Cinnamon health benefits: super spice, but not superfood

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon, the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree (syn. Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Laurus cinnamomum), is a spice used for many centuries throughout the world – originally only by royalty, due to the price. The origin was kept secret from the West until the early sixteenth century, when Portuguese traders landed in Sri Lanka.

Although cinnamon trees are grown commercially in many parts of the East, even as recently as 2006 90% of the production of cinnamon was carried out in Sri Lanka.

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Obviously, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas with a similar climate, you won’t be growing your own cinnamon tree. But you can still use it by purchasing good quality cinnamon, which is easy to tell from the inferior cassia if you buy it in “quills” rather than ground (see picture left). It keeps better like this as well.

If you do live in a cinnamon-producing area, you are still probably better off purchasing rather than growing your own, which involves coppicing cinnamon trees, removing the bark from the resulting branches, immediately discarding the outer bark and drying the inner, which rolls up as it dries to form the characteristic quills.

Edit: I just came across this YouTube video on Reddit, which seems to demonstrate beyond any doubt that cinnamon works as an effective ant-repellent.

Don’t believe propaganda that says a teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries or a whole cup of pomegranate juice. This seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I researched the actual nutrient content of each. I’m afraid that you still have to eat those blueberries or drink that pomegranate juice. Cinnamon does contain quite a lot of nutrients, for sure, in particular manganese, calcium and iron, but a teaspoonful a day is not going to fulfil your antioxidant requirements, or go anywhere near doing that, sorry.

Having shot that fox, there is strong research evidence that cinnamon is very helpful to people suffering from diabetes – as little as a half teaspoonful a day lowers blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride in Type 2 diabetics not taking insulin. Other studies show the same quantity can lower LDL cholesterol in the general population.

Cancer patients would also do well to supplement with cinnamon: studies have shown that it is active against colorectal cancer, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma. In my view, it’s worth supplementing with cinnamon whatever type of cancer you may have, given the broad spread represented by the ones researched so far.

Copenhagen researchers gave arthritis patients a half teaspoon of cinnamon powder mixed with a tablespoon of honey for breakfast every day, and within a week, their pain was significantly reduced – after a month they could walk without pain.

It’s also prescribed in Germany for appetite loss and indigestion.

Other conditions which are helped by cinnamon include COPD, poor circulation in hands and feet, all kinds of digestive disorders including infantile diarrhea, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, athlete’s foot and medication-resistant yeast infections.

For athlete’s foot and other external fungal infections you can use a wash – make a standard infusion using a half teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, allow to cool before use. For other purposes, you can add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to honey (like the Danish study did), or you could just chew the powder and swallow it (as Chinese herbalists often recommend), or make a standard infusion and drink it (hot or cold). Another method would be to obtain empty capsules from a herbal supplier and fill each one with a quarter or half teaspoon of cinnamon so that you can take one or two in the morning or at night along with your regular supplementation. There are also ready made cinnamon capsules available, see below.

I offer powdered cinnamon, cinnamon bark and cinnamon bark 350mg capsules in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

There are two types of cinnamon essential oil: bark oil, which is toxic and should not be used for aromatherapy under any circumstances, and leaf oil which can be used diluted with carrier oil for skin infections and as a stimulant to increase blood flow and sexual appetite. Do a patch test before using on the skin and use in moderation. It can also be used neat (wear gloves) to kill mosquitoes and their larvae, and in an oil burner as a room freshener and mosquito repellent. Even the leaf oil is irritant and should be avoided during pregnancy. Never use internally, even in cooking.

As with all essential oils, cinnamon essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Turmeric health benefits: a treasure chest of healing

Turmeric is related to ginger

Turmeric is related to ginger

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Strictly speaking, turmeric is a spice rather than a herb, as is ginger which is in the same family. However, when it comes to its value as a remedy, turmeric is a star, and I’ve therefore given it honorary herbal status!

Turmeric is also known as haldi and has also been called Indian saffron (though it is not related to any other plant that bears the name saffron), because it gives a yellow color to food, and is/was used as a cheap saffron alternative. The latin name is Curcuma longa (sometimes Curcuma domestica).

Turmeric requires a temperature of 20-30º C to do well, and to be kept moist, which is a difficult thing to achieve unless you live in the tropics. However, it is possible to grow it in pots. Plants are available from specialist nurseries or you can plant a few fresh rhizomes obtained from an Asian grocer.

Choose rhizomes that look juicy (as ones that are dried out probably won’t grow) with a bud on one side. Plant them in a tray with the bud facing upwards in very gritty compost (mix horticultural or undyed aquarium grit with ordinary potting compost), just covered. Water and put inside a plastic bag out of direct sunlight, preferably with bottom heat. They need a minimum temperature of 20 degrees, as already stated.

Once shoots emerge, you can remove the bag, but make sure you keep the temperature up and the compost moist. At around 6″ (15cm) you can pot them on into individual pots (as rhizomes grow, you will probably need to pot on to allow room for them to develop). Put them on a tray full of pebbles or shingle, and keep the tray topped up with water (but not high enough so that the pot is sitting in it), to keep the atmosphere around the plant moist. Make sure the compost in the pot doesn’t dry out completely between waterings.

Although I’ve given instructions for growing, it’s not really practical to convert the resulting crop into the turmeric powder we are familiar with, because it’s a long process involving boiling them for several hours, drying them in an oven, and then grinding to a powder. Turmeric is cheap enough (especially in Asian stores) to make all this effort seem a bit of a waste – although do be careful that what you’re buying isn’t too cheap, as there have been cases of cheap (and sometimes dangerous) fillers being substituted for some of the yellow powder that is sold. The leaves can be used in Indonesian cooking, in particular beef rendang, the plant and the flowers are attractive, and it’s unusual enough to provoke comments from visitors, so you may agree with me that it’s probably worth growing just as an ornamental.

As you no doubt know, turmeric powder is used extensively in Asian cooking and also apparently to make tea in Okinawa! It’s also used by food processors in the West to color many food products where you would not expect to find it, from cheese, butter and margarine to salad dressings, mustard and chicken broth, amongst other things.

Turning to its medicinal value, there are a couple of contra-indications. Do not use in medicinal amounts if you have gallstones or any gallbladder or bile duct disorder. Turmeric is also not suitable for use as a herbal remedy during pregnancy, although it’s safe enough in the levels found in food.

Apparently, taking turmeric in combination with black pepper (more correctly piperine, which is a component of black pepper) increases its effects 20-fold, so if you’re making a meal which includes turmeric, adding 20g of black pepper (or long pepper, Piper retrofractum, a close relative) would turn it into a remedy!

Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use across Asia. In China, it is prescribed as an anti-depressant, but mostly its uses relate to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulating, glucose metabolism stimulating, cholesterol-lowering and liver detox/tonic effects. It is effective in reducing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis – more so than many proprietary anti-inflammatory drugs – and also has a reputation for preventing metastasis in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer, preventing the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, and preventing melanoma from increasing. Though it seems incredible, it has also been found to be a natural anti-venom effective for bites of the King Cobra. Finally, research seems to indicate that it can both put off and possibly repair damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. And this is just a quick overview. It’s truly a treasure chest of healing in a single spice.

Update

A woman with myeloma who had not responded well to conventional treatment reached a point where there was little left that could be done. She started treating herself with 5-8g (5.000-8.000mg) a day of turmeric and the myeloma went into remission. It is still under control. Source

Chronic low level inflammation is a major component of almost all Western chronic diseases. This may be why turmeric, a very potent anti-inflammatory with few side effects, is beneficial for so many conditions. Turmeric is the subject of numerous research studies, which find that it is almost a miracle spice, effective for many conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It has even been shown to help regenerate the liver.

Drink a teaspoon of turmeric mixed with a cup of yogurt, milk or fruit juice to treat indigestion and bloating, to normalize blood glucose and reduce insulin resistance in diabetics and to strengthen the immune system. Add a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper to combat colds and respiratory infections.

A condition called Hidradenitis suppurativa or Acne inversa, a very unsightly type of acne, has responded well (even in patients who have suffered from the condition for many years) to a dose of 1 teaspoon of turmeric mixed with 60ml (1/4 US cup, 2 fl oz) warm water, taken three times a day. To treat any of the other conditions given, try starting off with a dose about half as strong as this, increasing if necessary. However, if you or your patient are suffering from a serious illness, do not neglect to take and follow medical advice as well.

Cuts, burns and bruises can be treated with a paste made by mixing turmeric powder with water and applying on a bandage to the affected area (or without a bandage, if this is feasible – however, turmeric will stain any fabric it comes into contact with permanently, so the bandage is probably a useful precaution).

I offer various turmeric products in my online shop.

I doubt you will be growing turmeric at home for medicinal use, however, if you do wish to, it should be grown organically to ensure that its properties are not masked or completely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.