The common spice cinnamon describes the dried inner bark of several species from the genus Cinnamomum (most commonly C. zeylanicum and C. cassia). As a spice, both its smell and taste are easily recognizable. Medicinally, it has been used as a carminative, stomachic, and antiseptic.
Cinnamon oils as well as powders are available. Bark preparations from both species are "Approved" by the German Commission E for the gastrointestinal complaints described above.
As a spice, cinnamon may be added to many formulations. Very often, cinnamon is used to settle the stomach or in a formulation specifically for yeast or other chronic intestinal complaints.
More recently, cinnamon has been recognized as having anti-fungal and anti-microbial activity.
Another kitchen medicinal remedy uses cinnamon. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 8-10 broken sticks of cinnamon, reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes; remove and steep, covered, for 45 minutes. Use as a foot bath. Cinnamon effectively combats both yeast and fungal infections.
Cinnamon with each meal helps keep insulin and blood sugar levels under control. The typical 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dose contains a phytochemical called methyl hydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP) which improves cellular glucose utilization and increases the sensitivity of insulin receptors in laboratory studies. Personal testimonies indicate that this effect is seen in humans, but further study is required to confirm this.
Dr. Richard A. Anderson, lead scientist at the Beltsville, Maryland-based Human Nutrition Research Center, explained that his mostly unpublished research shows that a compound in cinnamon called methylhydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP) makes fat cells more responsive to insulin by activating an enzyme that causes insulin to bind to cells and inhibiting the enzyme that blocks this process.
While it is too soon to recommend the spice as a regular treatment for type 2 diabetes, Dr. Anderson said patients could try adding 1/4 – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to their food. "The worst that will happen is it won't do any good and the best is that it will help dramatically" he stated. [Preliminary findings announced by the USDA August, 2000]
Update, November 2003 (New Scientist):
Just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics, a new study has found. The effect, which can be produced even by soaking a cinnamon stick your tea, could also benefit millions of non-diabetics who have blood sugar problem but are unaware of it.
The discovery was initially made by accident, by Richard Anderson at the US Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. "We were looking at the effects of common foods on blood sugar," he told New Scientist. One was the American favorite, apple pie, which is usually spiced with cinnamon. "We expected it to be bad. But it helped," he says.