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Getting sexy with cinnamon

Forget oysters and chocolate. If you really want to add some flavour to your love life, then look no further than cinnamon, a spice that will warm up more than just your buns. 

Words by Kirsten Riley

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Coloured lithograph of cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum) flowering and leafy stem with floral sections.

At one time cinnamon was a symbol of wealth and status, its value in Europe exceeding that of gold due to a limited supply and mysterious origin. It was sometime after the Middle Ages that Western traders finally discovered cinnamon’s source and usurped the Arab merchants’ monopoly. 

Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree, a large tropical evergreen abundant in Southeast Asia, and its use dates back to at least 2700 BCE. Most commonly used as a food flavouring, it serves to enhance sweetness due to the synergetic effect of its distinctive aroma.

But more than just a versatile spice, cinnamon also has a plethora of reported health benefits, with the 12th-century German herbalist Hildegard of Bingen suggesting that it was “the universal spice for sinuses” helping to cure “inner decay and slime”.

It was used in Indian medical traditions for centuries, and by America's Eclectic physicians in the 1900s, to aid digestion as well as being a treatment for vomiting, diarrhoea and bronchitis, among other ailments. It was also found in many popular tooth powders during the 19th century, helping to not only neutralise bad breath and fight bacteria but also sweeten the unpalatable abrasive substances in the mixture, which could include ground cuttlefish bones, hoof ashes and even brick dust!

Coloured lithograph of cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum) flowering and leafy stem with floral sections.

Coloured lithograph of the flowering stem of a cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum), c. 1843.

These benefits are not just medicinal folklore. According to the USDA, cinnamon has the third highest level of antioxidants in any natural food,* with anti-fungal and antibacterial properties making it a first-class food preservative. In more recent research it has even been shown to have a positive impact on blood-sugar regulation.

Sample of cinnamon bark, Sri Lanka, 1901-1940 in two jars

Sample of cinnamon bark from Sri Lanka, c. 1901–40. Today Sri Lanka exports around 90 per cent of the world’s ‘Ceylon’ cinnamon.

From the pantry to the boudoir

Cinnamon’s place in kitchen cupboards across the world is secure, but its place in the bedroom is much less celebrated despite it having some rather spicy ‘sexual healing’ properties.

For one, it's a source of manganese, a mineral essential to sexual health with documented aphrodisiac effects. But that's not all. Like other herbs with warming properties such as ginger, cloves and nutmeg, cinnamon increases blood flow and raises body temperature. Just a small amount of cinnamon oil rubbed onto the nether regions is said to act as a powerful sexual stimulant.

illustration showing the apparatus used for preparing cinnamon before distillation to obtain oil of cinnamon

Illustration from a publication c. 1576 described as “The newe jewell of health, wherein is contayned the most excellent secretes of phisicke and philosophie.” It shows the apparatus used for preparing cinnamon before distillation to obtain oil of cinnamon.

While you can now gain all the libido-boosting benefits of cinnamon in capsule form, we know there are more creative ways to ingest such a flavourful ingredient. With that in mind, here’s a recipe for some self-styled 'sex coffee' that includes our favourite spice.

  • two-thirds of a cup of hot coffee
  • 1 tablespoon raw cacao
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground maca root

Coffee. Source: Giphy.com.

We can't confirm whether 'sex coffee' induces any erotic impulses, but we're sure it tastes wonderful.

However, a cautionary note before you brew: not all cinnamon is created equal.

Cassia, the punchier and distinctly cheaper version of the refined ‘Ceylon’ cinnamon, contains a high amount of the chemical compound coumarin, which has been linked in excessive quantities to liver damage. How much is too much? Just one teaspoon a day could be enough to carry you over the recommended limit. A good reason, if you even needed one, never to take part in the cinnamon challenge!

So go forth and sprinkle wisely. What have you got to lose?

*The USDA published this list in 2010 but later removed it due to a lack of evidence that the ‘in vitro’ test-tube results could be directly correlated with positive impacts on human health.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian medicine, at Wellcome Collection until 8 April 2018.

About the author

Kirsten Riley

Kirsten is Wellcome Collection’s Digital Editor for Social Media.