During the holiday season, the scent of cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) can be found everywhere from the cookies baking in the kitchen to the candles burning in the bathroom to the scented pinecones crackling in the fireplace. As we know, scents can evoke powerful memories, relieve stress and tension, and enhance the way food tastes; cinnamon is no exception. Think of the holiday season and how often cinnamon is featured in your menus. From pumpkin pie to eggnog, cinnamon is a perennial holiday staple.
Okay, great. We all know that. But why is cinnamon so popular in the colder months of the year? It turns out there’s a ton of benefits of cinnamon. For one, it’s a warming spice. Rub a little cinnamon powder into the back of your hand (if you can, always choose organic or sustainably wildcrafted herbs and spices) or, better yet, sprinkle a little on the tip of your tongue. Feel the heat? Cinnamon has the ability to draw blood to the surface of the skin, creating warmth in the extremities. No wonder it’s an intuitive go-to herb during the winter.
Whether we recognize it or not, cinnamon also evokes warmer, spicier climes. Cinnamon is actually the bark of the Laurel tree (an evergreen, by the way…hello, O Tannenbaum!), which grows in tropical climates. And those nifty scroll-like shapes that cinnamon sticks come in? The bark does that naturally as it’s peeled (sustainably) from the tree; those scrolls are then strung up and dried. One cinnamon stick plus one cup of water, simmered for ten minutes, equals the perfect winter warmer.
Cinnamon is also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, perfect for fighting off those winter colds. It helps expel excess mucus and, when mixed with honey, will help to relieve coughing. Try simmering a cinnamon stick, a slice of ginger, and a few cloves in a cup of water. Sweeten and add a dash of (nondairy) milk for a perfect holiday tea coupled with some serious cold and flu-fighting herbs.
Cinnamon is also a digestive aid. Drinking a cup of cinnamon tea twenty minutes after your meal not only helps assimilation of nutrients by stimulating saliva and gastric acid, but will also help dispel gas and regulate blood sugar (always a bonus during the season of holiday indulgence).
Note that while you can reap some benefits of cinnamon by using it in your cooking, in order to get truly therapeutic doses, you’ll need to make a strong tea or take cinnamon in capsule form. Oh, and that cinnamon you get in the jar at the grocery store? First, it’s probably not organic and second, it’s way too old to be of any medicinal use.
Instead, find good, organic sources. Either buy cinnamon chips and grind them yourself in your (clean) coffee grinder, or buy capsules from a reliable source. For capsules, follow the directions on the bottle, and, remembering that these are aimed toward a 150 pound adult, adjust dosage accordingly. Also note that cinnamon can bring on delayed menses, so it’s important to avoid therapeutic amounts of cinnamon while pregnant. Additionally, since people can be allergic to cinnamon, also avoid this spice while breastfeeding.
No matter how you take it (well, except for cinnamon rolls, which only count as therapeutic on Christmas morning…), adding any amount of cinnamon to your daily diet not only ups your immune and digestive health, it also ups that holiday spirit. So be liberal with that cinnamon shaker and bring on the good cheer (and eggnog…lots and lots of eggnog!).Photo Credit: S. Diddy, Yas