Dried bark strips, bark powder and flowers of the small tree Cinnamomum verum

Cinnamon and Cassia: The Most Powerful Antiseptic

Cinnamon and Cassia are one of the world’s most powerful antiseptics and was once more valuable than gold! It is is one of the precious ingredients in our Origin Oil Pack


Cinnamon is the name for several species of trees, all of which are members of the genus Cinnamomum in the family Lauraceae. Only a few Cinnamomum species are grown commercially for spice. Cinnamomum verum is sometimes considered to be “true cinnamon”, but most cinnamon in international commerce is derived from the related species Cinnamomum cassia, also referred to as “cassia”. These are evergreen and the trees can grow to a height of 60 feet. The leaves are shiny and ovoid, and the yellow cluster flowers are tiny, as are the fruit. The whole tree flowers, fruits, leaves, roots and bark have a spicy aroma.

The English word “cinnamon”, derives from the Ancient Greek: κιννάμωμον. The Greek was borrowed from a Phoenician word, which was similar to the related Hebrew: קינמון‎ (qinnāmōn).

The most common cinnamon is from Ceylon where it is found in the inner bark of an evergreen tree (Cinnamomum). Cinnamomum cassia (cassia) is native to China. Related species, all harvested and sold in the modern era as cinnamon, are native to Vietnam, Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries with warm climates.

Cinnamomum verum, which translates as ‘true cinnamon’, is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Cassia is thought to have originated in Burma or China. That is the reason it is called in many countries, “canelle de Chine”.

Most Powerful Antiseptic

Chamberland, writing in 1887, claimed that the Chines had Ceylonese cinnamons were the most powerful antiseptics known to man. Scientists studying the constituents of essential oils have discovered it is a significant circulatory, cardiac, respiratory and digestive stimulant. In medicine it acts like other volatile oils and has a reputation as a cure for colds

Cinnamomum verum, from Koehler's Medicinal-Plants (1887)
Cinnamomum verum, from Koehler’s Medicinal-Plants (1887)

More Valuable Than Gold

Cinnamon was once more valuable than gold. For centuries, cinnamon has been used in pharmaceutical products, as an incense, and as a perfume. In Egypt it was sought for embalming and religious practices. In medieval Europe it was used for religious rites and as a flavouring.

The spice is mentioned in the Bible under the name of ‘quesiah’. In Exodus, God told Moses to take myrrh, cinnamon, olive oil and bulrushes with him from Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians were known to have used it to keep epidemics at bay, and in embalming.

The Arab traders supplied the spice to the Greeks and Romans, trying to keep its origins secret, but the quest for the coveted cinnamon was pursued so enthusiastically that it was the principal incentive of the Portuguese in discovering the route around the Cape to India and Ceylon in the sixteenth century. The Dutch, who took possession of Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – in the mid-seventeenth century, monopo¬lized the cinnamon trade for some 150 years, but it was also they who began its systematic cultivation (as late as 1770). Thereafter, the spice became more widely available, and its use more affordable, in the West.

Cinnamon was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a deity; a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. Its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for centuries by those in the spice trade to protect their monopoly as suppliers.

In Ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used to embalm mummies. From the Ptolemaic Kingdom onward, Ancient Egyptian recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, included cinnamon and cassia.

The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes included cassia and cinnamon. The first Greek reference to kasia is found in a poem by Sappho in the seventh century BC. According to Herodotus, both cinnamon and cassia grew in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh, and labdanum, and were guarded by winged serpents. Herodotus, Aristotle and other authors named Arabia as the source of cinnamon; they recounted that giant “cinnamon birds” collected the cinnamon sticks from an unknown land where the cinnamon trees grew and used them to construct their nests.

Pliny the Elder wrote that cinnamon was brought around the Arabian peninsula on “rafts without rudders or sails or oars”, taking advantage of the winter trade winds. He also mentioned cassia as a flavouring agent for wine, and that the tales of cinnamon being collected from the nests of cinnamon birds was a traders’ fiction made up to charge more. However, the story remained current in Byzantium as late as 1310.

According to Pliny the Elder, a Roman pound (327 grams (11.5 oz)) of cassia, cinnamon, or serichatum cost up to 1500 denarii, the wage of fifty months’ labour.

Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices from 301 AD gives a price of 125 denarii for a pound of cassia, while an agricultural labourer earned 25 denarii per day.

Cinnamon was too expensive to be commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, but the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of the city’s supply at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in AD.

Close-up view of raw cinnamon (Wikimedia by Bertrand THIRY)


The bark is gathered from new shoots every two years. The bark fragments are rolled into sticks. An inner corky layer is stripped for cinnamon, but is left in place with cassia, which is redder in colour, often chipped, and more coarsely pungent than cinnamon. To give the bark time to grow again, it is removed about every two years, and it is said that a good tree can produce for almost 200 years.

The essential oil of cinnamon is obtained by steam distillation of the bark and leaves; that of cassia – which is not easy to find – from the leaves, barks and young twigs. The consistency of cassia is thicker, and it is less subtle and aromatic.

The principal constituents: Cinnamon – cinnamic aldehyde (60-65 per cent), caryophyllene, cymene, eugenol, linalool, methylamine ketone which gives the characteristic aroma, phellandrene, pinene and many others. Cassia contains a higher proportion of cinnamic aldehyde, as much as 80 – 85 per cent.

Medicinal Action and Uses

Stomachic, carminative, mildly astringent, said to be emmenagogue and capable of decreasing the secretion of milk. The tincture is useful in uterine haemorrhage and menorrhagia, the doses of 1 drachm being given every 5, 10 or 20 minutes as required. It is chiefly used to assist and flavour other drugs, being helpful in diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and to relieve flatulence.

The oil is a powerful germicide, but being very irritant is rarely used in medicine for this purpose. It is a strong local stimulant, sometimes prescribed in gastro-dynia, flatulent colic, and gastric debility.

Health-related research

Reviews of clinical trials reported lowering of fasting plasma glucose and inconsistent effects on hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c, an indicator of chronically elevated plasma glucose). Four of the reviews reported a decrease in fasting plasma glucose, only two reported lower HbA1c, and one reported no change to either measure. The Cochrane review noted that trial durations were limited to 4 to 16 weeks, and that no trials reported on changes to quality of life, morbidity or mortality rate. The Cochrane authors’ conclusion was: “There is insufficient evidence to support the use of cinnamon for type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Citing the Cochrane review, the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health stated: “Studies done in people don’t support using cinnamon for any health condition.”

A meta-analysis of cinnamon supplementation trials with lipid measurements reported lower total cholesterol and triglycerides, but no significant changes in LDL-cholesterol or HDL-cholesterol. Another reported no change to body weight or insulin resistance.

Cinnamon has a long history of use in traditional medicine as a digestive system aide.


Cinnamon supplements appear to be safe when consumed in the amounts commonly used in foods as a spice or flavoring agent. Use in larger amounts or for long periods of time is sometimes associated with side effects, most commonly gastrointestinal problems or allergic reactions.

Cassia cinnamon contains a chemical called coumarin, which can be harmful to the liver. Some cassia cinnamon products contain high levels of this substance. In most cases, consuming cassia cinnamon doesn’t provide enough coumarin to cause significant problems. However, prolonged use of cassia cinnamon could be an issue for sensitive people, such as those with liver disease.




By Simon A. Eugster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

By Thiry – Photo taken by Bertrand THIRY, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cinnamomum verum, from Koehler’s Medicinal-Plants (1887)


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