Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree, which dries up to golden brown cinnamon sticks. Hippocrates used the precious spice as bitters and thousands of years ago it was used against various diseases or for embalming in ancient Egypt. It is very well known as a spice in the kitchen today: the real Ceylon cinnamon comes from the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the Indian Ocean, and the cheaper Cassia cinnamon comes from China. Both types give coffee or chocolate a fine, spicy aroma.
As an unmistakable flavor enhancer in pastries, mulled wine, chai tea, baked apples, gingerbread or desserts such as milk rice, cinnamon is indispensable and is particularly popular during the Christmas season. The partially forgotten effects of the cinnamon tree as a medicinal plant are increasingly documented on the basis of medical studies. The spice contributes to maintaining a low blood sugar level as well as fighting viruses, bacteria and fungi. It also promotes digestion and ensures good breath.
Profile for Ceylon cinnamon tree
- Scientific name: Cinnamomum verum
- Plant family: Lauraceae (laurel family)
- Popular names: Real cinnamon tree, Kaneel, Canehl, Zimmet (obsolete)
- Occurrence: Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Seychelles
- Parts of plants used: Bark
- application areas:
- Loss of appetite
- high blood pressure
- Fungal infections
The real cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) comes from the island of Sri Lanka, which was called Ceylon until 1972. The Ceylon cinnamon tree is evergreen, is between ten and fifteen meters high and can live up to 200 years. It grows on moist soils and is now widely cultivated in Southeast Asia because it needs a humid tropical climate for its growth.
The leaves of the cinnamon tree are lanceolate and glossy green on the top. At first they shine in a bright red, later they turn dark green and form five striking bright leaf veins.
At the end or on the side of the leafy branches, the white inflorescences arise from fluffy buds. All parts of the tree smell unmistakably spicy-sweet and aromatic like the spice. Cinnamon is grown in plantations and cut regularly. The bark of the cinnamon tree has a cork layer on the outside, under which the fragrant inner bark lies. The cinnamon spice is extracted from the light brown, thin inner bark of the branches. The bark is harvested after the rainy season.
First the cork is removed from the bark, then the inner bark is removed from the branch and dried. During the drying process, the bark curls up and the typical cinnamon sticks form. Even today, only members of a special caste are allowed to harvest Ceylon cinnamon. Grinding the sticks creates the cinnamon powder, which is used as a spice. Ceylon cinnamon is mainly available in delicatessens and is very expensive.
The genus Cinnamomum comprises about 250 species, but mainly spice is processed in addition to Ceylon cinnamon, cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia). Cinnamomum cassia is grown in southern China (hence the name "China cinnamon") and processed into spices. The Cassia variant is hotter than Ceylon cinnamon. When the bark dries, there is a cavity inside the cinnamon stick of the cassia cinnamon, in contrast to the Ceylon cinnamon, which rolls up completely.
The cassia cinnamon sticks are darker and coarser than those of the Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is widely used today and far cheaper than the Ceylon variety. However, the former contains large amounts of the flavoring substance coumarin, which can have a harmful effect on the liver at high doses.
Cinnamon was mentioned in the Old Testament and in Indian medicine it was traditionally used to treat gastrointestinal complaints, sore throats and bronchitis. In ancient Egypt, the spice was very valuable and was used to embalm the mummies. In the Middle Ages, it was powdered as a remedy for athlete's foot.
Arab traders brought the cinnamon to Europe, but initially kept its origin secret. When the origin of the golden-brown poles became known to the Europeans, the Portuguese conquered the island of Ceylon in 1518. They took over the monopoly on cinnamon and levied an annual cinnamon tax.
Cinnamon - use
In Europe, cinnamon is used as a ground spice powder, especially for desserts, chai teas, chocolate or mulled wine. The spice can also be found in liqueurs, such as in bitter bitters already used by Hippocrates. In Asia, cinnamon also gives hearty meat dishes a special touch and is a component of traditional spice mixtures such as the "five-spice powder" (cinnamon, cloves, star anise, pepper, fennel).
There is essential oil in the bark of the cinnamon tree and also in the leaves, which is obtained by steam distillation. In Southeast Asia, cinnamon oil serves as an aphrodisiac, which is used to massage the genital organs in order to boost libido.
The oil can be diluted 1: 50 with jojoba oil or another carrier oil, applied to the skin or added to the bath water, then it develops its warming and circulation-stimulating effect. It is suitable for massage or skin care for acne due to its antibacterial effect.
Cinnamon oil can also lighten the mood in fragrance lamps and should stimulate brain performance. The real, viscous cinnamon oil is extracted from the bark of the Ceylon cinnamon tree. Cassia oil is thinner and less sweet. Cinnamon leaf oil is the most fragrant oil.
Ingredients and effects
Cinnamon contains a high proportion of antioxidants, valuable phytochemicals and essential oil. The latter contains a small amount of coumarin (smells like Waldmeister): 0.6 percent for Ceylon cinnamon and seven percent for the cassia variant. The distinctive scent is due to the cinnamon aldehyde (about 70 percent), which makes up the largest part of the essential oil. Ceylon cinnamon also contains clove-smelling eugenol (five to ten percent).
The ingredients of Ceylon cinnamon include:
- Essential oil (cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, coumarin),
- Phenol carboxylic acids,
- and minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, sodium).
The effect of the ingredients of cinnamon is:
- wound healing,
- and digestive.
A study from 2006 assessed the antioxidant activities of Ceylon cinnamon extract: the spice is therefore a powerful antioxidant, traps free radicals and thus supports the human immune system.
The antimicrobial properties have been widely studied. Cinnamon fights pathogens and helps with colds. The effects against the pathogens of athlete's foot have also been scientifically proven by research.
Taking cinnamon can be a safe and potential additional treatment to relieve inflammation and clinical symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In one patient study, 36 affected women received four capsules with 500 milligrams of cinnamon powder or a placebo every day. The absorption of the spice significantly reduced the swelling of the joints.
In a scientific study from 2015, aqueous cinnamon extract was effective and even better compared to standard medication against bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
Cinnamon strengthens the heart and lowers blood sugar
A study from Pakistan in 2003 shows that the daily intake of cinnamon in people with type 2 diabetes has successfully reduced risk factors for the disease. The influence of daily cinnamon intake on blood sugar, triglyceride, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels was examined over a period of forty days. The subjects ingested quantities of one to six grams of cinnamon every day.
The result of the study was that daily cinnamon intake (both one and six grams per day) significantly reduced all but the HDL cholesterol levels. As a cell building block for important metabolic processes or for the formation of hormones, cholesterol is indispensable in the human body, whereby a distinction is made between the forms LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
An excess of LDL cholesterol favors the formation of deposits and thickenings (plaques) in the arterial walls, which is medically described as hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, absorbs excess LDL cholesterol and transports it to the liver. However, the use of cinnamon as a supplement to treat type 2 diabetes requires further investigation before a well-founded recommendation can be made.
A study from Sweden examined the effects on blood sugar, gastric emptying and satiety and found that taking 6 grams of cinnamon lowers postprandial blood sugar and delays gastric emptying.
How dangerous is coumarin?
The discussion about coumarin is only relevant for the cassia cinnamon and not for the Ceylon variant. Since cassia cinnamon is used most often, the role of coumarin should not be neglected: the type of cinnamon contains about seven percent coumarin. Carcinogenic properties of this secondary plant substance were demonstrated in animal experiments in the 1970s.
However, the carcinogenic effects were excluded by the European Food Safety Authority in 2004 due to new findings. This is explained by a German study by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) from 2010, which deals with the risks of coumarin.
In 2010, scientists from India also published a scientific study that watery cinnamon extract from the bark of the cassia cinnamon tree even caused the decline in human cervical cancer cells.
However, coumarin can harm the kidney and liver. However, the fragrance and aroma substance is also administered as part of drug therapy for chronic venous insufficiency and therefore has very good properties. The liver-damaging effects only occur in a small number of people who are sensitive. This is confirmed by a clinical study from 2003.
Application and dosage
Cinnamon is available as cinnamon oil or ground as a powder, in capsule form or as tea. If a lot of cinnamon is consumed, the low-coumarin Ceylon cinnamon presented here should be used in order not to risk any health damage.
In order to exclude the risks of the coumarin contained in cassia cinnamon, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) determined the tolerable daily intake (TDI, tolarable daily intake) of coumarin at 0.1 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (based on liver-damaging data from animal experiments) .
There are no studies on prolonged use of Ceylon cinnamon. Pregnant women should only consume larger amounts of the spice after consulting a doctor, because this increases blood circulation, which in turn can affect the uterus. It lowers the blood sugar level and therefore the doctor should be consulted when taking medication for the treatment of diabetes.
In order to rule out interactions with other medications, it is generally advisable to consult the doctor treating you if you are taking them regularly.
Cinnamon for athlete's foot
A foot bath with cinnamon is a well-tried home remedy for athlete's foot and other fungal diseases. This takes away the itching and fights the fungus.
It is easy to make from a liter of water that is briefly boiled with five teaspoons of powdered cinnamon. The mixture should steep for an hour. The feet can then be moistened several times a day using a linen cloth or towel. The same can be done for a vaginal fungus.
Cinnamon water for bad breath
Due to the antibacterial effect, cinnamon is an effective home remedy for bad breath. To make a mouthwash, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon is added to a cup of water and boiled briefly. After brushing your teeth, you can gargle with the cooled cinnamon water for five minutes.
Cinnamon tea for colds and for losing weight
Cinnamon stimulates the feeling of satiety, has an expectorant effect and inhibits inflammation such as cough and bronchitis. A cinnamon tea can easily be made by yourself.
- Five teaspoons of cinnamon powder or a cinnamon stick,
- a liter of water
- as well as a tea bag or loose herbal tea or green tea.
One liter of water is boiled briefly with a cinnamon stick or with five teaspoons of cinnamon powder. As a flavoring, a tea bag of herbal tea or green tea can be brewed with the cinnamon tea for ten minutes after the boil. The tea can be sweetened with honey. (ls)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR): New findings on coumarin in cinnamon BfR opinion No. 036/2012 of September 27, 2012 (accessed: April 8, 2020), BfR
- Mathew, Sindhu; Abraham, Emilia T .: Studies on the antioxidant activities of cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) bark extracts, through various in vitro models, in: Food Chemistry, 94/4: 520-528, March 2006, ScienceDirect
- Shishehbor, Farideh; Safar, Mahnaz Rezaeyan; Rajaei, Elham; Haghighizadeh, Mohammad Hosein: Cinnamon Consumption Improves Clinical Symptoms and Inflammatory Markers in Women With Rheumatoid Arthritis, in: Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 37/8: 685-690, May 2018, Taylor & Francis Online
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- Calculated, Mariana Daniela; Chirila, Corina; Deselnicu, Viorica: Antifungal Activity of Some Essential Oils on Cotton Fabrics, in: Conference Paper: International Conference on Advanced Materials and Systems (ICAMS), October 2016, ICAMS
- Koppikar, Soumya J .; Choudhari, Amit S .; Suryavanshi, Snehal A. et al .: Aqueous Cinnamon Extract (ACE-c) from the bark of Cinnamomum cassia causes apoptosis in human cervical cancer cell line (SiHa) through loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, in: BMC Cancer, 10: 210, May 2010, PMC
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- Hlebowicz, Joanna; Darwiche, Gassan; Björgell, Ola; Almér, Lars-Olof: Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects, in: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85/6: 1552-1556, June 2007, Oxford University Press
- Khan, Alam; Safdar, Mahpara; Ali Khan, Mohammad Muzaffar et al .: Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes, in: Diabetes Care, 26 (12): 3215-8, December 2003, American Diabetes Association