Cinnamon has been valued for centuries for its use in both culinary and medicinal traditions. Its fragrance and taste pair well with both sweet and spicy dishes, and its warming properties have earned it an important role in Ayurvedic medicine. True cinnamon (cinnamomum zeylanicum), sometimes called Ceylon cinnamon, comes from the bark of a small tree originally found in Ceylon and now native to India, Indonesia, Egypt and a few other countries. Cassia cinnamon, or false cinnamon, can refer to several different types of cinnamon, usually Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is more commonly sold in the United States and has a hotter or spicier flavor than Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamon has been used for centuries in medicinal practices by various cultures, from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda to ancient Rome and Egypt. Although cinnamon is used less often in present-day or Western medicine, this spice still has valuable properties that can benefit our health.
Diabetes: Research has shown that cinnamon can help diabetics regulate their blood-sugar levels. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center found that cinnamon helps insulin to metabolize glucose. The researchers believe that cinnamon makes a body’s fat cells more responsive to insulin, helping it break down sugar. A small amount of cinnamon each day (1/8 to 1/2 of a teaspoon) can help control blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, don’t try cinnamon without first consulting your doctor.
True cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree found in Southeast Asia. Use cinnamon to treat diabetes, stomach ailments and infections. Photo Courtesy Ion-Bogdan Dumitrescu/Courtesy Flickr
Stomach Problems: Cinnamon has been used for centuries to treat stomach ailments ranging from indigestion to diarrhea. Cinnamon is a carminative, a substance that prevents or relieves gas, and the catechins in cinnamon are also helpful in treating nausea. This spice also helps the stomach and small intestine break down food, making it an effective digestive aid.
Infections: Cinnamon is antifungal and antibacterial. Studies have shown that cinnamon can kill the fungus responsible for yeast infections (Candida albicans) and the fungus that causes ulcers (Helicobacter pylori). These same properties make it a good gargle for sore throats; the cinnamon can help kill the bacteria in the throat.
Other: As a warming spice, cinnamon has been used by many ancient cultures to treat “cold” ailments, including colds and the flu. Like ginger and other warming spices, cinnamon stimulates circulation, making it useful for treating aching muscles and even arthritis.
Adding some cinnamon to your daily routine certainly can’t hurt, but if you’re pregnant, be careful not to eat too much cinnamon. Regular household cinnamon (cassia cinnamon) contains coumarin, a blood-thinning agent, which isn’t good for pregnant women—or anyone when ingested in high doses.
What do you use cinnamon for? Share your ideas—and any recipes!