Notes from the Apothecary

Notes from the Apothecary: Cinnamon


The smell of cinnamon conjures up memories of warm, spicy food such as fresh apple pie, or mulled wine; anything to keep you cosy as the cold nights draw in. As Fall (autumn) approaches, I thought it would be nice to examine one of the spices that is truly part of the magic of the cold season.

The Kitchen Garden

Much of the cinnamon you will find in your kitchen is actually Cassia bark; a very similar substance that makes up the majority of cinnamon sticks we buy. The best cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka and is generally somewhat paler in colour and slightly thinner than the average ‘sticks’ we see. These sticks are actually rolls of bark from the cinnamon or cassia tree. They are peeled and dried, and as they dry form naturally into ‘quills’ or rolls that are then cut to size.

For culinary use, I have never found the cassia bark to be inferior. Both Cassia and True Cinnamon are members of the cinnamomum family and both have the wonderful, pungent, homely aroma we all associate with yule, winter and warm nights by the fireside.

I use whole sticks in slow cooked curried or tagines to bind sharp, spicy flavours together or to lend an exotic kick. Ground cinnamon makes its way into all manner of jams, jellies, preserves, pies, crumbles and even smoothies. Just don’t get the ground stuff in your eyes or try to eat it raw; anyone remember the infamous cinnamon challenge? Not nice.

Unfortunately, unlike most of our other herbs in the apothecary, it’s not really practical to cultivate your own cinnamon. However, you can find it in most supermarkets although it’s much cheaper to go to an Asian wholesaler or similar, as you can get a higher volume of product for a lower price. Just keep it sealed, as the oil evaporates leaving you with nothing but sticks otherwise!

The Apothecary

The Rosa Anglica tells us cinnamon is good for promoting sleep, particularly in the elderly. Apparently it could be combined with other herbs such as mustard and anise to protect against cold (presumably the ailment, rather than the temperature) and flatulence. Cinnamon is also indicated for ‘relieving the heart’, which I interpret as either soothing palpitations or reducing blood pressure, but I would be happy to hear an alternative theory.

Due to its intense aroma, cinnamon was one of the herbs used during outbreaks of the bubonic plague to ward off the dreaded virus. This speaks to us of antibacterial properties, and indeed it has been used throughout history as an additive to food to stop it spoiling.

Current studies of cinnamon contradict each other somewhat. Some have found that cassia lowers blood sugar, particularly useful for diabetics. Yet other studies have not been able to corroborate these results. Studies in lab conditions prove that, as suggested by our ancient anecdotes, cinnamon does indeed fight bacteria. However it’s not clear how we can use that to our benefit.

Cinnamon is one of those wonder spices with a dual, self-contradictory action: it has anti-inflammatory properties, whilst at the same time being a warming stimulant. A cinnamon and ginger tea will help ward off a cold and clear the sinuses. Cinnamon in a curry will help prevent gut ache later down the line!

The Lab

The unmistakeable aroma of cinnamon is due to a chemical called cinnamaldehyde which is in the oil of the bark. If you ever get hold of cinnamon essential oil it’s about 90% this stuff. This chemical is very versatile and is currently in use as a fungicide, a pesticide, an animal repellent and is even used in the gemstone industry.

The fungicidal properties are widely applied in agriculture, because the chemical has a very low toxicity, although it can irritate the skin.

The Witch’s Kitchen

I use cinnamon in incense, although never too much as it is very pungent. It adds a kick to evocation incense, protection incense and I nearly always add some to my autumn equinox and winter solstice blends.

It’s no surprise that cinnamon is a fire spice, associated with the sun. At this time of year, as the cold nights draw in and we start to prepare for winter, you can use cinnamon as offerings to your sun deities, or simply as a reminder of the warm times we have enjoyed and the promise of the returning sun.

During ritual, crack a cinnamon stick towards the south, releasing the oil into the ether. Alternatively, place several cinnamon sticks around the candles to reinforce the element of fire, if appropriate.

Cinnamon is also associated with money magic, but I have not tried this for myself. I tend to find that the universe, spirit or deities don’t really understand money. I find it much easier to work towards goals rather than funds if that makes sense. With this in mind, use cinnamon to boost your ambitions, and to pull the things towards you that you really want. This leads us onto desire, and indeed, as well as the desire for material things, cinnamon is an aphrodisiac particularly for the male libido.

Home and Hearth

A Samhain brew can be made with cider warmed gently with cinnamon sticks in. Put one stick in for each of your guests and another for the ancestors; if you have many guests make it a big pot of cider or this will be an overpowering amount of cinnamon! Warm gently and stir deosil; you are stirring in the memory of the sun and the promise of a warm home and hearth.

You can use the sticks to create sigils or perhaps a pentagram to use at your door; it will protect, discourage negative people/energies from entering and will increase the mood of those who do enter. If you’re not up for the arts and crafts session, simply sprinkle some ground cinnamon at the boundary for the same effect. You can even combine this with a house protection ritual, which I perform by walking the boundary of my house, inside and out, sprinkling salt and water and vocalising my intention to protect my space. Add the cinnamon in to this for an extra bit of positivity, and to add the fire of element in with the earthy salt, the water, and the air surrounding your home.

I Never Knew…

Apparently cinnamon can be used to boost your brain power for short spurts, so carry a stick around and sniff it when you start getting tired!