Sweet tasting, gently warming cinnamon is now following the steps of superstar spices like turmeric and ginger to win the grace and attention of medical researchers. Hundreds of studies validate the benefits of these spices which have been used for millennia in traditional medical lore. Ayurveda, the world’s most ancient holistic health care system, holds cinnamon in high regard, and gives us valuable advice on using it as a powerful healing spice and versatile home remedy.
Christmas Spice in the Lab
Recent scientific research has revealed the excellent antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of cinnamon. It fights bacteria, fungi, and yeast infections. Yet the most important discovery about cinnamon is that it can be a great boon to everyone having problems with fat or sugar metabolism. It has been shown to reduce triglyceride and blood sugar levels if added to fatty or high carb meals. Some studies even suggest that cinnamon may lower blood sugar in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It also seems to protect from many harmful effects of high blood sugar, plus it can curb sweet cravings. In addition, cinnamon seems to boost mental performance and it can help the brain heal after a traumatic injury or stroke, and might even be helpful with Parkinson’s Disease.
Cinnamon in Ayurveda
It is relatively safe for everyone to use cinnamon. This warming, sweet, pungent and somewhat astringent spice pacifies Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta only if overused. Ayurveda values its antiphlegmatic properties and recommends it against cold, flu, and bronchitis. It is also said to strengthen the immune system.
Cinnamon is a potent digestive and can be valuable for those who have a sensitive stomach: it is not as hot as ginger (and does not increase Pitta so much), but it is almost as powerful in burning up ama (internal toxic waste) and aiding digestion.
It is also very good for the mind, as it increases sattva, the quality of harmony, peace and clarity. Overall, it is held to be strengthening, calming, grounding and an excellent tonic for the heart.
Cassia vs. Ceylon
Some nutritionists warn us about the use of cassia cinnamon, the cheaper variety that is used in most products. It has been found that cassia contains a much higher level of coumarin, a substance which might burden the liver and the kidneys. The more expensive variety, Ceylon cinnamon or true cinnamon, contains only trace amounts. Some researchers also caution that most of the studies have been done on cassia cinnamon, thus the effects of Ceylon are less known. Others, however, mention that one has to consume a fairly big amount (2 grams or 0.07 oz daily) for a 60 kg / 132 lb adult to be at risk for side effects.
How to Use Cinnamon:
- Make lassi, a wonderful probiotic, digestive drink by blending 1 cup of yogurt with 3 cups of water, adding a tablespoon of raw cane sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom.
- Cinnamon goes well with many other warming, aromatic spices, such as ginger, black pepper, cloves, paprika, saffron, turmeric and nutmeg. Seasoning roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes, spaghetti, and butternut squash with a pinch of cinnamon might produce unexpected delight for your taste buds.
- In Indian cooking, it is used in rich rice and vegetable dishes. You may use cinnamon sticks for decoration, too.
- You can also add a pinch to milkshakes or nut butters.
- Especially Vatas appreciate adding some cinnamon to lentils and beans, since it can reduce bloating and flatulence.
- Sprinkle your oatmeal or cereals with a dash of cinnamon.
- Add a pinch or two to roasted, grilled or stewed fruit such as apples or pears.
- You can make an herbal tea to soothe symptoms of colds: boil half a teaspoon of cinnamon and ginger, 2 basil leaves and one powdered clove in half a quart of water until half of the water evaporates. Sip this delicious drink slowly while it is still (comfortably) hot.
- Cinnamon oil can alleviate toothaches, headaches and muscle or joint pain.
Introducing cinnamon to your daily diet, whether in sweets, drinks or exotic tasting dishes can be a valuable tool in creating more balance and sattva in your life.
- Dr. Vasant Lad and David Frawley: The Yoga of Herbs. An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine. Lotus Press 1986.