About Chinese Cinnamon Bark (Rou Gui) or Twig (Gui Zhi)


Most people are familiar with cinnamon as a culinary spice or natural flavoring, but a variety that is less familiar here in the West is the one known as Chinese cinnamon.

This is the specific type of cinnamon referred to as "Chinese" cinnamon or Rou Gui in Chinese herbalism. It is commonly found in thick pieces rather than the typical "cinnamon stick" or rolled up quill.

The other variety is called cinnamon twig or Gui Zhi, which is derived from the branches as opposed to the trunk itself.

While both versions come from the same genus Cinnamomum tree as other types of cinnamon, they are known to have more tonifying qualities that are subsequently classified as major tonic herbs in the Chinese herbal system.

What is Chinese Cinnamon?

Chinese cinnamon or Rou Gui, like all types of cinnamon comes from the stripped bark layers of cinnamon trees.

Cinnamomum cassia is native to China, especially southern provinces and is mainly produced in Yunnan, Hainan, Guangdong and Guangxi. Rou Gui or Chinese cinnamon bark, however, can also be sourced from other cinnamon species, not just this variety.

Although it comes from the same or similar species utilized to make the cinnamon powder found in most kitchen spice racks, there are some major differences between Chinese cinnamon and the standard spice many know as cinnamon.


Chinese Cinnamon Bark Vs. Common Cinnamon Spice

The Chinese cinnamon used as a tonic herb is very thick, more like actual bark, because it is harvested when older or more mature. In contrast, the average "cinnamon spice" is taken exclusively from the thin inner bark layers that are much younger in age and therefore tend to roll up into tight stick-like pieces or quills.

Because Chinese cinnamon is a thicker dense material, it doesn't usually roll up. It is usually in large slightly curled irregular woody pieces, but is also found in long rolled up sheets depending on the source.

Chinese cinnamon is, in fact, graded on thickness of the bark, which is an indication of age. The older the better and often more expensive. Premium grades can be a quarter of an inch thick or more.

You will usually notice that the Chinese barks also have the exterior bark layer as well as the inner bark portion.

Some Chinese cinnamon, like the rare An Nan Cinnamon or Vietnamese Rou Gui, is highly revered for its exceptional quality.

Again, on average, it is usually more costly than common cinnamon, like Ceylon or Indonesian. While these culinary cinnamons could be substituted for Chinese varieties in a pinch, they are not believed to have quite the same potency.


Two Main Types of Chinese Cinnamon

1) Rou Gui, Chinese Cinnamon Bark - This is the mentioned thick bark of the tree trunk itself. It works primarily with the Kidney, Spleen, Heart and Liver organ meridian systems. Energetically it is described as pungent, sweet and hot.

2) Gui Zhi, Cinnamon Twig - Again, this variety is derived from the tree branches and is commonly used as sliced pieces. It works primarily with the Heart, Lung and Bladder systems. Energetically it is described as acrid, sweet and warm.

Rou Gui, Chinese Cinnamon Bark Uses

Rou Gui, also called Kuei Pi, is a valued Yang tonic herb and is described as the "King of kidney Yang herbs" by some herbalists. It is also considered useful for the heart, liver and spleen meridian systems.

It is known for its hot energy and sweet pungent flavor that promotes good circulation, "allowing for Chi to freely circulate."

It is important to note that Chinese cinnamon bark is rarely used on its own but most always as part of a tonic formula which contains other primary herbal substances. It is often used as an activating herb or catalyst to stimulate the actions of other herbs/tonics incorporated.

As a Yang herb, it invigorates Jing essence and is rejuvenating to the reproductive system. Its warming attributes, as mentioned, strengthen kidney Yang and is likewise considered a mild sexual tonic, commonly used with other libido enhancing herbs like ginseng, tongkat ali, cordyceps, schizandra, cistanche and he shou wu.

In some research on this variety, results identified that sesquiterpenoids might be the active compounds that may provide usefulness for kidney-related conditions, like diabetic nephropathy.

Because of its heating effects as a Yang tonic to the spleen and kidneys it helps to expel cold, damp conditions and promotes movement of the blood and Chi (Qi). It is therefore frequently used with other herbs that assist as blood and Chi tonics, such as dong quai, rehmmania and peony.

It is valued for alleviating chronic joint pain that is exacerbated by colder climates.

Other Chinese Cinnamon Folk Uses:

  • Helps to clear the skin of blemishes and improve complexion
  • Upward moving energy unlocks tension in the neck and shoulders
  • Can help to relieve headaches
  • Warming quality may be calming to the nerves
  • Strengthening to a chronically weak lower back
  • Works as a sexual stimulant
  • Can help to stimulate appetite
  • Used for tight chest congestion and chronic wheezing
  • Helps cold or weak lower extremities
  • Moves energy stagnation, helps PMS

Chinese cinnamon bark is used in teas or sometimes powdered and used encapsulated herbal preparations as a dietary supplement.


Gui Zhi, Cinnamon Twig and Its Uses

Gui Zhi is usually available in thin or thick slices sourced from small branches.

In contrast to Rou Gui or cinnamon bark, which is thought to be hotter as well as "heavier and more protective", cinnamon twig is described as "lighter and outward spreading", like the tree branches themselves.

Cinnamon twig or "cassia twigs" is also a very common ingredient in Chinese tonic herbal blends and patent formulas.

Classified under the latin name Ramulus Cinnamomi, this variety is more specific for the heart, lung, urinary bladder systems. Gui Zhi has similar "lifting" properties to that of Rou Gui and is likewise utilized for it warming effects and moving Yang Chi.

In some research, Gui Zhi was shown to be potentially effective for alleviating neuroinflammation.


How to Use

Whole Chinese cinnamon bark or twig slices are used in home brews and tonic tea formulas. Unlike other major tonic herbs, the bark pieces or twigs are not usually decocted (simmered) for long periods of time. Rather, they are added at the end and usually never simmered beyond a few minutes. They can likewise be infused if using them in powdered form.

It typically takes very little cinnamon, in comparison to other herbs used in the overall formulation, to be effective.

While you might enjoy making your own personalized herbal preparations, like tinctures or tonic teas using either Chinese cinnamon twig or bark, it by also be appropriate to seek the advice of a qualified tonic herbalist for additional assistance. This will allow the practitioner to tailor the most ideal formula and blend of herbs that can work to balance specific deficiencies and/or activate energies where needed.


Because of its very heating quality, it should be used with caution by those with hot constitutions or high blood pressure. Consult your health care provider if pregnant, nursing, taking prescribed medications or if you have a serious medical condition.

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