Its aroma signals the holiday season as surely as balsam and pine. But cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) deserves prominence on supplement shelves as well as the spice rack.

Arabian caravans and Phoenician ships carried this culinary prize to Egypt and the Holy Lands for a variety of uses. The book of Proverbs tells how one clever woman ensnared her beloved with the scent of cinnamon. And Exodus lists it as an ingredient in the holy oil that Moses used to anoint both priests and sacred vessels in the Tabernacle.

Medicinal Benefits

The ancient Chinese recommended cinnamon medicinally as early as 2700 BC, and its uses have been numerous over the centuries. Twelfth-century healer Hildegard of Bingen called cinnamon “the universal spice for sinuses,” and seventeenth-century herbalist Nicolas Culpeper advised taking it daily to prevent scurvy.

A time-honored remedy for various gastrointestinal upsets, cinnamon recently proved to work quickly against both non- and antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter jejuni bacteria, a prime cause of foodborne digestive infections. As an antiseptic, this spice also helps kill bacteria responsible for gum disease and tooth decay, so look for cinnamon in natural oral care products.

It also contains antitumor substances, and lab studies suggest cinnamon inhibits the growth of liver cancer and melanoma. Cinnamaldehyde, a component of this spice, recently showed significantly antiproliterative effects on cultured human colon cancer cells, strongly suggesting that regular intake of low doses of this phytochemical may protect against this cancer.

Metabolic Health

While not all research reports diabetic benefits, this herb appears to help people with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes to metabolize sugar. Studies with an aqueous extract of cinnamon link its polyphenols to improved fasting blood sugar, glucose tolerance, and insulin sensitivity, as well as lower systolic blood pressure and lean body mass. In one small study, the water-soluble proprietary extract Cinnulin PF effectively reduced body fat in people with metabolic syndrome, improving both men’s and women’s body composition.

Herbal Safety Herbalist James A. Duke, PhD, considers the culinary uses of powdered cinnamon even safer than drinking coffee, though many practitioners caution against using this herb therapeutically during pregnancy. It’s also possible that extremely sensitive individuals may have a negative reaction to cinnamon, adds Dr. Duke. Never consume undiluted cinnamon oil.