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A powder from the curled bark of the Cinnamon tree, called quills, is a common household spice worldwide. Cinnamomum spp. is a tropical tree that can grow to be larger than 50 feet tall in its natural state, however cultivated cinnamon is pruned to encourage new shoots to maximize the accessibility and harvest of the bark. As a member of the Lauraceae family, cinnamon is related to the aromatic Laurus nobilis, commonly known as bay leaf, and Sassafras. Due to some similarities in constituents and aroma, Sassafras is sometimes substituted for cinnamon as a spice. Interestingly, avocado (Persea americana) is also a member of the Lauraceae family. There are currently 9 species within the Cinnamomum genus (taxonomy is ever-changing), and Ceylon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), Indonesian (Cinnamomum burmanii), and Chinese cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) are the species most commonly found in commerce. The term “cassia” is confusing because any species of cinnamon that is not Cinnamomum zeylanicum, known as “true” cinnamon, is referred to as cassia. However, there are varieties known as ‘cassia’ that have very high levels of coumarin, such as Chinese cassia, and some varieties sold as ‘cassia’ that tend to have lower levels of coumarin, such as Indonesian cinnamon. Verifying cinnamon species can be complex, since it has been found in the past that species of cinnamon in the marketplace can be mixed in the supply chain. Testing cinnamon for coumarin content is one way to ensure that one does not use cinnamon that may have been adulterated undesirable with varieties.
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