When it comes to Chinese herbs, I am afraid that there is nothing like ramulus cinnamomi cassiae, commonly known as Gui Zhi, cinnamon twig, or cassia twig, that can have such an important place in all TCM practitioners’ mind’s eye. As a matter of fact, this herb is neither rare nor expensive. So, why did ancient physicians laud it to the skies and regarded the Gui Zhi Tang (Cinnamon Twig Decoction) as the “No. 1 formula in the world” and the very source of many other subsequent formulas? Apparently the question should be answered from this herb itself.
What is ramulus cinnamomi herb?
It refers to the dry twig of Cinnamomum cassia Presl, a plant in the family Lauraceae. It is mainly produced in Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan. For better medicinal quality, it is usually harvested during spring and summer. After the harvest, remove the leaves, dry it in the sun or slice before drying, and use it raw.
Medicinally dry twigs are cylindrical, 15 to 100cm long, 0.8 to 1cm in diameter, and brown-red or purple-brown in color. Surface comes with branch marks, leaf scars, bud scars, longitudinal ridge, vertical lines and stripes. It is hard but brittle, easily broken, and with uneven cross section. It is brown on outside edge and darker in center. Cross section of thicker twigs is yellow-white. It has faint scent and sweet, slightly acrid taste. Medicinally the preferred one should be young, tender, brown-red, and fragrant.
Main chemical constituents are 0.69% volatile oil, in which the main component is 64.75% cinnamaldehyde. Besides, it also contains benzyl benzoate, cinnamyl acetate, β-cadinene, calamenene, and coumarin and so on.
Ramulus cinnamomi health benefits
Hailed as the “Medical Saint” by his descendants, Zhang Zhongjing included one hundred and thirteen prescriptions in his medical classic of Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage), among which Cinnamon Twig Decoction is the first one. You You Ji Cheng (Collection of Works on Children’s Diseases) also praised it as “the first pediatric prescription.” That’s to say, mastering its compatibility principle and uses can solve most pediatric diseases. As far as Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer) are concerned, there are more than 20 varieties by tweaking this formula. Actually modern clinical studies have confirmed once again that Gui Zhi Tang deserves the reputations it enjoys. Now let’s take a look at its pharmacological actions.
Modern cinnamon twig pharmacology
1. Its decoction and cinnamic aldehyde have cooling and antipyretic effects;
2. Its decoction and ethanol extract have inhibition on Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus, Salmonella typhi, common pathogenic dermatophyte, Shigella, Salmonella enteritidis, Vibrio cholerae, influenza virus, and more;
3. Cinnamon oil and cinnamic aldehyde have inhibiting effect on Mycobacterium tuberculosis;
4. Cinnamon oil can invigorate stomach, relieve gastrointestinal spasms, induce diuresis, keep the heart pumping, and other effects;
5. Cinnamic aldehyde has analgesic, sedative, and anticonvulsant effects;
6. Its Volatile oil has cough-relieving and expectorant effects.
Popular Cassia twig herbal remedies
Chinese Materia Medica believes that it is acrid and sweet in flavor and warm in properties. It covers three meridians like bladder, heart, and lung. Key functions include expelling cold to relieve exterior syndrome, warming the meridians to promote coronary circulation, and activating yang to promote body-fluid metabolism. Basic ramulus cinnamomi uses and indications are wind-cold exterior pattern, cold-damp arthralgia aggravated by cold, cold limbs, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea, abdominal mass, obstruction of qi in the chest, palpitations, phlegm and retained fluid, inhibited urination, and so on. Recommended dosage is from 1.5 to 6 grams, or even 15 to 30 grams in large doses, in decoction, tea pills, or powder. Following are some typical related herbal formulas for your reference, to name but a few.
1. Gui Zhi Tang or Cinnamon Twig Decoction. This formula comes from On Cold Damage. It is usually made for wind-cold exterior syndrome accompanied with sweating due to exterior deficiency. Other herbal ingredients are Shao Yao (Peony Root), Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice Root), Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome), and Da Zao (Jujube).
2. Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan. This prescription comes from Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer. Now this formula is widely used in HLP (hyperlipidaemia), fibroid, endometriosis, varicocele, PCOS, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, extrauterine pregnancy, and so on. And other herbal ingredients are Fu Ling (Poria), Mu Dan Pi (Tree Peony Root Cortex), Tao Ren (Peach Seed), Tian Hua Fen (Trichosanthes Root), and Peony Root.
3. Gui Zhi Fu Zi Tang. This recipe is from Shang Han Lun. It is now basically formulated for wind-cold-dampness induced rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica. Other herbs are Fu Zi (Prepared Aconite Root), Fresh Ginger Rhizome, Licorice Root, and Jujube.
4. Xiao Jian Zhong Tang. Xiao Jian Zhong Tang is from Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer. It is now mainly used for peptic ulcer, neurasthenia, chronic hepatitis, and others. Other herbs are Licorice Root, Jujube, Peony Root, Jiao Yi (malt syrup), and Fresh Ginger.
5. Zhi Gan Cao Tang. Zhi Gan Cao Tang comes from Shang Han Lun. It is widely used in functional arrhythmia, extrasystoles, coronary heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, viral myocarditis, hyperthyroidism and other diseases that see heart palpitations, shortness of breath and irregular pulse. Other major herbs include Honey Fried Licorice Root, Ren Shen (Ginseng), Gan Di Huang (Dried Rehmannia), E Jiao (Donkey-Hide Gelatin), Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber), and more.
Ramulus cinnamomi side effects and contraindications
Long-term use of Ramulus cinnamomi may result in inflamed, swollen gum. In individual patients it may cause an allergy. In the eyes of TCM, use it with care during pregnancy and in case of hypermenorrhea. Besides, due to its acrid warm nature can easily lead to impairment of yin and blood, it shouldn’t be used in cases of externally contracted heat disease, fire excess from yin deficiency, blood-heat bleeding, and so on.