Chinese herbs have been used for centuries. The first traditionally recognized herbalist, Shénnóng, is said to have lived around 2800 BC. There are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in China and over 100,000 medicinal recipes recorded in the ancient literature. In this blog post series, I highlight one Chinese herb and its healing properties: cinnamon.
You are probably very familiar with cinnamon’s culinary use in Western culture, especially around the holiday season. The popularity of cinnamon in Western cuisine may date to Marco Polo, but the reason that we eat and drink cinnamon-rich dishes and beverages this time of year is well-known in Chinese tradition: cinnamon has warming properties. In cold weather, we intuitively reach for foods that warm us and deliver a feeling of comfort. In Chinese herbalism, cinnamon is categorized as a hot spice, one that creates warmth in the body and warmth is necessary to fight certain conditions and diseases. As with other hot herbs, like ginger, cinnamon is often used to combat colds. While Chinese herbalists often use a higher quality cinnamon than our kitchen table varieties, they also often use a different part of the cinnamon tree: cinnamon twigs, known as Gui zhi.
Cinnamon twig is often recommended to increase circulation and improve our Qi, the body’s energy, because of its heat-spreading properties. In herbal medicine, cinnamon is recommended for imbalances that address the heart, as well as skin and limbs of the body. As a result, cinnamon is also used as a remedy for issues that involve increasing blood flow, such as poor circulation to the feet and hands, loss of blood, and even frostbite.
Interestingly, recent Western medicine studies have linked cinnamon oil to anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, furthering the Chinese tradition’s observations about the usefulness of cinnamon in boosting health. A 2009 New York Times article revealed that some Western medicine practitioners are beginning to recommend homeopathic blends containing cinnamon in lieu of anti-bacterial gels that may increase antibiotic resistance. While Western medicine may be slowly warming to cinnamon, Chinese herbalism has recognized these important healing properties for centuries.