Cinnamon (Cinnamomon verum), considered true cinnamon, is one of the oldest spices recorded in history. Cassia (Cinnamomon cassia) is a cheaper and similar tasting spice but does not have the same health benefits as cinnamon. In fact, in large doses it can cause liver cancer and disfunctions. Cassia is a little more pungent and so is used in baking a lot. It is what is largely sold on the market today.
It is recorded that cinnamon was used 2500 yrs. ago for the embalming of pharaohs in Egypt. It was traded from other countries because it never grew in the Holy Land. In 1500 BC, Egyptians traded with Somalia. The traders kept their source a secret of course, so the buyers never knew where it came from. However, cinnamon is native to the low-lying forests in India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and West Indies. The highest grade of cinnamon is still considered to be from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon under British rule.)
Cinnamon actually comes from a tropical evergreen tree that grows 30 to 60 feet in height. The soft reddish-brown bark and young twigs are fermented and then dried. Cinnamon and Cassia are both related to bay laurel, sassafras, and avocado. Young cinnamon leaves are intensely red and then mature to a dark glossy green on the top. The tree produces pale yellow flowers which are foul smelling but the leaves are fragrant. They are used in Indian and Asian cooking, and as a foot deodorant in North Vietnam.
Mexicans are also fond of cinnamon tea – tḗ de canela. Whole cinnamon is good for curry, biryani, compote of fruit, or glṻwein. The essential oils which give cinnamon such a great taste are cinnamaldehyde and eugenal among other constituents.
Cinnamon was so highly prized in ancient times that the Emperor Nero had his wife, Poppaea Sabha, in 65AD buried and burned a year’s worth of cinnamon to commemorate her. This was much to the dismay of the people since Rome had debts to pay and cinnamon was highly prized.
It has also been prized for its healing properties. Throughout history it has been considered one of the world’s most highly digestive aids. In modern days it has been used to fight HIV/AIDS, stop uterine bleeding and prevent heart attacks. It is also considered for destroying fibroids, helping menstrual problems, indigestion, liver cancer, peptic ulcers, and yeast infections.
Balch, Phyllis A., CNC, Prescription for Herbal Healing, Penguin Putnam Inc. 2002, p. 48
Hemphill, Ian and Kate, the spice and herb bible 2nd edition, Robert Rose Inc. 2006, pp. 205-214