sugar control
  • Builds strength and energy
  • How does it feel?

    Get some new cinnamon quills, crush a small piece and ‘nose’ it to get that wonderful spectrum of aromas. These are formed by volatile elements that all have effects on the body. Then take a teaspoonful of freshly powdered cinnamon, add 50ml of boiling water, stir and steep for 5-10 minutes and sip. Feel the mix of spicy and sweet reverberating at the back of your mouth, with a slightly woody quality, and the warmth coming up from your chest. You may pick up a trace of bitterness in the aftertaste too.

  • What can I use it for?

    Traditional descriptions of cinnamon (see below) emphasised its warming qualities as well as its role in helping digestion. Consider using cinnamon for any conditions where you feel the cold, for example in respiratory infections, joint pains, and particularly if you want to help with a digestive problem where you instinctively look for warmth (such as where symptoms are helped by a hot water bottle).

    It has long been used as a women’s remedy, for menstrual and other pains, especially when these are relieved by warmth.

    Cinnamon combines especially well with ginger. A fresh ginger and cinnamon tea will provide instant relief and even healing at the first sign of a cold, chest or upper respiratory infection.

    Cinnamon is particularly useful if you are recovering from an illness or chronic fatigue condition, and again especially when you are feeling the cold. It will help restore a healthy appetite and reduce the many digestive and abdominal problems that are associated with being run down.

  • Into the heart of cinnamon

    Cinnamon is revered in Asian and European traditions for its characteristic warming, sweet and aromatic qualities, also with a slight bitterness.

    Distilling these reputations, cinnamon can be described as stimulating the circulation, dispelling cold and building core strength. Its combination of aromatic, hot and bitter qualities however meant that it was particularly applied to sluggish digestion and to strengthen nutritional absorption, for example in recovering or convalescing from illness or fatigue.

    It was used for congestive conditions of the lower abdomen or pelvis relieved by heat (eg hot water bottles), so for example some women’s problems, and for joint pain made worse in cold and damp.

  • Traditional uses

    Cinnamon has had literally a fabulous reputation from earliest recorded history. Its unique flavours meant not only that it was one of the most valuable spices in early commerce, but also delivered almost immediate benefits to the digestion and circulation. Its reputation probably began with its role in cooking and digestion. In the past food selection was the first stage of healing: spices were widely added to foods to support digestion, prevent gut infections and build resilience. Survival depended on preventing diseases before they became disabling. It also depended on full recovery from illnesses, and before we lost the skills in the modern times, convalescence was core to health care. Cinnamon was one of the most popular convalescent tonics in Asia, supporting digestion and maintaining warmth through this vulnerable recovery time.

    Cinnamon was also highly highly regarded as an aromatic, as recorded of the seductress in the Bible’s Book of Proverbs (7:17-18) I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    In traditional herb-based treatments cinnamon is a highly regarded component of formulations designed to stimulate digestion and to warm the body when suffering from the effects of cold. It also pleasantly flavors otherwise strong medicines. Cinnamon may be a leading ingredient in individual formulations in the following areas.

    Digestion: Cinnamon stimulates the digestive metabolism making it an excellent remedy in characteristically cold and sluggish digestive systems and slow digestion. It is indicated in flatulence and colicCinnamon’s ability to support absorption also makes it useful in diarrhoea with characteristically loose and watery stools and undigested food. The anti-microbial properties of cinnamon also indicate it in the treatment of different forms of dysbiosis, including Candida.

    Circulation: Cinnamon stimulates circulation to the extremities, indicating it in conditions such as Raynaud’s syndrome, arthritis and generalised circulatory insufficiencies. These effects can also be of use in cardiac insufficiency with cold extremities, difficulty breathing, fluid accumulation and tiredness.

    Lungs: Cinnamon clears mucus and encourages circulation throughout the respiratory system. It can also be used as a hot decoction to clear fevers and encourage sweating.

    Urinary and kidney: Cinnamon’s warm and dry qualities are helpful in treating conditions such as nocturia and frequent urination that are irritated by the cold. Cinnamon can penetrate deep into the tissues, where, coupled with its sweet quality give it an ability to nourish the reproductive system, treating infertility and male impotence.

    Women’s health: Cinnamon is an excellent anti-spasmodic for painful periods (dysmenorrhoea). It can also help both lack of periods (amenorrhoea) and excessive bleeding at periods (menorrhagia). It can also be used in wet and stagnant conditions due to its drying astringency in the pelvic cavity, indicating it in the management of ovarian cysts, fibroids and endometriosis.

  • Research

    Most of the traditional reputation for cinnamon has yet to be tested by modern research.  Published papers focus on prospects that different species of cinnamon may affect blood sugar control, particularly in diabetic conditions. 

    Here there is evidence that cinnamon reduces tissue resistance to insulin, decreases inflammatory markers, and lowers glucose, lipids, and blood pressure in people with ‘metabolic syndrome’ (‘insulin resistance’ or pre-diabetic state) (2).

    There are similar benefits in people with fatty liver problems and even with healthy subjects. An interesting extension of this benefit is to polycystic ovary syndrome, which is marked by disturbances in blood sugar control.

    Women may also find cinnamon helpful to relieve menstrual pains.

    Ceylon cinnamon has also been shown to have a range of benefits although most of the modern evidence is laboratory based.

    Recently, other trials have explored the beneficial prospects of cinnamon in Alzheimer’s disease (3), arthritis, and arteriosclerosis.

    Diabetes: A triple blind randomised controlled trial was carried out to investigate the efficacy of cinnamon supplements in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. 140 patients with the conditions were randomly assigned either cinnamon bark powder or placebo in 500 mg capsules. Dosage was taken twice a day for a period of 3 months. 

    The results shat that cinnamon improves; anthropometric parameters, glycemic indices and lipid profile in patients with type II diabetes. There was a significant improvement, specifically seen in patients with higher baseline BMI (1).

    Alzheimer’s: A comprehensive review was carried out on the available data from a number of scientific databases to investigate the effects of a number of cinnamon polyphenols with oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory signalling pathways in the brain, with a view to understanding how cinnamon may benefit in Alzheimer’s disease. A number of interesting correlations and findings were discussed, including one in which there is a possible connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The review discusses a number of mechanisms by which cinnamon and its compounds are repeatedly found to have neuroprotective properties via a number of different mechanisms (3). Further research is required to identify the therapeutic efficacy and safety for using cinnamon in Alzheimer’s disease, particularly using clinical trials.

  • Did you know?

    In order to enhance their role as valiant explorer-traders and the price and value of the commodity, the early Arab suppliers of Indian cinnamon to ancient Europe told dramatic stories of how they had to raid cinnamon quills from the mountain nests of giant ferocious birds.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Cinnamon is a small-to-moderate, bushy, evergreen tree. It grows to about 52 feet (16 m) in height and has smooth, orange/ pinkish bark. Leaf growth, called a flush, begins in the monsoon season (June through September in the East). Leaf colour varies from green to deep purple. The fragrant flowers are small, pale yellowish-green, and are attractive to insects, particularly bees.

  • Common names

    • Ceylon cinnamon
    • Cassia (Eng)
    • Zimt (Ger)
    • Cannelle (Fr)
    • Canella (Ital)
    • Dalchini (Hindi)
    • Darusita
    • Twak (Sanskrit)
    • Rougui (Chin)
  • Safety

    As a widely used cooking spice around the world cinnamon is inherently safe.

    One issue that has arisen is the presence of coumarin, which can cause liver and kidney damage in mice and rats. However, this has been shown to be linked to a detoxification process not usually present in humans. On the precautionary principle however European health agencies have warned against consuming high amounts of cassia due to its high content of coumarin, and many commercial products on the European market have cut their cassia content.

  • Preparation

    • Dried whole
    • Dried powdered
    • Tincture
    • Decoction
  • Dosage

    Medicinal doses are higher than those found in the diet. Although incorporating dietary cinnamon will exert some therapeutic benefits.

    Dried bark: The recommended dose is 1.5-8 g dried bark.

    Tincture (1:3) 45%: Take 2-4 ml up to twice daily, in a little water.

  • Constituents

    • Cinnamaldehyde this gives cinnamon its scent, flavour and heat, and likely accounts for its aromatic digestive properties. Research shows it reduces inflammation.
    • Other (aromatic) volatile oils (β-caryophyllene, linalool, eugenyl acetate, and cinnamyl acetate)
    • Polyphenols (eg vanillic, caffeic, gallic, protocatechuic, p-coumaric, and ferulic acids)
    • Tannins are astringent, protecting the gut wall
  • Habitat

    Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), the neighbouring Malabar Coast of India, and Myanmar (Burma). Principally it is most often found in tropical rainforests or in the lowlands up to an altitude of 700m.

  • Sustainability

    The IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants has not yet assessed cinnamon in its natural habitat. However, cinnamon has become an invasive species on Indian and Pacific Ocean islands, especially the Seychelles and Samoa. It grows prolifically in lowland forests there, creating dense forest understories in which other plants are unable to thrive (4).

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown. 

  • How to grow

    As a tropical rainforest plant, cinnamon is said to be easy to grow in warmer climates.

    • Cinnamon prefers loamy, well drained acidic to neutral soil types between 6.2–7.2. 
    • Plant your cinnamon in spring or early fall in a spot that gets full sun. It needs at least 6- 8 hours of sunlight a day.
    • Dig a hole twice the size of your plant’s root ball and amend the soil with compost. Backfill the planting hole with soil, gently press down to remove air pockets, and water generously. 
    • To replicate the conditions found in the rainforest cinnamon likes to be watered regularly. The soil should not be allowed to dry out completely. They will thrive most in warm and humid conditions. 
    • If they are to be grown in cooler climates, it is best to grow in a large container outdoors in the summer and then moved indoors to a large glass house throughout winter.
    • Cinnamon can be fertilised every spring.
  • Recipe

    Winter Tonic Elixir

    This is a fun and easy-to-make ‘winter tonic elixir’ with a mix of herbs that raise your energy and warm you to the core.

    Ingredients:

    • Brandy 700ml/25fl oz
    • Amaretto 300ml/10fl oz
    • Ginseng root 20g/3/4oz
    • Astragalus 10g/1/3oz
    • Cinnamon bark 10g (about 2 quills)
    • Ashwagandha 5g
    • Ginger root powder 5g
    • Rosemary 2 sprigs
    • Orange peel 5g

    This makes 1 litre/35fl oz of tasty tincture.

    Method:

    • Blend the liquids and soak the herbs in it for 1 month and then strain. Bottle half for you and half for a friend.
    • Sip on cold winter nights to raise your spirits and keep you strong.

    Brave Heart Tea

    This Brave Heart tea is a therapeutic recipe for nourishing your heart, both the physical and emotional.

    Ingredients

    • Hawthorn berry 4g
    • Hawthorn leaf and flower 2g
    • Limeflower 2g
    • Cinnamon bark 2g
    • Motherwort 1g
    • Saffron 5 strands
    • Rose flower 1g
    • Pomegranate juice a glug (or 1 tbsp) per cup

    This will serve 2 cups of a very heartloving tea.

    Method

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot (except for the pomegranate juice).
    • Add 500ml (18fl oz) freshly boiled filtered water. Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
    • Add a glug of pomegranate juice to each cup.

    Natural Balance Tea

    When our digestive fire is low and our metabolism feels sluggish it cannot transform food into nourishing energy. Instead, food can get stored as fat, starting a vicious cycle where digestion becomes weaker and weaker, leading to steady weight gain. This delicious tea helps to stimulate the metabolism and supports your body to find your natural and balanced weight.

    Ingredients:

    • Cinnamon bark 4g
    • Ginger root powder 2g
    • Orange peel 2g
    • Green tea 2g
    • Turmeric root powder 1g
    • Black pepper 1g
    • Orange essential oil a drop per cup

    This will serve 2–3 cups of digestion enhancing, weight-balancing tea that works together with lots of exercise.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot (except for the orange essential oil).
    • Add 500ml (18fl oz) freshly boiled filtered water. Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
    • Add one drop of orange essential oil to each cup

    These recipes are from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

  • References

    1. Zare, R., Nadjarzadeh, A., Zarshenas, M.M., Shams, M. and Heydari, M. (2019). Efficacy of cinnamon in patients with type II diabetes mellitus: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Clinical Nutrition, 38(2), pp.549–556. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2018.03.003.
    2. Medagama, A.B. (2015). The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutrition Journal, [online] 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0098-9.
    3. Momtaz, S., Hassani, S., Khan, F., Ziaee, M. and Abdollahi, M. (2018). Cinnamon, a promising prospect towards Alzheimer’s disease. Pharmacological Research, 130, pp.241–258. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2017.12.011.
    4. Pasiecznik, N. (2022). Cinnamomum verum (cinnamon). CABI Compendium, CABI Compendium. doi:10.1079/cabicompendium.13573.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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