Other Names: cassia, cassia bark, Chinese cassia, Chinese cinnamon, canela de la China (Spanish),1 twak (in Ayurveda),2 rou gui (Chinese)3
BOTANICAL NAME: Cinnamomum sp.
Cinnamon was utilized extensively thousands of years ago and is still popular today. Enjoyed since ancient times, cinnamon was mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts, the Bible, and was widely traded thousands of years ago in Europe and in Asia by Arab spice traders. Its scent is uniquely warming, uplifting, and stimulating, and its flavor sweet and delicious, hence the flavor and aroma have been utilized in countless confectionaries, baked goods, perfumes, cosmetics, beverages, and cordials. Recent scientific studies validate many of the traditional uses of this medicinal spice, indicating its health enhancing properties.4-11
Cinnamomum aromaticum is native to China,1 growing wild in the southern mountains,12 whereas C. burmannii is native to Indonesia. C. burmannii has smooth branches, aromatic bark and leaves, and glossy, green alternate leaves.13The common name, 'cassia', is believed to be derived from the Greek word kassia, meaning to strip off the bark14 and the generic name Cinnamomum, is derived from the Greek 'kinnamon' or 'kinnamomon' meaning 'sweet wood.'15
This genus of evergreen, aromatic trees and shrubs belongs to the Laurel or Lauraceae family,12 a family containing diverse genera ranging from the Mediterranean bay tree, to sassafras, paw-paw, and the tropical avocado.16 This genus contains more than 300 species17 which are native or naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and other tropical islands in the Pacific ocean,12 many having aromatic oils in their leaves, buds, and bark. Cinnamomum contains such species as C. camphora,16 from which camphor is derived, and the botanical sibling to cassia, Cinnamomum verum, which is referred to as true or sweet cinnamon1 and is considered to be more sweet and delicate than cassia.18 Further, the bark of cassia is thicker and darker than true cinnamon. These two species, alongside several others, have been used similarly and collectively referred to as 'cinnamon' thus creating some confusion around the true identity of the species.15 Further, another possible point of confusion is that the common name 'cassia' could be confused with the Latin genus Cassia, or senna, which is an entirely different plant altogether.
CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING
Cassia is widely cultivated in tropical or subtropical areas particularly in the regions Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Taiwan, and Yunnan in China.19 Also cultivated in the countries of India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.19 China is also a major producer of cassia oil, mostly coming from the trees cultivated in the provinces of Kwangsi and Kwangtung.12 The USA is a major importer of cassia oil as it is extensively used in the beverage industry as an ingredient in soft drinks.12
Cultivated trees are coppiced (to cut back a tree to ground level on occasion to stimulate growth) and prevented from growing higher than 10 feet.18 Once harvested, the bark, curls up into 'quills' when left to dry, and the wood, which is not aromatic, is discarded or used as fuel.18
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
Cinnamomum sp. appears in recorded history dating back to at least 1,700 years B.C.E where it was a component of embalming fluid in ancient Egypt.15 The Arabs were avid spice traders who provided this spice to the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews.15 These cultures treasured cassia as a culinary spice, utilizing it in perfumes and medicines.2 Chinese cassia buds have been used in Europe since the Middle Ages, as their aroma is similar to the bark.18 It is believed that they were part of a spiced wine referred to as 'Hippocras'.18 European explorers considered cassia and other varieties of cinnamon to be the most sought after spices of the 15th and 16th centuries15 and by the 17th century, cassia was considered a common kitchen spice.2 By the 19th century, cassia was commonly used medicinally to support and soothe digestion.2 It is a component of 'garam masala', a spice used in Indian cooking comprised of turmeric, peppercorns, cloves, cumin, and cardamom. Further, it is found in many Middle Eastern and North African dishes, as a spice for lamb or stuffed eggplant.18
As C. aromaticum is native to China, it has been used there extensively for thousands of years in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine).14 It is believed to balance the spleen, kidney, heart, and liver meridians and to stimulate circulation and the movement of 'chi' or energy.14 It is considered to be warming to the kidneys and is particularly useful in cold or stagnant conditions.20 In Ayurveda (traditional Indian system of healing) cassia is referred to as 'twak'2 and believed to support the respiratory, digestive, nervous, circulatory, urinary, and reproductive systems.21Cassia is a highly valued and multipurpose medicinal herb. According to the Ayurvedic practitioner, Karta Khalsa, "the classic patient who can benefit from cinnamon is cold, dry, and frail."2 Cinnamon is considered to be a warming herb that is stimulating to the circulatory system and soothing for the digestive system.2,21
Cassia oil is used extensively as a flavoring for soft drinks, baked goods, sauces, confectioneries and liqueurs. It is distilled from a mixture of leaves, twigs and bark, and must be used with caution as a fragrance as it does have skin sensitizing properties.12
FLAVOR NOTES AND ENERGETICS
Acrid,20 spicy,2 pungent, sweet, astringent3,21 and energetically considered heating and drying2
Antioxidant, tonic, analgesic, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative, expectorant,21 carminative, digestive, stomachic,14,18 emmenagogue2,18
USES AND PREPARATIONS
Dried inner bark as a spice (in rolled whole form referred to as 'quills'), tea, potpourri
Fresh bark, twigs and leaves distilled as an essential oil.
Volatile oils mostly composed of: cinnamaldehyde, phenolic compounds, flavonoid derivatives, mucilage, calcium oxalate, resins, sugars, and coumarins.14 salicylic acid, anhyrdocinnzelanin, anhydrocinnzelanol22
Cassia is approved by the German Commission E for stimulating appetite and also for its beneficial effects on digestion.14 Further, several studies indicate that cassia may help support healthy blood sugar6,7,9 and cholesterol levels.7 Recently, the results of a study demonstrated cassia's potential to promote would healing as well.11
Specific: Not for use in pregnancy except under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?40944#synon August 19, 2014.
- American Herbal Products Association Botanical Identity References Compendium. Accessed at: http://www.botanicalauthentication.org/index.php/Cinnamomum_aromaticum_(bark) on August 19, 2014.
- Khalsa Singh KP, Tierra M. The way of Ayurvedic herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press; 2008.
- Hlebowicz J, Hlebowicz A, Lindstedt S, Björgell O, Höglund P, Holst JJ, Darwiche G, Almér LO. Effects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):815-21. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26807. Epub 2009 Jan 21.
- Akilen, R., Tsiami, A., Devendra, D., & Robinson, N. (2010). Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure‐lowering effect of cinnamon in multi‐ethnic Type 2 diabetic patients in the UK: a randomized, placebo‐controlled, double‐blind clinical trial. Diabetic Medicine, 27(10), 1159-1167.
- Crawford, P. (2009). Effectiveness of cinnamon for lowering hemoglobin A1C in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled trial. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 22(5), 507-512.
- Khan, A., Safdar, M., Khan, M. M. A., Khattak, K. N., & Anderson, R. A. (2003). Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care, 26(12), 3215-3218.
- Ates, D.A. and O.T. Erdogrul. 2003. Antimicrobial activities of various medicinal and commercial plant extracts. Turk. J. Biol., 27:157-162.
- Mang, B., Wolters, M., Schmitt, B., Kelb, K., Lichtinghagen, R., Stichtenoth, D. O., & Hahn, A. (2006). Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA1c, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. European journal of clinical investigation, 36(5), 340-344.
- Mohannad G. AL-Saghir , 2009. Antibacterial Assay of Cinnamomum cassia (Nees and Th. Nees) Nees ex Blume Bark and Thymus vulgaris L. Leaf Extracts against Five Pathogens. Journal of Biological Sciences, 9: 280-282.
- Choi, D. Y., Baek, Y. H., Huh, J. E., Ko, J. M., Woo, H., Lee, J. D., & Park, D. S. (2009). Stimulatory effect of _ Cinnamomum cassia_ and cinnamic acid on angiogenesis through up-regulation of VEGF and Flk-1/KDR expression. International immunopharmacology, 9(7), 959-967.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Cinnamon. Accessed at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/v5350e/v5350e04.htm
- Motooka, P., Castro, L., Nelson, D., Nagai, G., & Ching, L. (2014). Weeds of Hawaii's pastures and natural areas: an identification and management guide. The Contemporary Pacific, 26(1).
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
- Ravindran, P. N., Nirmal-Babu, K., & Shylaja, M. (Eds.). (2003). Cinnamon and cassia: the genus Cinnamomum. CRC press.
- The Plant List database. Accessed at: http://www.theplantlist.org/browse/A/Lauraceae/ on August 19, 2014.
- Khemani, L. D., & Srivastava, M. M. (2012). Chemistry of Phytopotentials: Health, Energy and Environmental Perspectives. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical on August 19, 2014.
- Xi-wen Li, Jie Li & Henk van der Werff. "Cinnamomum cassia". Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA. Accessed at: http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=200008698 on August 19, 2014.
- Bensky, D., Gamble, A., & Kaptchuk, T. J. (1993). Chinese herbal medicine: materia medica.
- Mcintyre A. The Ayurvedic Bible: The definitive guide to Ayurvedic Healing. Ontario; Firefly Books Ltd. 2012.
- Duke J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on August 19, 2014.