|Our lopsided cinnamon tree after pruning|
(It was more lopsided before)
We have a big cinnamon tree that we planted about 9 years ago. It was about 12 inches tall (30 cm) and cost around a dollar when we planted it. Cinnamomom zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon or true cinnamon) is a beautiful shade tree with small, dark, glossy leaves.
|See the little berries towards the bottom|
Even if you aren't interested in harvesting the spice, I highly recommend this attractive tree as an ornamental shade tree in your tropical garden. CURLA (north coast Honduran agricultural university) recommends that it be grown below 500 meters altitude, though it can be grown up to 1,000 meters (3,200 feet). Cinnamon trees can grow to 10-15 meters in height (~30-45 feet).
|Tree at about 1 1/2 years (Nov. 2006)|
We've trimmed the tree several times to remove low hanging branches and to try to correct its lopsidedness. This was caused by dog damage, overcrowding, and rainy season neglect when it was young. The tree generally has a very nice shape which doesn't require much, if any, pruning. Trimming emits the most wonderful smell of cinnamon (canela in Spanish), as does crunching up a leaf. I always wanted to harvest the cinnamon but didn't know how. (We didn't have internet for several years.) This time I searched until I found some information that made it clearer how it was done so we decided to give it a go.
How the professionals do it
On cinnamon plantations, I've read that they allow the young tree to grow for 3-6 years until it is 2-3 meters tall (~6-10 feet) and then cut it back a few inches above the ground. This allows multiple new stems to shoot up. The cinnamon can be harvested from this first cutting. The new stems are allowed to grow for 2-3 more years and then the cinnamon is harvested by cutting the stems almost to the ground again. In this manner, the individual plantings can be kept going for many years. There is the added benefit of having long, straight, mostly branchless stems from which to harvest the cinnamon. I may try that with some of the many seedlings that pop up under the tree every year.
The recommended sizes for harvesting the cinnamon are branches or stems with diameters from 1.2 to 5 cm (about 1/2 to 2 inches). Smaller diameter branches don't have a thick enough layer of cinnamon and larger branches are used for making cinnamon oil because the cinnamon will be bitter.
The harvesting process
First, any leaves and small twiggy branches shooting off the branch that you are going to use should be removed. Unless you are a pro, you'll probably want to cut the branch into shorter, easier to handle pieces. Around 60 cm (24 inches) worked well for us.
Then the dark outer bark is scraped off being careful to remove it all but not to scrape into the thin orange cinnamon layer. A paint scraper worked well for this. Initially, the cinnamon may appear yellow, but after exposed to the air for awhile, it will be more orange.
A long lengthwise cut is made through the cinnamon layer with a sharp stainless steel knife and one or more cuts are scored around the circumference of the branch, depending upon the section length you feel comfortable working with. Ceylon professionals cut the entire length of 1-2 meter branches into one piece of cinnamon, but being beginners, and not having long straight twigless branches like they grow specifically for this purpose, we had better luck sectioning the cinnamon into about 4-5 inch cinnamon stick-sized pieces. 'Knots' from side branches make it more difficult to remove the cinnamon in large sections.
The sticks needs to thoroughly dry in the shade for about a week. Sun will leach out the flavor. I also put the cinnamon sticks in a barely warm, turned off oven to help them along since we have such high humidity here. Wow! Did my kitchen smell good!
It's a lot easier to show than tell, so here is a video that our part time garden helper Ever helped me to make. He did a great job explaining.
Watch my video on YouTube if it is not showing above.
Soaking the branches might have removed some of the cinnamon flavor. The soaking water certainly turned into cinnamon tea. But my sister-in-law says that it takes much less of our cinnamon to make tea than it does the cinnamon she's bought in La Ceiba before, so I'm not sure. We have some more trimming to do where the tree is hanging over the fence but I'm going to wait until after rainy season next spring as recommended. It will be interesting to see if the flavor is any different next time.
Besides a cooking spice, cinnamon tea has been used in home remedies for thousands of years but has recently become very popular as a means to aid weight loss, blood sugar control, stomach upsets, and other health concerns. Scientific studies sometimes disagree, but users swear by it.
Two varieties of cinnamon
Less expensive Cassia cinnamon is more often found in US grocery stores, though you can get Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon) in specialty stores and online. Cassia is stronger flavored and is considered a less desirable cinnamon. Some people even consider it unhealthy because it has much higher levels of coumarin, which can cause liver damage.
|Image from Cinnamon Vogue|
If you buy a tree, make sure that you get true cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum. I believe it is still sold at CURLA here in La Ceiba. You might consider buying two, one for growing a shade tree and one for harvesting the spice. That way you can have the best of both worlds: a beautiful shade tree and your own small cinnamon plantation.
More cinnamon info
To see how Ceylon professionals harvest cinnamon, check out this beautiful video, The Cinnamon Story. They are amazing! This man was getting cinnamon pieces at least 1-2 meters long. In the last part of this video, they are making cinnamon oil. There is no 'cooking' involved in harvesting the spice, though drying ovens or rooms are used to speed the drying process on cinnamon plantations.
For everything you ever wanted to know about cinnamon, check out Cinnamon Vogue.