Today, cinnamon seems the most common spice in the kitchen — a familiar scented brownish powder that everyone has on hand and no one much thinks about until it’s time to make a batch of holiday cookies. But once upon a time, this spicy and aromatic Sri Lankan tree bark fetched more value in weight than silver. It was traded throughout the Middle East, offered to kings and gods and even mentioned several times in the Bible. When it found its way to the palates of Europeans for the first time, wars were waged by countries trying to secure its monopoly. How lucky we are to have the privilege of taking such a valued and exotic spice for granted!

But our luck is not limited to the flavors and aromas that cinnamon lends to our kitchens; cinnamon also provides innumerable benefits to our health. Here are several reasons you might want to take that dusty jar of reddish-brown powder down from the spice-rack and bring some cinnamon into your life.

1. A half-teaspoon a day may keep diabetes at bay.
In examining the impacts of different foods on blood sugar levels, researchers discovered a curious thing: apple-pie was actually beneficial to blood sugar. After poking around, they identified cinnamon as the culprit. Various components of the bark work together to modulate the entire process of blood-sugar regulation; acting at the level of the stomach to slow stomach emptying and absorption of sugar into the blood stream – as well as at the level of the cell, where components of cinnamon mimic insulin and mediate the damaging effects of sugar through their antioxidant effects. And only a half-teaspoon a day was found to show significant benefits.

2. And it may keep heart disease at bay, too.
Cinnamon is good for your heart – and not just because of all the warm-fuzzy feelings it inspires. Cinnamon’s antioxidant activity extends to the blood vessels, where it protects against the damaging effects of sugar and other free radicals, reducing damage and signs of inflammation. Cinnamon has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce blood triglyceride levels, and decrease LDL cholesterol – all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

3. Forget the first-aid kit: grab the cinnamon.
As an antiseptic, astringent, and smooth muscle relaxant, there are not many first-aid situations in which cinnamon won’t lend a hand. If you cut your finger, staunch bleeding and prevent infection all at once by putting a pinch of cinnamon on the wound. Have an upset belly and loose stools? Cinnamon helps to ease stomach cramps, reduce diarrhea as well as address any signs of infection. Menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding are similarly eased with its warm, drying, and relaxing actions. Feel a tickle in your throat? Try some cinnamon tea for the warming, anti-viral effects. And if it’s too late and now you’ve got a phlegmy cough – cinnamon can help dry up the mucous, open the lungs, and ease expectoration. If you’ve got cinnamon, you’re prepared for almost anything.

REFERENCES:
Akilen A, Tsiami A, Devendra D, Robinson N. Cinnamon in glycaemic control: Systemic review and meta analysis. Clinical Nutrition. 2012; 31(5):609-615. Available at: http://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614%2812%2900075-1/abstract. Accessed September 1, 2013.

Engels G, Brinckmann J. Cinnamon. Herbalgram, American Botanical Council. 2012; 95:1-5. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue95/hg95-herbpro-cinnamon.html?ts=1378116577&signature=864093b6b4106f994d0e58f45558cc0d. Accessed September 1, 2013.

Lynch E. Spice trade: A brief history of cinnamon.Culinate [online]; 2008.

Danielle Charles Davies has a BSc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and in addition completed two years of clinical training at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. She has written for the the American Herbalists Guild  and has also served as a food columnist. Her musings, and recipes, can be found at her blog, Teacup Chronicles.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.