Cinnamon* (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, cassia and several other species) is a well recognised spice, and one of the oldest spices. Cinnamon is one of the seasonings in “Five Spice Powder”, together with anise, star anise, cloves and fennel seeds. In the colder months, especially at Christmas, cinnamon is one of the many go-to herbs for bringing about that warm “Christmassy feeling”. Used in seasonal cooking, it is liberally added to mulled wine, Christmas cakes, mincemeat in mince pies and many other seasonal delicacies. Personally, I love adding it to my morning porridge, often together with turmeric powder. Cinnamon provides that sweetness and warmth so often craved when the weather is cold.
A History of Cinnamon
Historically was used in ancient Egypt not only as a flavouring, but also as an embalming agent. At one point in ancient history cinnamon was so highly treasured that it was even considered more precious than gold. It was mentioned in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine around 2700 BCE and supposedly the Roman emperor Nero in the first century C.E burned a year’s supply of cinnamon on his wife’s pyre as a gesture to signify his loss.
Cinnamon became one of the most popular and utilised spices in Medieval Europe. During the Middle Ages most meals were prepared in one cauldron and mixing both meat and fruit was quite common. Cinnamon helped to bridge the flavours. It is from this period that we get the famous British mince pie. As trading developed, cinnamon became one of the main commodities traded regularly between Europe and the Near East.
What are the health benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon comes from the bark of evergreen trees native to Sri Lanka, southwest India and Asia. The inner bark obtained from several tree species with the genus Cinnamomum which is part of the Lauraceae family. The bark is described as hot, sweet, acrid and has affinity to the heart, kidneys, liver and spleen. The twigs are warm, sweet, and acrid and have affinity to the heart, bladder and lungs. The aroma and flavour of cinnamon is derived from the essential oil and principal components of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol the main constituents and properties that act on body and mind. The bark warms the interior and dispels cold, whilst the twigs warm and release to the exterior. This ability to dispel cold and warm are useful properties to expel cold from the body during the winter season.
The warming effect of cinnamon raises vitality, stimulates circulation and clears congestion. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) it is used to treat an array of problems due to coldness, such as deficient “kidney yang” - symptoms of cold limbs, weak back, impotence, frequent urination and fear of cold, as well as deficient “spleen” that shows through poor digestion, cold abdominal pain, gas, spasms, reduced appetite and diarrhoea. Actions warm and unblock channels alleviating coldness that stagnates Qi, your life force, energy or blood, leading to pain, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, arthritis, rheumatism, abscesses and sores that don’t heal.
In Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicine) cinnamon is used in a similar way to TCM in combination with cardamom and bay leaves to promote digestion and help with nutrient absorption. It is also used to clear toxins from the gut. Mixed with milk it alleviates diarrhoea in the elderly and when added to honey forms a delicious paste that both improves digestion, as well as keeping you warm. For children it can be added to milk, with honey to help soothe colds and clear any mucus on the chest.
Cinnamon whilst being warming is also an immune stimulant, anti depressant and nervine. Using Cinnamon at this time of year will help alleviate low mood due to lack of sunlight as well as supporting the immune that is more likely to be under attack from seasonal flus and viruses, strengthening the immune response and deflecting viruses.
When the days are short and nights long, we want to hide away and it is at this time that we are more likely to feel “down”. Adding cinnamon to foods – stews, porridge, breads, biscuits, cakes and even your morning coffee can help regulate mood. Using essential oil of cinnamon in a diffuser together with other warming oils such as orange, cardamom, thyme and black pepper will help bring that Christmas cheer into the home.
Be sure to build all round strength and combine the use of cinnamon during the winter season with appropriate warm clothing, plenty of fresh air on a daily basis and eating a seasonal diet of warming root vegetables in hearty stews, curries and casseroles will ensure you sail through the winter season with festive joy and vital life force.
Quick serving suggestion
To treat early symptoms of a cold:
- 2.5 cm slice fresh ginger
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ¼ lemon
- 1 cup boiled water
Either juice the lemon and grind the ginger and then add the hot water to the paste or juice both the ginger and the lemon and add the boiled water with the cinnamon. Add honey to taste.
- Simmer a cinnamon stick with a cup of soya milk with one teaspoon of honey for 5-10 minutes for a delicious warm and comforting beverage.
- Enjoy cinnamon toast: Drizzle linseed or olive oil or over seed, spelt or whole-wheat soda bread, toast and then sprinkle with cinnamon powder and cane sugar.
- Add cinnamon sticks to meat dishes, and curries.
- When poaching chicken or fish – add 2 cinnamon sticks to the poaching liquid.
Wishing you a spice filled Christmas and a healthy, energetic and joyous winter. Happy Christmas.
* If pregnant or breastfeeding avoid large doses.
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