Article - Aromas of Christmas,

Aromas of Christmas Cinnamon - image

by Alix Williams

“ Cinnamon is one of our oldest spices,
    and has a long and rich history ”

The spice cinnamon is widely used throughout Europe, particularly at Christmas when it is used as a traditional flavouring in Christmas cakes and mince pies. Cinnamon is one of our oldest spices, and has a long and rich history.

True cinnamon is usually obtained from the tree Cinnamomum zeylanicum, which is native to Sri Lanka and Southern India. When the tree is 2 years old, it is coppiced. The shoots that grow from the roots in the following year are then harvested. The outer, woodier strip of the bark is removed, leaving long thin strips of the inner bark, which curl into rolls (called quills) on drying. Cinnamon can be used whole or ground into a powder.

A related species, cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum; not to be confused with Cassia angustifolia or senna – a completely different plant) is also sold as cinnamon. Because all of the layers of bark are used, cassia is generally more reddish brown, harder, coarser and thicker (2–3 mm thick) than true cinnamon. Cassia (also know as Chinese cinnamon) also has a harsher taste than true (or Ceylon) cinnamon.


The ancient Chinese regarded cassia as the tree of life: eating its fruit would confer immortality and eternal happiness. Legend also has it that the fire on which the phoenix would die and then be reborn was fuelled by spices such as cinnamon.

The ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in cosmetics and for embalming their dead. Cinnamon was also used in religious ceremonies (the Romans burnt it on funeral pyres to help disguise the smell of the burning body), but in Mexico, Arabia and North Africa it was used more commonly as a spice in cooking, and as an ingredient in tea and coffee. In Persia, and later in Europe, cinnamon was regarded as an aphrodisiac.

Cinnamon has played a very important commercial role in a number of societies from the Middle Ages onwards. In the 13th and 14th centuries, cinnamon from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was taken to Egypt by Arabian traders from where it was imported to Europe by the Venetians, who then controlled the cinnamon trade to Europe; Venice became extremely wealthy on the back of this trade in spices.

In the early 16th century, trading in cinnamon from Ceylon came under the control of the Portuguese. Increasing demand for the spice in Europe led to the Dutch challenging the Portuguese and, in the mid-17th century, they succeeded in taking over the cinnamon trade. In 1795, Ceylon came under English control, but by then European use of cinnamon had declined and cinnamon saplings were being cultivated elsewhere. Unique essential oils

Cinnamon uses

As early as the Middle Ages, cinnamon was regarded as an appetite stimulator and a digestive. Indeed, cinnamon, like many other spices, is known to promote digestion, and has been used medically to treat gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Recent research has indicated that cinnamon has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and the results of a number of studies suggest that cassia, when eaten, reduces risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

In Europe, cinnamon has long been a favourite flavouring and, today, is still widely used as a spice in pickling and cooking – it is particularly popular in festive dishes, such as mince pies and mulled wine. You will often find cinnamon offered in cafés, to sprinkle on the top of your coffee or chocolate drink. True cinnamon, in particular, is very popular in Mexican and Middle Eastern cooking.

Cinnamon essential oil in aromatherapy

Cinnamon esential oil is steam distilled from the bark chips. An oil can also be distilled from the leaves and twigs. The oil from the bark is light amber with a warm, sweet and spicy aroma. The oil of the leaf is a yellowish liquid with a much hotter and spicier aroma. The odour effect of cinnamon (especially cinnamon bark) is warming and stimulating.

Inhalation of cinnamon essential oil has been used as an antidepressant. The oil blends well with citrus oils, clove, ginger, frankincense, but should be used sparingly as it is has a very strong odour. Because of this is has also been used as an insect repellent. It can also, of course, be used in cooking, as a replacement for the dried spice.

Enjoy the wonderful Unique Aroma Essentials of Christmas!.


  • Khan A et al. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 2003;26:3215-8.
  • Kim SH et al. Anti-diabetic effect of cinnamon extract on blood glucose in db/db mice. J Ethnopharmacol 2006;104:119-23.
  • Mang B et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. Eur J Clin Invest, 2006;36:340-4.
  • Murcia MA et al. Antioxidant evaluation in dessert spices compared with common food additives. Influence of irradiation procedure. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52:1872-81.
  • Ouattara B et al. Antibacterial activity of selected fatty acids and essential oils against six meat spoilage organisms. Int J Food Microbiol 1997;37:155-62.
  • Valero M, Salmeron MC. Antibacterial activity of 11 essential oils against Bacillus cereus in tyndallized carrot broth. Int J Food Microbiol 2003;85:73-81.
  • Wildwood C. Aromatherapy. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 1996.

For the best effects, it is advisable to buy pure Unique Aroma Essentials products containing synthetic ingredients will not provide the same degree of benefit.

Article written by Alix Williams

Alix Williams is a regular contributor to the holistic website, a home-based UK business that provides eco-friendly aromatherapy stress relieving gifts and now Unique Aroma Essentials.

Important Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of the author. The articles provided above are for general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, legal, or other professional advice. (CUS Busting Ltd) does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in the above articles.

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Last updated: 03 January 2017

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