Barking up the right tree
The end of the financial year is not a fun time for me, running a small business and trying to make sure that everything, including a full stock take, is completed on time.
So it's nice to have some exciting plants to bring some joy.
This week the most exciting plant to arrive in the nursery is the Sri Lankan cinnamon tree Cinnamomum verum. There are other species of cinnamon trees, also useful for culinary purposes, but the Sri Lankan form is considered to be superior.
I have to confess that I didn't know much about growing cinnamon before today but, thanks to YouTube and Wikipedia, I have learned enough to know that one of these is definitely going into my garden.
Cinnamon trees grow about 6m tall, depending on position and climate. They have brilliant red new growth, which turns a rich bright green as it matures. The leaves are about 8cm long, with prominent light veins and pointed tips.
It produces clusters of small, fragrant, star-shaped flowers in spring, which may develop into dark-purple seeded fruit.
This gorgeous small tree is worth growing for the beautiful foliage alone - the fact it is the source of one of my favourite spices makes it irresistible.
Cinnamon is easy to grow in full sun or semi-shade in a garden or a large pot. It enjoys a humid climate and needs decent drainage but is not fussy about most things. It is evergreen and can be pruned to maintain the desired shape and size.
If you don't intend to prune heavily to harvest the spice, it would make a lovely screening plant, with its dense foliage and brilliant new growth.
Ground cinnamon and cinnamon quills are made from the bark. Branches are removed and the outer grey bark is scraped away, revealing the softer, flavoursome inner bark. This is then stripped from the branch, to a depth of about 5mm, and dried. The bark curls as it dries, giving us the familiar quills.
Sometimes the entire tree is felled and allowed to coppice, producing many smaller branches from the ground, which can be harvested about two years later.
Judging from my research, it seems harvesting the bark might be trickier than it sounds. Lots of beginners report ending up with piles of bark chips instead of nice sheets for drying. It probably takes a bit of practice.
Using the leaves is much easier. They can be added fresh or dried to sweet or savoury dishes, in much the same way as you would use bay, lemon myrtle, kaffir lime or curry leaves.
You can also line baking tins with the leaves when cooking cakes to add a subtle cinnamon flavour, or steep them in boiling water to make a flavoursome tea.