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Cinnamon: The Spice Of ChristmasMaster Gardener Scoop – December 14, 2016

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By: Leora McTall,

Master Gardener

Christmas cookies, pies in the oven and potpourri wafting through the house often contain the world's most well-known spice – cinnamon. So, where does cinnamon come from? The Cinnamon tree – where else!

After growing in tropical regions from 2 – 8 years, the Cinnamon tree is cut down to encourage suckering. The resulting smaller branches are then harvested in the rainy season by stripping the outer layer of bark and thinly slicing the inner layer. As these slices of bark dry, they curl up and are called cinnamon quills. Cinnamon may be sold as quills (sticks), powdered or as oil.

The McCormick Corporation is the only major "flavor" company with operations in Indonesia, where Cinnamomum cassia is grown. The bark is stripped and dried there, and since Cinnamon Trees do not grow in the United States, it is shipped to the McCormick facilities in the U.S. for processing.

C. zeylanicum, or Ceylon Cinnamon is considered the true cinnamon of the spice trade. Ninety percent of the world's crop of true cinnamon is still cultivated in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. The second major variety is C. aromaticum, called Cassia (the variety grown for McCormick). It grows mainly in China, Southeast Asia and Indonesia and is sweeter and more aromatic. Once cinnamon was more precious than gold; it was used for currency, and wars were fought over it. When Christopher Columbus discovered America in his quest for a shorter route to spice producing lands, cinnamon was on the list as a valuable commodity.

Its most common use over the ages was medicinal. Even today scientific studies show some evidence of cinnamon preventing ulcers, lowering blood glucose levels and maybe, most important, improving brain functions. Of course, always consult your doctor before using cinnamon as a medicine.

Since the Cinnamon trees need a temperature of at least 40 degrees, our friends, Shirley and Bob, in Southern Florida were contacted to learn if they or their neighbors may have a cinnamon tree growing in their yards. They had not seen any, but Shirley's sister owned a huge nursery there, and she said that some nurseries in Florida sell the Cinnamon Camphor tree, but it only produces camphor, not cinnamon.

Cinnamon trees display beautiful colored leaves in shades of pink and green, so now this Irvington gardener is thinking maybe a small Cinnamon tree would make an unusual, showy houseplant – only to discover they were very pricey for such a tiny plant that probably doesn't want to live here anyway.

Author Gayle Cavanaugh writes in his book, Cinnamon "Cinnamon is truly a wonder spice. Every day it seems that people find new uses for it and publish new claims for this mysterious spice. After 5000 years, its fascination has not dimmed, and it probably never will."

There is still time to enroll in the 2017 Master Gardener training. Call your local extension office for details if you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener.

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Cinnamon: The Spice Of Christmas

The Ceylon Cinnamon (c.zeylanicum) tree does not grow in the United States, but in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. The less expensive, more common cinnamon is called Cassia and grows in China, southeast Asia and Indonesia. The inner bark is sliced very thin. As it dries, it curls and becomes cinnamon quills or sticks.