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Power of Spice: Cinnamon
Whenever I notice the scent of cinnamon in the air, I immediately think of Christmas. There is something about that warm aroma that makes me want to snuggle on the sofa, pour myself some hot cocoa, sprinkle some cinnamon powder on top, and savor a few cinnamon cookies while watching Home Alone. For some people, the scent of cinnamon evokes the image of fall instead. Fall is the pumpkin season, and with pumpkin-spice-everything trending over the last few years, our odor receptors are hit by the amazing scent of cinnamon on every corner in bakeries, coffee shops, and candle stores. But cinnamon is not just a popular pastry ingredient, it is a powerful spice with a number of amazing health benefits. In the first century, cinnamon was such a highly valued commodity, that Europeans were willing to pay 15 times more for it than silver! Cinnamon has a long history in traditional medicine, as well as in cuisine. The health effects of cinnamon are being carefully studied currently, bringing some very promising results. Before we dive into all the benefits, lets learn more about the different forms of cinnamon we can get our hands on.
Cinnamon bark is ground to a very fine powder and used as a spice in almost every kitchen in the world, probably including yours. There are multiple varieties of cinnamon trees, and each of them offers a slightly different type of cinnamon. The most common type of cinnamon on the market is labeled as cassia, and it includes cinnamon grown in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, or India. Cinnamon bark from trees grown in Sri Lanka, however, is considered the true cinnamon, and is labeled as Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia bark is much thicker, harder, and the powder obtained from it is darker in color and strong in flavor, while Ceylon cinnamon is only made from the thin inner parts of cinnamon bark, making the powder lighter in color, finer in texture, and gives it a more subtle aroma and flavor. We usually use cinnamon powder as a spice in the kitchen, but using it as a part of our skincare routine or in homemade remedies is not unusual either.
Around 1% of the cinnamon bark is made of essential oil. This compound is extracted from the bark by mechanical pounding, macerating in sea water, and finally distilling the oil. The taste and scent comes from cinnamaldehyde, which makes up around 90% of the cinnamon oil. Other compounds we recognize are ethyl cinnamate, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol all of these have many therapeutic benefits. Cinnamon oil tends to oxidize pretty quickly, changing its color from light golden-yellow to brown, so keeping it in an airtight, dark glass bottle is highly suggested. Cinnamon oil is often used in oral and dental care, as well as in aromatherapy or skincare.
Health Benefits and Uses
Cinnamon is most valued for its high antioxidant content it is the highest of all spices. Catechins found in cinnamon (both powder and oil) are very potent for digestive health; they help reduce inflammation in the body and even balance blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity (that’s why a sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon will satiate your hunger better than the apple alone). Cinnamon in food helps the body to burn fat and lowers triglycerides in the body. Because of its strong antibacterial, antiseptic, and antifungal properties, cinnamon is used to fight all kinds of bacterial related conditions, including vaginal infections, candida, H. Pylori or Staphylococcus. Topical use of cinnamon also helps with wound healing, acne, and eczema.
Cinnamon oil is an important ingredient you should include in your oral care its antibacterial properties make it very useful in fighting tooth decay and gum disease. The easiest thing you can do is keep a bottle of cinnamon essential oil in your bathroom, add a drop into a glass of water, and use it as a mouthwash. If you want to try something a little more fancy, try this super easy DIY recipe! Switching to more natural options with your oral care is very beneficial on its own, and adding cinnamon oil into your regiment will bring the health of your teeth and gums to another level. Read more about cinnamon and oral health here!
If you often fight colds or flus, you might want to try adding some cinnamon powder to your herbal tea next time, or make a Liquid Ginger Cookie, Susanne’s favorite (recipe at the bottom of this post). Not only does it actually increase the absorption of herbs, it helps to reduce inflammation in the body. The very popular combination of honey and cinnamon boosts your immunity and works as healing medicine. Just mix raw honey and cinnamon in a 4:1 ratio (make more in advance, it will not spoil and you will always have some on hand), keep it in a glass jar and take two teaspoons a day as soon as you start feeling a cold or flu coming. If you don’t want to eat this sweet medicine by the spoonful, add it to your tea with some fresh squeezed lemon juice. This is one flu medicine every child will love to take!
Both cinnamon oil and powder are also powerful mood enhancers. Cinnamon helps to boost cognitive function, reduce depression, anxiety, frustration, and headaches, helps with PMS symptoms, increases focus and productivity, and works also as an aphrodisiac (wink wink). It has been proven to enhance motivation and performance and also has some beneficial effects in treating ADHD in children. If you are a fan of aromatherapy, cinnamon oil is something that should not be missing in your oil collection. A drop on your pillow, a few drops in your bathtub or in an aroma lamp can help you relax and unwind at the end of a stressful day. I mix a few drops of cinnamon and peppermint oil with water in a spray bottle and use a little bit on my yoga mat before my practice, so even after a very busy and hectic day, I am able to relax and focus solely on my vinyasa.
Asian cultures have used cinnamon for skin care and beauty for many years, and we can learn so much by following their example. Cinnamon stimulates blood circulation and plumps the skin, making fine lines disappear. You can use cinnamon as an ingredient in your homemade lip balm for example, to add a temporary and safe lip plumping effect! Cinnamon can also be used as a gentle exfoliant. When mixed with olive oil and honey, it makes an effective exfoliating remedy for your face and scalp. Just be sure to avoid the eye area and massage your skin gently. Cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon oil helps to prevent collagen breakdown, helping to maintain the elasticity of our skin and reduce premature wrinkles. Cinnamon also softens the rough skin on heels or elbows; make a soothing bath for your tired feet using warm water, cinnamon oil, and some magnesium or epsom salts to experience both skin healing and aromatherapeutic benefits of cinnamon, as well as all the positive effects of a magnesium salt bath. Another popular use of cinnamon is as a part of a natural hair lightening treatment.
Caution and Dosage
Cinnamon contains a compound called coumarin (Cassia has higher levels of it than Ceylon cinnamon). It is a natural chemical that can be toxic for our liver when taken in a very high doses, but the amount we can ingest via our cinnamon flavored food is not something we should worry about. But with that being said, using cinnamon essential oil is not recommended for pregnant women, as it can cause contractions and also can irritate the skin when used topically in higher doses for a prolonged period of time. If you plan on using cinnamon powder or oil on your skin, try a small amount in a lower concentration the first. Cinnamon oil is not recommended to use undiluted, as it can cause allergic reaction in some people, like redness or irritation of the skin because of eugenol and cinnamaldehyde. But you don’t have to worry about a teaspoon or two in your chili causing you any problems (unless you have histamine intolerance or a Mast Cell Activation Disorder as cinnamon can trigger the release of excess histamine). Don’t try the cinnamon challenge though, that viral cinnamon waste that makes people cry. It would be better to save that cinnamon powder for your superfood gingerbread latte.
Did you know there was so much to learn about cinnamon? I was surprised myself by a number of these things when I first learned about them! And as I was writing this post for you, I started craving cinnamon rolls. Instead, I went to my bathroom and picked my cinnamon oil to smell it. My cravings did not go away completely, but my nose is now satisfied. Unfortunately, this precious spice treasure is very often used in recipes that include a lot of processed sugar, gluten, and artificial sweeteners (like those cinnamon rolls I can’t get out of my head now), but we don’t need to limit ourselves to sweet treats like these cookies in order to enjoy the benefits of cinnamon in our diet! Add it to your morning tea, coffee, favorite smoothie, or a homemade chia pudding to add some health boost to your breakfast! But don’t stop there, cinnamon is perfect in chilies, stews, or vegetable purees, sprinkled over baked sweet potato or squash. It pairs well with beef (my favorite beef stew always includes some cinnamon) try this and you will not be disappointed! Share your favorite cinnamon uses and recipes in the comments below!