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Cinnamon: Old, sweet spice that colours most kitchens

Cinnamon is also known as sweet wood and it is one of the oldest known spices. Though it can be lucrative, it is grown by a few farmers in Kenya. [iStock Photo]

Many kitchens have containers of cinnamon or raw cinnamon sticks. If you have ever handled a cinnamon stick, then you have had a peek at the dried bark of a cinnamon plant.

Henry Kimani from Tigoni in Kiambu County cultivates spices organically in small portions on his farm and cinnamon is one of them.

Cinnamon belongs to “Lauraceae” family and its botanical name is “Cinnamomum verum”. It is also known as sweet wood and it is one of the oldest known spices. Though it can be lucrative, it is grown by a few farmers in Kenya.

But because of high demand, especially in Middle East countries, many farmers have started having an interest in growing it.

Ecological conditions

Cinnamon can be cultivated as a rain-fed crop and is suitable for a variety of climatic conditions. It grows in well-drained organic-rich loamy soil for better quality and production.

“Application of farm yard manure can make the soil rich,” says Kimani.

Propagation

Cinnamon can be propagated through seed and vegetative propagation through cuttings. To raise seedlings, cinnamon seeds are sown in polythene bags containing a mixture of sand, soil and well-powdered compost manure. Irrigation should be done regularly as the seeds begin to germinate within 10 to 21 days.

“Artificial shading should be provided for the seedlings until they are six months old,” says Kimani.

To plant, dig pits of 50cm at a spacing of three by three metres and filled with organic compost. In each pit, four to five seedlings can be planted.

“Partial artificial shade in the initial stages of cultivation is beneficial for the health and rapid growth of cinnamon plants,” says Kimani.

Weeding

Weeding should be done as regularly as required and digging of the soil around the bushes should be done at least once.

Watering should be done twice a week if the rains fail.

“The water quantity depends on soil moisture level and growth of plants. Cinnamon is mainly rain-fed, but with the unpredictable rainfall patterns, it is wise to be aware of when to water the plants,” says Kimani.

Coppicing is a method of cutting back the height of cinnamon trees to the desired height to manage the plantation. Two to three-year-old plants are coppiced to a height of about 15cm from the stump.

Afterwards, a bunch of side shoots are produced by the main stem, subsequently, the plants take the shape of a low bush of about two-metre height and a bunch of canes suitable for peeling crop up in a period of about four years.

Coppicing is normally done in alternate years.

Harvesting

Side shoots having finger thickness and uniform brown is ideal for bark extraction.

“A test cut can be done on the stem with a knife to know the suitability of time of peeling cinnamon. If the bark separates readily, the cutting can be done immediately,” advises Kimani.

The stems should be cut close to the ground when they are about two years old, as straight as possible. Harvested cinnamon shoots are bundled together and stored appropriately.

As this herb has many uses and health benefits, the market for cinnamon is readily available in Kenya.

“I mostly get online referrals for raw cinnamon, I can say the market in Kenya for cinnamon is available,” says Kimani.