Common Name(s): Pepper Cinnamon
Scientific Name: Canella winterana
Medicinal Uses: The inner bark is used in a tea to treat fever, indigestion, sore throats, and aches and pains. However, be warned: the outer bark is toxic.
With its dark, glossy leaves and scarlet berries, pepper cinnamon is a striking tree that is also critically endangered in the Cayman Islands.
If you break a leaf and press the edge to your tongue, you will understand quickly how it earned its local epithet.
The only species in the genus Canella, pepper cinnamon is known in other areas of the Caribbean and Florida as “wild cinnamon”, “cinnamon bark” and “white cinnamon”. The genus name Canella is derived from the Latin canna and Greek kanna meaning “reed” and refers to the rolled shape of the bark when dried, much like the true cinnamon spice derived from the Old World genus Cinnamomum. Indeed, pepper cinnamon experienced many centuries of widespread use as an indigenous food staple and, later, as a more affordable alternative to pricey cinnamon for European settlers.
Throughout the Caribbean, medicinal and edible uses abound for the aromatic inner bark, peppery leaves and spicy berries: In Cuba, the leaves are known as malambo or pica-pica and are used as a seasoning; In Brazil, the bark is used to treat fevers and sore throat; In Cuba and Jamaica, the bark is macerated with alcohol and rubbed on troublesome joints to treat rheumatism; And in the Bahamas used to treat women’s issues.
In Cayman, the inner bark was used in a tea to treat fever, indigestion, sore throats, and aches and pains, as an aromatic stimulant and tonic.
Pepper cinnamon‘s species name (winterana) comes from a time when it was confused with Drimys winteri or Winter’s Bark, a medicinal plant brought back to the Old World by Sir John Winter (or Wynter) who sailed with Sir Francis Drake on his voyage around the world in 1577. Drake is often purported to have been the Cayman Islands’ first European visitor when he landed on these shores in 1586.
Gledhill, D. (2008) The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press.
McCubbin, L. (1995). Healing Plants of the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman: unpublished.
Austin, D. (2004) Florida Ethnobotany. CRC Press.