The Spice Pantry: Cinnamon: Spice with a Punch

We sprinkle it on toast, add it to cookie dough, stir it into hot apple cider, and find it in candies. But cinnamon is more than a sweet treat. It’s one of the world’s oldest healers. Modern science has confirmed its value for preventing infection and indigestion – and recent research shows that it helps manage diabetes.


Healing History of Cinnamon:

Cinnamon originally grew in southern Asia. Ancient Chinese herbals from as early as 2700 B.C. mention the aromatic herb as a treatment for fever, diarrhea, and menstrual problems. India’s ancient Ayurveda healers used it in similar ways.

When ancient travelers introduced the herb to the Egyptians, they added it enthusiastically to their embalming mixtures. The Egyptian demand for cinnamon {and other Asian spices} played a major role in ancient trade.

The biblical Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans adopted cinnamon as a spice, perfume, and treatment for indigestion. After the fall of Rome, trade with Asia came to a virtual halt, but somehow, cinnamon still found its way to Europe. The 12th-century German abbess/herbalist Hildegard of Bingen recommended it as “the universal spice for sinuses” and as a treatment for colds, flu, cancer, and “inner decay and slime.”

By the 17th century, Europeans considered cinnamon primarily a kitchen spice. In healing, they used it only to mask the bitterness of other herbs.

As time passed, however, cinnamon slowly regained its former reputation as a healer. America’s 19th-century Eclectic physicians, fore-runners of today’s naturopaths, prescribed it for stomach cramps, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and infant colic. The Eclectic medical text King’s American Dispensatory {1898} also endorsed it for uterine problems: “[Cinnamon’s] most direct action is on the uterine muscle fibers, causing contraction and arresting bleeding. For postpartum and other uterine hemorrhages, it is one of the most prompt and efficient remedies.”

Modern herbalists recommend cinnamon to relieve nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and indigestion and as a flavoring agent for bitter-tasting healing herb preparations. They can’t quite agree about how it affects the uterus. Some say it stimulates uterine contractions, while others say it calms the uterus.


Of course, cinnamon delights the taste-buds, but it benefits other parts of the body as well.

INFECTIONS: Cinnamon oil is included in toothpaste and dental floss for more than just flavor. Like all of the other culinary spices, it’s a powerful antiseptic. It kills many decay – and disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Try sprinkling some on minor cuts and scrapes after they’ve been thoroughly washed.

Perhaps toilet paper should be permeated with cinnamon. One German study showed that it “suppresses completely” the bacteria that causes most urinary tract infections {Escherichia coli} and the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections {Candida albicans}. Cinnamon also suppresses salmonella bacteria, a cause of food poisoning.

PAIN: Beyond its antimicrobial action, there’s another reason to dust a bit of cinnamon on cuts and scrapes. It contains eugenol, a natural anesthetic oil that may help relieve the pain of household mishaps.

DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS: Along with lending flavor to foods, cinnamon assists the body in digesting cakes, cookies, ice cream, and other high-fat treats. According to a study published in the British journal Nature, cinnamon helps break down fats in the digestive system, possibly by boosting the activity of a particular digestive enzyme {trypsin}.

Commission E, the expert panel that evaluates herbal medicines for the German counterpart of the FDA, endorses cinnamon for indigestion, abdominal distress, bloating, and flatulence.

CHOLESTEROL: In 2003, Pakistani researchers gave cinnamon {1 gram a day, about a heaping teaspoon} to 60 people with high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. After 40 days, their total cholesterol dropped 12 to 26 percent, significantly reducing their risk of heart disease. If you have high cholesterol, it can’t hurt to sprinkle a teaspoon a day on your food.

DIABETES: Animal studies have shown that cinnamon reduces blood sugar. The Pakistani study just mentioned showed that cinnamon reduced blood sugar by about 20 percent.

Intriguing Possibilities:

Japanese researchers report that cinnamon helps reduce blood pressure. If yours is high, it can’t hurt to use more of this tasty spice.

Cinnamon may also help retard food spoilage. Spanish researchers impregnated food-wrapping paper with cinnamon oil. The herb wrapping extended the mold-free shelf life of fruits, vegetables, breads, and meats.

Rx Recommendations:

For a warm, sweet, spicy infusion, use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of powdered herb per cup of boiling water, steep for 10 to 20 minutes, and strain if you wish. Drink up to 3 cups a day.

To treat minor cuts and scrapes, wash the affected area thoroughly, then sprinkle on a little-powdered cinnamon.


Culinary amounts of powdered cinnamon are nontoxic. Cinnamon oil is a different story. On the skin, it may cause redness and burning. Used internally, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and possibly even kidney damage. Do not ingest the oil.

Despite some modern herbalist’s contention that cinnamon helps calm the uterus, the weight of historical evidence suggests the opposite. For this reason, pregnant women should limit their use of cinnamon to culinary amounts.

Inform healthcare professionals of the herbs you use. Problematic herb-drug interactions are possible.

Cinnamon may cause allergic reactions or other unexpected side effects. If any develop, reduce your dose or stop taking it.

If symptoms get worse or persist longer than 2 weeks, consult a healthcare professional promptly.