History of Cinnamon
Coming from the dried bark of Cinnamomum trees, cinnamon is an herb with quite the background and has always been an herb of great value. Beginning with its mythical origins in the East, to its involvement in trade wars in the 1600s, cinnamon was fought over and sought after for centuries. Used in teas, desserts, and savory seasonings alike, cinnamon is a familiar and widely used spice. Considering its background, it’s no surprise that cinnamon is often associated with wealth, money, and passion in magickal workings. Let’s take a closer look at the energizing story of cinnamon.
What is Cinnamon?
It might sound basic, but many of us may not know that cinnamon isn’t a ‘plant’ per say, but rather the dried bark of various species of Cinnamomum trees. Cinnamomum verum or Ceylon Cinnamon is “true” cinnamon, hailing from the island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), while Cinnamomum cassia, usually cultivated in China, Indonesia, or Vietnam, is the most widely produced and what we most likely have in our spice cabinets.
As far back as 2800 BCE, “kwai” was referenced in writings from China. Because the spice was traded throughout the East and Middle East for centuries, the name cinnamon comes from these origins. The word “cinnamon” comes from the Greek kinnámōmon, which was borrowed from the Hebrew qinnāmōn. Another source, stated that the Arabic and Hebraic word “amomon”, meaning fragrant spice plant, is also a source of origin. Cassia, the related term, comes from the Hebrew qātsaʿ (to strip off bark), which evolved into the Latin cannella, which means “little tube”, referring to the way the cinnamon bark dries in little tubes.
Historical References and Uses
Like many herbs, cinnamon is referenced in the Bible. One of the more interesting passages is Proverbs 7:7, which reads: “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon”. This line is spoken by the equivalent of a prostitute, trying to entice a young man off the streets and into her bed. (There is a deeper metaphor within here, but that’s another story).
In many ancient cultures, cinnamon was highly regarded, and often given a gift or an offering to deities. It was used by the Ancient Egyptians in their embalming process and perfumes. In Ancient Rome, there is a story about Emperor Nero, who murdered his wife. As a show of remorse, he burnt a year’s worth of cinnamon. This would have been a major demonstration of remorse, because according to Pliny the Elder, in the ancient world, 350 g (about 12 oz.) of cinnamon was worth more than 5 kilograms (11 lbs.) of silver.
In Medieval Europe, cinnamon was often used to treat throat issues such as coughing and sore throats. It was also used to help preserve meat. Some of its chemical ingredients actually did hinder bacterial growth, and its scent hid some of the less pleasant smells from this somewhat spoiled food. Because it could only be purchased by the most wealthy, cinnamon was a sign of wealth and riches. Hosts would ‘flex’ at dinner parties by bringing out trays laden with ‘exotic’ spices to show how well off they were.
A Closely Guarded Secret
Cinnamon, like other aromatic herbs such as cloves, ginger, turmeric, and cardamom, was a major player in the spice trade throughout history. Cinnamon from Sri Lanka and China was carried over several trade routes to the Middle East, Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Arab traders took dangerous and “cumbersome” routes, which meant a limited supply of cinnamon, and more money for them. Eventually the Italian city of Venice became the port which held control of the spice trade for all of Europe.
Until fairly late in the game, the origins of cinnamon were a mystery to western cultures. Amazing mythical stories were told by spice merchants in an effort to keep the trade secrets secret so that they could continue to have a monopoly over the trade. This allowed them to charge exorbitant amounts for these spices.
One of the most popular of these origin myths has to do with the Cinnamologus, or “Cinnamon Bird”. Circulated well into the 14th century, stories of this creature circulated across the world. According to Birds in the Ancient World by W. Geoffrey Arnott:
…this large bird brings cinnamon quills from some unknown place and uses them to build their nests on inaccessible precipices or in high trees. The local inhabitants then cut up their own dead animals and leave large chunks on the ground near the nests. The birds fly down and carry the carrion to their nests, which collapse under the weight, allowing the natives to pick up the cinnamon quills and export them. Alternatively the natives weight their arrows with lead and so shoot down the nests high in the trees .Pg. 145
This wonderful myth kept the secret of cinnamon’s origins for a long time, but eventually Portuguese traders braved the Horn of Africa in search of the land from which cinnamon came. They took control of the cinnamon trade in the 14th century (angering Venice, who no longer had the monopoly), but in the 16th century, the Spanish found a different form of cinnamon from the Philippines, which interfered with the Portuguese traders’ monopoly.
Dutch traders came into the picture next. By the mid 17th century, The Dutch East India Company had removed the Portuguese from Sri Lanka, and changed the entire cultivation and harvesting process, from one which was set by castes of natives of Sri Lanka and done in a traditional manner, to a more commercialized and capitalistic method (Read more here). They bribed and threatened a nearby ruler to destroy his cinnamon crops, and in general were pretty cutthroat about the whole thing. One Dutch captain remarked, “The shores of the island are full of it,” a Dutch captain reported, “and it is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea.”
In 1796, due to other victories, the British East India Company took over Ceylon from the Dutch, but by the 1830s the cinnamon trade had other competitors and methods of transportation, which meant the time of the cinnamon monopoly was over.
Culinary Uses of Cinnamon
Because cinnamon is such a universal and widely known cooking ingredient, I’ll only mention it here. Cinnamon is used in many types of cooking, from savory to sweet. Cinnamon rolls, churros, arroz con leche, apple pie, cinnamon toast, cinnamon butter, pumpkin spice… the list is virtually endless. All are delicious and show off cinnamon in all its glory.
In Magickal Workings
The magickal properties of cinnamon directly relate to its association with wealth, money, and high status as a sacred spice. Cinnamon is often used in the following types of magick:
- Anointing or consecrating magickal tools
- In incense
- Love, Lust, Passion spells
- Money, wealth, prosperity spells
- To speed up any kind of magick
- Success and victory spellwork
- Spells or rituals for Mabon/Autumn Equinox, Samhain, and Yule
Some practical magickal ideas to put these into practice are to…put cinnamon or cinnamon essential oil into a carrier oil for anointing and consecrating. Rub powdered cinnamon onto a dollar (or a representative) to attract money. Burn cinnamon incense during love spells (or actual love making!) to increase the energy and passion involved. Carry or display cinnamon sticks for any of the above reasons. Keep a cinnamon roll with your tarot cards or runes to cleanse and imbue them with cinnamon’s energies. Drink cinnamon tea! (Try my Mabon Blend enchanted herbal tea). Meditate on its energies and set an intention when cooking with cinnamon. Cinnamon has such a strong energy, its fun to play around with, not to mention wonderful to smell!
Wow, this week was hard to pick. There are SO many things to do with cinnamon in the culinary world, but ultimately I picked a simple slow cooker dish that puts together two ingredients that usher in feelings of fall and comfort. The taste and aroma are quite on point with this time of year, and I feel bring in those rich, spicy, comforting energies of cinnamon.