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Cinnamon bark (Rou Gui) in Chinese Medicine

Cinnamon bark

Chinese: 肉桂

Pinyin: Ròu Guì

Parts used: Dried stem bark

TCM category: Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold

TCM nature: Hot

TCM taste(s): PungentSweet

Organ affinity: Spleen Heart Kidney Liver

Scientific name: Cinnamomum cassia

Other names: Chinese cassia

Use of cinnamon bark (Rou Gui) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities and the exterior skin. Crush before use.

Dosage: 1 - 6 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Warms the Spleen and Kidneys and tonifies the Yang. Expels Cold, Warms the meridians, promotes circulation of Qi and Blood and relieves pain. Used with tonics to assist in the generation of Qi and Blood.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which cinnamon bark may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Dyspnea Impotence Uveitis Sore throat Abdominal pain Diarrhea Amenorrhea Dysmenorrhea Loss of appetite

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin Deficiency with Heat signs or when there is Interior Heat; it should be used with extreme caution during pregnancy.

Common TCM formulas in which cinnamon bark (Rou Gui) are used*

You Gui Wan

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang. Replenishes the Essence. Tonifies the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Nephrotic syndromeOsteoporosis and others

Rou Gui is a king ingredient in You Gui Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

Read more about You Gui Wan

Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang. Harmonizes Heart and Kidney. Stabilizes and secures Essence.

Conditions targeted*: EnuresisUrinary incontinence and others

Rou Gui is a king ingredient in Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

Read more about Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Nuan Gan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Liver and Kidneys. Promotes the movement of Qi. Alleviates pain.

Conditions targeted*: VaricoceleHydrocele and others

Rou Gui is a king ingredient in Nuan Gan Jian. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Nuan Gan Jian, Rou Gui is acrid, sweet, and very warming, entering the Liver, Kidneys and gate of vitality to generate the production of Yang at its
source.

Read more about Nuan Gan Jian

Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes Yin.

Rou Gui is a deputy ingredient in Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang, Rou Gui promotes Qi and Blood creation. Despite its Hot nature which would normally worsen Yin Deficiency (since Yin is Cold in nature), a small quantity in the formula acts as a 'spark' to promote the generation of Blood and Yin.

Read more about Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang

Xiao Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies the Middle Burner (Spleen and Stomach). Tonifies Qi. Relieves spasmodic pain.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic gastritisPeptic ulcers and others

Rou Gui is a deputy ingredient in Xiao Jian Zhong Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Xiao Jian Zhong Tang, Rou Gui warms the Middle Burner and disperses Cold.

Read more about Xiao Jian Zhong Tang

Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies the Middle Burner (Spleen and Stomach). Tonifies Qi. Relieves spasmodic pain.

Conditions targeted*: Gastric ulcerGastralgia and others

Rou Gui is a deputy ingredient in Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang, Rou Gui warms the Middle Burner and disperses Cold.

Read more about Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang

Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Formula key actions: Anti-rheumatic, clears Wind, Cold and Damp Stagnation. Strengthens the function of the Liver and Kidney. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic lower back painSciatica and others

Rou Gui is an assistant ingredient in Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang, Rou Gui warms and unblocks the Channels and fortifies the Yang. It opens up the lower back and is an important herb for treating lower back pain.

Read more about Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Jiao Tai Wan

Source date: 1522 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Formula key actions: Restores the functional communication between the Heart and the Kidneys.

Conditions targeted*: Nervous exhaustionAutonomic dystonia and others

Rou Gui is an assistant ingredient in Jiao Tai Wan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Jiao Tai Wan, Rou Gui is acrid and hot.  It tonifies the Gate of Life to assist the Yang. Its warmth enters the Blood to open the vessels and facilitate the Blood movement. It also stimulates the Qi dynamic and transformation throughout the whole body. 

Read more about Jiao Tai Wan

Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes the Heart. Calms the spirit.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNonhealing ulcers and others

Rou Gui is an assistant ingredient in Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang, Rou Gui warms the Yang Qi to stimulate all physiological activity.

Read more about Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Directs rebellious Qi downward. Arrests wheezing. Stops coughing. Warms and transforms Phlegm-Cold.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic bronchitisEmphysema and others

Rou Gui is an assistant ingredient in Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang, Rou Gui warms the Fire at the Gate of Vitality and directs the floating Yang back to its source, thereby facilitating the Kidneys' ability to grasp the Qi.

Read more about Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang

Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Cold and warm the menstruation Blood. Stops pain. Invigorates Blood. Dispels Blood stagnation.

In Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang, Rou Gui warms the Uterus and expels Cold

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Da Ying Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Expels Cold.

In Da Ying Jian, Rou Gui expels Cold and tonifies the Fire of the Gate of Life

Read more about Da Ying Jian

Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Source date: 1180 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Qi. Warms and tonifies Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNervous exhaustion and others

In Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, Rou Gui is acrid and hot. It tonifies the Fire of Gate to assist the Yang. Its warmth enters the Blood to open the vessels and facilitate the Blood movement. It also stimulates the Qi dynamic and transformation throughout the whole body. 

Read more about Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Xiao Tiao Jing Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Remove Blood Stagnation. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Mind.

In Xiao Tiao Jing Tang, Rou Gui creates Qi and Blood.

Read more about Xiao Tiao Jing Tang

Bao Yuan Tang

Source date: 1624

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Qi and warms the Yang.

Read more about Bao Yuan Tang

Key TCM concepts behind cinnamon bark (Rou Gui)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cinnamon bark are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold' category. Herbs in this category are used for Internal Cold with Qi Deficiency and/or Yang Deficiency. In the Yin and Yang system of thought Yang is Hot in nature. A deficiency of Yang will therefore lead to Internal Coldness since there will as a result be more Yin (Cold in nature) than Yang. In extreme cases this can lead to so-called 'Yang collapse' with convulsions or coma and these herbs are particularly indicated to treat such scenarios.

As suggested by its category cinnamon bark are plants that are Hot in nature. This means that cinnamon bark typically help people who have too much "Cold" in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much 'Cold' in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition cinnamon bark can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Cinnamon bark also taste Pungent and Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Pungent ingredients like cinnamon bark tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food. On the other hand Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such cinnamon bark are thought to target the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. In addition to regulating Blood flow, the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. The Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. The Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on cinnamon bark (Rou Gui)

5 g dose of Cassia cinnamon may reduce the peak blood glucose response and improve glucose tolerance following an oral glucose tolerance test.1

Sources:

1. Gutierrez JL, Bowden RG, Willoughby DS. ( 2016). Cassia Cinnamon Supplementation Reduces Peak Blood Glucose Responses but Does Not Improve Insulin Resistance and Sensitivity in Young, Sedentary, Obese Women. J Diet Suppl. , 13(4):461-71. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2015.1110222. Epub 2015 Dec 30.

Use of cinnamon bark (Rou Gui) as food

Cinnamon bark are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Cinnamon Buns or Hong shao rou.