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Herb profiles: Cinnamon

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Cinnamon is a popular spice that you probably have in your kitchen cabinet, but did you know that it has health benefits?

Recognized for its characteristic pungent and sweet aroma and flavor, cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices. In fact, in the ancient world it was a valuable commodity that was used medicinally as well as in a culinary capacity. Cinnamon is derived from the bark of several varieties of trees that are native to India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Egypt. The processing of cinnamon is done today in much the same way as it was in ancient times. Cinnamon bark is stripped from the tree, dried, and rolled into sticks or ground into a fine powder.

Health benefits of cinnamon

Of the four main varieties of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are the most common. Cassia, the variety found on most grocery store shelves, has more of the stronger, hotter flavor coveted by culinary aficionados. However, Ceylon cinnamon – also known as “true cinnamon” – is much more expensive and only comes from one variety of cinnamon plant grown exclusively in Sri Lanka.

Both types of cinnamon have health benefits. Cinnamon is known to stimulate digestion, ease diarrhea, and relieve nausea and vomiting. In Chinese medicine, it is used to address pain, cramping, and bloating. But among its most famous health benefits is the effect that cinnamon has on lowering blood sugar. In studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center, patients who were insulin-dependent tripled the effectiveness of their insulin doses by taking cinnamon daily.

One thing to remember is that cassia and Ceylon cinnamon differ in the amounts of coumarin they contain. Coumarin is a naturally-occurring compound that can be harmful in taken in excessive amounts. Normal consumption of cinnamon, however, does not pose a health threat.

Cinnamon makes a great addition to your morning smoothie, oatmeal, or tea. You can even add it to vegetable dishes for a delicious and flavorful twist.

References:

Dugoua, J.J., Seely, D., Perri, D., Cooley, K., Forelli, T., Mills, E., & Koren, G. (2007). From type 2 diabetes to antioxidant activity: a systematic review of the safety and efficacy of common and cassia cinnamon bark. Candian Journal of Physiological Pharmacology, 85(9), 837-47.

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