Students of Ethnobotany: Seasoned Greetings – Powers of Cinnamon

800px-Cinnamon-other

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by photo8.

Spice up your holidays with this warming Students of Ethnobotany post by Shannon Keefe.

Have you ever noticed the amount of memories people have about the holidays that are related to spices? For example, how the smell of scented candles, gingerbread houses, cinnamon cookies, or spiced baked apple crisp are related to recollection of the holidays. In addition, as much as we look forward to the holidays, many of us fear enjoying it too much, by overeating and therefore negatively affecting our health. All of these things are directly related to spices and how they are used in the holiday season.

Cinnamon, also known as Cinnamomum verum, is a prized spice. Cinnamon is commonly available and it is used in a variety of both sweet and savoury dishes, especially during the holiday season. Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree. Interestingly, this tropical tree is at its greatest perfection at the age of ten to twelve years. It is the branches that are harvested by scrapping off the outer bark, then beating the branches evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark. It grows in a number of tropical forests and it is cultivated throughout tropical regions in the world including Sri Lanka. Cinnamon has useful medicinal properties and it is readily available without prescription.

430px-Cinnamomum_zeylanicum_(Köhler)

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Hermann Adolf Köhler (1834 – 1879).

Feeling sick? It turns out Cinnamon is one of the oldest herbal medicines and is used widely. Cinnamon has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. It has been recommended by Chinese herbalists to treat digestive disorders such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and as an appetite stimulant. Not to mention, this remarkable spice is utilized in Modern and Western herbal medicine in formulations for diabetes and weight loss (Schwarcz, 2007).

The results are sweet, as little as 1 gram of cinnamon can help reduce blood sugar levels, in some cases as much as 30 percent! In addition, it also lowers low density lipids, the bad cholesterol and triglyceride (fat in the blood) levels as well! Surprisingly, studies even suggest that even 20 days after cinnamon consumption, blood glucose levels stay low, suggesting that cinnamon does not have to be consumed every day in order to produce a notable effect in the body (Schwarcz, 2007).

This is great news for diabetics! Diabetes is a disease characterized by a higher than normal blood sugar level (Woods, 2013). Cinnamon contains an active ingredient called Methylhydroxychalcone polymer which is believed to increase insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone which regulates the amount of sugar in the blood. These are sweet results indeed, because if sugar isn’t absorbed and it accumulates in the blood, it will eventually cause damage (Schwarcz, 2007).

In any case, diabetics are not the only ones who could benefit from the consumption of cinnamon over the upcoming holidays; anyone with high cholesterol can also give it a shot. But, of course, do not use this as an excuse to pig out on cinnamon rolls, instead sprinkle ground cinnamon on your oatmeal or fruit!

References:

Grieve, M. (2013). A Modern Herbal – Cinnamon . Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/cinnam69.html

Schwarcz, J. (2007). An Apply a Day – The Myths, Misconceptions, and Truths About the Food We Eat. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

New England Wild Flower Society. (2011-2013). Go botany – discover thousands of new England plants . Retrieved from https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/vaccinium/oxycoccos/

Woods, S.C., Gotoh, K, & Clegg, D.J. (2003). Gender Diferences in the Control of Energy Homeostasis. Experimental Biology and Medicine. 228, 1175-1180.

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