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Can I use my cinnamon spice or cinnamon chips in place of gui zhi or rou gui?

I took a deep dive into some different cinnamon varieties to get an idea of what/if I could substitute for gui zhi (cinnamomum cassia or Chinese cinnamon twig) in different situations. First, let’s talk about how much we all love cinnamon, in all of its varieties. Sweet, a little spicy and warming – it’s the spice of winter – put a dash in your apple sauce, your coffee, your pie… season your curry, marinate your lamb. Cinnamon has so many culinary uses. It also has a depth of uses in herbal medicine.

In Chinese Medicine, we use 2 different parts of the cinnamon tree for slightly different . Both are used for warming, but gui zhi (the twig of cinnamonum cassia) has a lighter more lifting quality that circulation to the  whereas rou gui (the bark of mature cinnamonum cassia trees) is hotter and directly warms more to the interior of the body.


Gui zhi is an extremely important herb that is used in one of the most formulas for thousands of years. In fact, the formula is even named for it: Gui Zhi Tang. Gui Zhi Tang was first described in the Shang Han Lun, an herbal treatise first recorded circa 220 A.D. The specific  gui zhi tang is a cold/flu  the person is sweating to release the pathogen but symptoms are not improving. Variations of gui zhi tang are used to treat colds, heart ailments, menstrual issues, threatened miscarriage, post-partum recovery, diarrhea, cold extremities, pain syndromes,We love gui zhi twig in Chinese herbal medicine. It is considered warm, sweet and acrid.

Rou gui, equally as vital as gui zhi, tonifies ming men fire, among other . It is considered ‘hot’. My favorite usage or rou gui is to ‘return floating yang to its source’, which it does by deeply warming the interior of the body. When I started researching, I expected ‘cinnamon’  in western herbal medicine would more closely relate to rou gui, because both are using the bark of the tree. However, rou gui is specifically harvested from older, more mature trees. The outer bark is used and the older the tree, the better. Perhaps this is why it seems the indications for cinnamon more closely overlap with gui zhi?


‘Cinnamon’, the spice used commonly throughout the world, is harvested from the inner bark of one of 2 main species. Most commonly, cinnamon is actually Indonesian cassia (cinnamomum burmanni). True cinnamon is called Ceylon cinnamon (cinnamonum verum, cinnamonum zeylanicum). Both cinnamomum burmanni  and cinnamomum verum are  harvested when the tree is younger than that of rou gui cinnamon bark. 


 I could pull the ‘cinnamon chips’ or ‘cinnamon sticks’ off my culinary shelf and use The  of gui zhi gui zhi to treat colds and flus for a person who is deficient as well as its ability to increase circulation to the extremities. According to my own taste and experience, I suspected that cinnamonum burmanni or c. verum would substitute for these indications. 


I dug into some research and found confirmation that c. verum is used for these very same indications by western herbalists. Western herbalists use cinnamon as a diaphoretic for colds and flus, to warm people up without drying them out, and to increase circulation to the extremities. It is known to be antimicrobial and antiviral. Pretty similar! Both c. burmanni and c. verum are used for these purposes. C. verum also is used for regulating blood sugar, a use that has been scientifically studied and documented. 


I think what is interesting about gui zhi and other cinnamons is their description as a diaphoretic. Cinnamon actually causes sweating in a different way than a standard diaphoretic, which explains why in Chinese herbal medicine we indicate gui zhi for someone who has a cold and a deficient constitution and who is not improving. Especially ‘sweating without improvement of symptoms’. The warming quality of cinnamon unblocks the yang qi from the interior of the body and opens the muscle layer with the warming, thus increasing the ability of the body’s yang qi to regulate sweating and release the ‘evil qi’/virus/bacteria.


Because of their overlapping historical uses, and scientific research showing antibacterial and antiviral properties of various cinnamons, I have decided that it is reasonable to substitute other cinnamons for gui zhi in the case of a wind invasion – a cold or a flu. Also, in a situation where it is being used to transform thin mucus by warming yang – digestive issues or cough and/or increasing circulation to the extremities.


There are a few areas where I would not substitute different cinnamons, at least not unless I can find more specific information that shows they have similar functions. These include gui zhi’s ability to warm heart yang and treat various heart issues, c. verum’s  regulat blood sugar, and I would not substitute any other cinnamon for rou gui in any situation. My understanding thus far is that rou gui is unique in its being bark from an older tree, its hot quality, and its affinity for stoking the mingmen fire. 


A final thing to be aware of is that cinnamons, of which there are more varieties than those discussed here, all contain coumarin, which moves the blood and requires that one use caution when prescribing to pregnant women and those on blood thinners. Indonesian cinnamon has been shown to have the highest levels of coumarin, up to 7 times as much as Chinese cinnamon. And Ceylon cinnamon (c. verum) has the lowest amount of coumarian, nearly half as much as Chinese cinnamon. A safe daily dosage of ‘cinnamons’ in general has been listed from 1-6g daily (about ½-3tsp). 


Stay tuned for more on cinnamon varieties and their usage in the future. I’m going to keep digging into this one. I have several different types of cinnamon on order to the apothecary and I am going to do a visual and taste comparison as well! In the meantime, I feel good about using any variety of cinnamon for cold/flu prevention and treatment in my home medicine cabinet. 




Chen, John K and Tina T. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press, Inc., 2012.

Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies, 2nd edition. Eastland Press, Inc., 2015.

Shang Han Lun: On Cold Damage. Translated by Craig Mitchell, Feng Ye, and Nigel Wiseman. Paradigm Publications, 2014. 

Abascal A, Yarnell E. Medicinal Uses of Cinnamon Reviewed. Integrative Med. Feb/March 2010;9(1): 28-32. From

Sudhiraluwahlia, Inc. Indonesian Cassia. Aug, 2016

Cassia v. Ceylon Cinnamon: What’s the Difference.

Brown, Kristin. Herbal Roots Zine: Cinnamon. December 2010. From


Cinnamon / Coumarin (grams per kilogram)

  • Ceylon (C. verum) – 0.017 g/kg
  • Chinese (C. cassia) –  0.31 g/kg
  • Indonesian Korintje (C. burmannii) – 2.15 g/kg
  • Vietnamese Saigon (C. loureiroi) – 6.97 g/kg