This powerful spice has a colorful history dating back as early as 2000 B.C., when Egyptians used it as a perfuming agent and antibacterial in their embalming practices. Empires fought for control of the spice trade, while merchants, sailors and explorers risked their lives in search of exotics like cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger and pepper, traveling the globe and delivering it to kings and kingdoms. Aromatic and alluring, this highly prized spice, a symbol of wealth and status, was often a gift to deities and monarchs. An ancient Greek inscription describes it as an offering made to Apollo at the temple of Miletus. Roman historian Pliny from 1st century A.D. wrote that a pound of it cost the equivalent of a year’s wage for a common laborer. Even the Bible mentioned the exotic spice when Moses is told to use sweet cinnamon and cassia in preparing holy oil. Early history also cites it as a remedy – the Chinese used cinnamon as a way to warm the body and relieve the common cold thousands of years ago.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of an evergreen tree. Its genus is divided into two main categories — Cinnamomum verum (“true”) or Ceylon, a higher grade from Sri Lanka, and the more common Cinnamomum iners or cassia, a less-expensive type from China and Indonesia. Cinnamon is made by cutting the stems of the trees and extracting the inner bark. When dried, it curls into rolls known as cinnamon sticks, which can be ground into a powder form. Essential oil is created from its bark, leaves and twigs.
Its compound cinnamaldehyde gives the spice its flavor and health properties. Cinnamon has shown some potential as an antioxidant. It has been used as a digestive aid in Ayurvedic medicine. According to CNN, some research is also revealing it may help lower sugar levels and bad cholesterol in diabetic patients. So this delicious spice clearly holds a lot of promise in regard to health benefits.
It’s easy to add cinnamon to your latte, tea, curry, cereal, oatmeal, toast, cookies and pies. And with the holiday season upon us, it’s also a great aromatherapy. Place a pot of boiling water on the stove and drop in a few cinnamon sticks.
Before adding this cinnamon into your diet as a healing spice, you should talk to your doctor. It’s important to know that cinnamon should be consumed in sprinkles and not in giant scoops, as high amounts can be toxic. Cassia cinnamon also contains a chemical called coumarin, and research has suggested that consuming too much of it may damage the liver. Cassia cinnamon has higher concentrations of coumarin. It’s best to ingest Ceylon cinnamon, which is more expensive, but a better form of the spice for your health.
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Journalist Ann Wycoff has written about wellness, fitness, longevity, travel, spas, food and wine for the past 20 years for magazines like Shape, Fitness, Spa, Outside, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Redbook, Modern Luxury, San Diego Magazine, Redbook, Marin Magazine and more. She lives in Encinitas, California.