Cinnamon is one of those household spices that everyone knows and loves, but that is still quite mysterious. Where does it come from? How is it grown? Well wonder no more as we are here to help you uncover the mysteries of this delectable spice! Thought to hail from Sri Lanka originally, this spice comes from the bark of the tropical, evergreen, cinnamon tree and as such, will grow best outdoors in a tropical climate or in greenhouses in cooler areas. Depending on whether you are growing your tree as an ornament or for harvesting, you will have different space needs. If you are not planning on harvesting your tree, you will need to plant outdoors as trees can reach heights of 25–75 feet when untrimmed. Indoor growers will be cutting their trees to keep them short, so a standard greenhouse should suffice (8–10 feet tall).
In ancient times, there were four categories of cinnamon including the popular “Cassia” type which is also known as Chinese Cinnamon. In the west, Cassia cinnamon received it’s name from the Hebrew word q’tsīʿāh which translates literally to “strip of bark” or “peel of the plant”. The etymology of this word gives us a very literal explanation of where cinnamon comes from as it is the young shoots of the tree that are peeled to reveal the inner layer of bark, which is then cured and packaged as the cinnamon “sticks” we know and love!
Seed: If grown from seed, expect your cinnamon tree to need between 3 and 8 years to mature before the bark can be harvested. Full maturity for ornamental trees occurs around 8 years.
Seed Depth: 1/4–1/2″
Space Between Plants: 8–10′
Space Between Rows: 7–10′
Germination Soil Temperature: 75–86°F
Days for Germination: 20–80 days
Sow Indoors: Approximately 10 to 18 months prior to the start of your rainy season. Transplant at the start of your rainy season.
Sow Outdoors: Not recommended unless you live in a tropical zone. If you live in a tropical region, sow your seeds outdoors at the beginning of the rainy season.
Vegetative: It is recommended that you grow your cinnamon tree from a seedling or root stock to cut down on the time before harvest. Plants grown using this method can begin to be harvested only 2–3 years after planting.
Grows best in tropical climates where the weather is warm and moist for most of the year and winters do not have hard freezes. The cinnamon tree prefers low altitude so growing below 3200 feet above sea level is ideal. In cooler areas, you can grow this plant in a greenhouse, indoors, or in a sufficiently large container that can be brought inside for the winter when temperatures occasionally drop below 32°F. If you are unable to move your plants indoors, be sure to cover them if temperatures reach below freezing.
Natural: Prefers partial to full sunlight.
Artificial: Will grow indoors in a sunny window but might need additional lighting, depending on the location. Grows well under fluorescent lamps.
Soil: Will do well in most soils but prefers well-drained soils that are slightly higher in sand. A pH between 4.5 and 8.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Grow container plants in a mix of perlite and vermiculite. Add composted manure for a source of organic matter and nutrients.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a media-based non-circulating hydroponic system.
Aeroponics: Not much is known about growing cinnamon trees aeroponically, so be sure to let us know if you have any experience with this!
Water: Requires high levels of water and humidity. Regular irrigation is needed, especially during the summer months or dry season. Check soil by placing finger in dirt and feeling to what depth it is dry. When soil is dry to about 1″ deep, give the tree a good soaking. Be careful not to over-water as keeping soil too moist can cause root rot.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients. Take care not to overfertilize, but do amend soils that may be deficient, particularly in potassium. Organic aged manures or worm castings should be applied around the base of plants annually during the early spring or summertime. Neem cake is a commonly recommended source of nutrients. Rock phosphate can be used to boost low phosphorus levels.
Foliar: Will benefit from a foliar spray of liquid seaweed. Foliar applications of the mineral micro-nutrients zinc and boron are also helpful.
Mulching: Use mulch to suppress weeds, keep soil moist and provide a source of organic matter.
Rotation: Although you won’t be rotating this perennial tree, you can use the practice of intercropping with beans, strawberries, or cucumbers to reduce nematode issues.
Companions: This tree can grow well with almost all other plants as its scent and chemical make-up are great pest deterrents!
Harvest: Once plants have reached about 6′ tall, chop down the trunk to a few inches above soil level. Wait 2 or more years until new shoots develop from the cut trunk. Cut off these shoots when they reach about 2″ thick. It is recommended that you harvest your shoots at the end of the wet season when the ground is wet but not saturated. Remove any smaller branches from your shoots and scrape off the outside layer of bark with a paint scraper or razor. Take care not to scrape away the orange inner bark. Cut the entire length of the inner bark and score it in one or two places along it’s circumference. Remove the inside layer from the inner bark as carefully as possible using a small paring knife to loosen the layer. Leave these strips out in the sun to dry.
Storage: Dried cinnamon can be ground and stored as a powder, in an air-tight container. Sticks may also be stored in an air tight container in a cool, dry location.
Fun Fact: The cinnamon tree has been a valuable plant for thousands of years in cultures spanning the entire globe. For example, there are mentions of the spice in Chinese writings that date as far back as 2800 BC. Cinnamon is also referenced in multiple places within the Bible, placing the spice somewhere in the Middle East.
Prepare: Dried cinnamon sticks can be added whole to drinks, soups, oatmeal, stews or even tea and coffee. Cinnamon powder is also frequently called for in many dishes both as a garnish and as an ingredient.
Nutritional: While cinnamon is very low in nutritional content, it does have properties that make it highly medicinal (see below).
Medicinal: High in antioxidants, cinnamon has been linked to everything from lowering blood pressure to reducing the risk of cancer. It has been claimed that cinnamon furthermore has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used in certain anti-fungal/anti-bacterial treatments.
Warnings: It has been noted that in very high quantities cinnamon can cause unpleasant burning sensations, so be careful to not over-spice! Also, consult with your doctor if you are taking blood sugar medication as cinnamon can impact its efficacy.
If you’re planning on a Caribbean inspired entree, try pairing it with this exquisite Coconut Cinnamon Rice!