What conjures more memories of the holiday season and good things baking in the oven than the warm and spicy scent of cinnamon? Its exotic taste and alluring scent have made cinnamon a cherished commodity for millennia. From its first recorded use by the Chinese in 2,800 BCE to its role in the embalming practices of the ancient Egyptians and its valued place in medieval Europe as medicine, spice, and incense, cinnamon has been more prized than gold. In fact, countries have even fought wars to control it. Thankfully, the complicated and sometimes violent history of the beloved spice has passed, and the many benefits of cinnamon—and cinnamon essential oil—are now accessible to everyone.
And just like the ancient Chinese and the medieval physicians who followed them, the modern world is now discovering the numerous health benefits of cinnamon. So come with us as we explore the many benefits of cinnamon essential oil (and the cinnamon it comes from) and uncover why it’s not just for baking anymore.
Cinnamon and Cinnamon Essential Oil: The Basics
Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of evergreen trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum, which is a member of the laurel family. Although the genus Cinnamomum comprises about 350 different species of trees and shrubs, only a few types of cinnamon tree are used in the production of cinnamon and its essential oil.
The two main varieties of cinnamon are the so-called true cinnamon, or Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, formerly known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum), and cassia (Cinnamomum cassia).
As the name suggests, Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, while cassia hails from China. Cassia is also bolder and spicier than the milder and sweeter Ceylon cinnamon and makes up about three quarters of all cinnamon used in North America—a popularity that’s driven mostly by cost, as Ceylon cinnamon is about twice as expensive as cassia.
Aside from differences in flavor and cost, there’s one additional distinction that really sets the two species apart, and it’s something most of us probably aren’t even aware of.
What is it?
Derivatives of coumarin are widely used in medicine as anticoagulants (warfarin is a common example) and were even used as rodenticides until recent changes in EPA regulations.
And the cassia most people in the United States add to their cakes and pies and cinnamon rolls year in and year out is actually quite high in coumarin. In fact, amounts greater than a teaspoon can lead to liver damage.
So if you’re a glutton for cinnamon, you may want to think about keeping some Ceylon cinnamon on hand, as this particular variety has about 250 times less coumarin than cassia and can be safely consumed in amounts up to about 2-1/2 teaspoons a day.
But cinnamon is so much more than just rat poison.
For instance, the main components of both cinnamon and its essential oils—cinnamon bark oil and cinnamon leaf oil—are chemicals called cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, both of which offer a multitude of health benefits.
Cinnamaldehyde is also the chemical responsible for the aroma and flavor of cinnamon, though cinnamon bark essential oil contains more cinnamaldehyde than cinnamon leaf essential oil and thus has a stronger, spicier scent. However, cinnamon leaf oil has more eugenol—an equally important substance that’s a component of several other oils, including nutmeg, bay, and clove essential oils.
The Health Benefits of Cinnamon Essential Oil
As we’ve already alluded to, cinnamon essential oil offers a whole host of impressive benefits. Not only is it chock-full of antioxidants, but it also has antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties.
A 2006 study of 21 essential oils found that cinnamon had the most potent antibacterial properties of any oil tested. And cassia cinnamon oil has even been found to kill several strains of E. coli, including those most commonly implicated in cases of food poisoning.
But cinnamon is perhaps best known for its ability to lower blood sugar levels, which can make it an important spice in the fight against diabetes. Cinnamon also has the ability to curb appetite. In fact, simply inhaling the essential oil right before a meal can prevent overeating.
There’s even evidence to suggest that adding a drop or two of cinnamon essential oil to your favorite beverage can help speed wound healing—and metabolism.
Moreover, cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties mean it can be great for warding off infections during cold and flu season.
Cinnamon also helps relax blood vessels, which can lower blood pressure and increase circulation—two properties that have earned the tasty spice a bit of a reputation as a potential aphrodisiac.
And we’re not done yet. Because cinnamon can also soothe aching muscles and joints, promote feelings of peace and relaxation, and relieve nausea, gas, and bloating.
That’s an impressive list of benefits for one little spice.
How to Use Cinnamon Oil
There’s almost as many ways to use cinnamon oil as there are people who love it.
Deodorize and Clean
If you want to rid your home of unpleasant odors—or you just love the smell of cinnamon—you can add a few drops of the essential oil and water to a spray bottle for use as an air freshener.
And who needs toxic chemicals when cinnamon’s antibacterial properties mean you can use the same mixture to kill bacteria on surfaces—that’s a win for you and your family.
Freshen Your Breath
The antibacterial nature of cinnamon also makes cinnamon essential oil a great choice for homemade mouthwash. And with so many other antibacterial essential oils out there, simply mixing and matching oils of your choice to create your own homemade mouthwash can be a great way to take care of your oral health and avoid the chemicals and alcohol found in so many commercial mouthwashes.
To make your own essential oil blend, look for complementary oils like tea tree, peppermint, myrrh, cardamom, eucalyptus, and neem oil, all of which have proven benefits for dental health. And remember that cinnamon oil can irritate sensitive tissue, so it should be used sparingly in any blend—a drop of cinnamon oil for every 35 to 40 drops of the other constituent oils should be plenty.
And if you don’t feel like making your own mouthwash, you can still reap the antibacterial benefits by adding a drop of cinnamon oil to your regular toothpaste.
Whether you’re interested in boosting your immune system or are simply looking for an uplifting and comforting scent on a cold winter’s night, cinnamon can be great for diffusing. It also blends well with other oils, such as bergamot, ylang ylang, frankincense, lavender, grapefruit, lemon, and orange essential oils.
Don’t feel intimated about using a diffuser either. Using essential oils for aromatherapy is a bit like cooking. The worst thing that can happen is you end up with something you don’t like. So play around. Mix and match a variety of oils to see what works best for you. Chances are any essential oil blends you create will have the power to positively affect your physical and emotional health, so experiment to your heart’s content.
Make Massage Oil
Cinnamon bark essential oil also makes the perfect massage oil for warming and soothing aching muscles and joints. But just like the sensitive tissues of your mouth, your skin can become irritated by the essential oil, so it should never be applied undiluted.
Instead, it should be diluted in a warm carrier oil like coconut or almond before applying to the affected area. You can even use the same technique to treat fungal infections, like Candida and athlete’s foot.
Use It as Medicine
By the same token, you can support your immune system, fight off infection, and treat a sore throat by adding one or two drops of cinnamon, ginger, and lemon essential oils to tea or water and drinking the warm liquid or adding the same oils to water and using as a gargle.
And for those looking for a safe, natural alternative to toxic bug sprays, cinnamon oil makes a great bug repellent. A few drops of the oil can be mixed with water and sprayed around the home to repel a number of insects, including mosquitoes, ants, and silverfish. A 2004 study also found that cinnamon essential oil kills mosquito larvae, so keep that in mind the next time you have a problem with standing water.
Whether you’re interested in adding cinnamon oil to your stress-busting aromatherapy lineup or feel like adding a couple of drops to your tea or surrounding your home in an insect-repelling scent bubble, be sure to look for pure, organic cinnamon essential oil. That way, you’ll know you’re getting a high-quality cinnamon oil that’s safe for both you and your family.