Juliet Coombe learnt how to grow, chew sticks, rub brass over bark, see the mythical cinnamologus, and feel the magic of the Mount Cinnamon tour at Mirissa Hills, one of Jetwing Hotels many amazing experiences in the South.
The tour is with Mahendra, an expert cinnamon guide and senior field officer for 6 years, with 20 year’s experience with tea also, arrives on time and we’re away. He shows me how, when the property was bought, they were unaware of the hidden cinnamon tree plantation under the jungle that surrounds the mount, totalling over 60 acres and being capable of production in a short space of time and goes on to tell me how Sri Lankan cinnamon is the best, even the name cinnamon zeylanicum, is named after the island and is much better for you than the cassia variety grown in other countries, which has been now officially recognised as not being ‘true’ cinnamon. It has to be grown in a hot climate and therefore the ‘low’ country but is not susceptible to any fungi, insects or leaf problems such that it is effortlessly organic.
First off, I’m shown a mother bush, which has about four 10 foot high saplings coming up from an above surface crown-like base. We all have a go at digging our nails into the bark to reveal the cinnamon rich second layer underneath. “It is ready to harvest when you can do this easily with your nail.” Mahendra says and goes on to say, “trees will be productive for around 40 years before being replaced but you have to wait five years from planting the black seeds in the nursery to planting them out before you can start cutting for cinnamon.” The trees can grow up to 25 feet tall but are pollarded at 10 feet to keep them at the optimum height for cinnamon production.
Further down the hill we see a large collection of 10-inch saplings in black plastic bags assembled around a tree like children listening to a story. “These will be planted out tomorrow,” says Mahendra, before handing me some succulent waxy leaves from a mature sapling, “these can be made into oil for medicine, massage, candles and one drop will stop toothache.” We turn a steep corner and descend further towards the ‘factory’ – I’m impressed with how steep these hills are and the view above us now of the grand looking museum and accommodation.
“Do you know about cinnamon powder?” he asks me before explaining how a half tea spoon of the powder and honey on toast, eaten three days a week, is greatly beneficial to health such as for reducing the risk of diabetes and reducing cholesterol – I like hearing this and resolve to follow this delectable prescription back home. Alternatively, they can be dissolved in a lime juice drink to help reduce bloating, equally appetizing methinks.
The Cinnamon Museum has intricate metal sculptures and old tools on view and upstairs you will find the star of the show and protector of the plantation, the highly elaborate mythical Cinnamologus, standing ready to wrap its long beak around any trespassers and envelope them in its metal wings. The tour ends with a glass of juice flavoured with cinnamon and cinnamon rice and curry lunch during which you can ask questions.