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Cardamom seeds are a premium digestive aid and mucus reducer

Cardamom

Elettaria cardamomum – Fructus (Zingiberaceae) Zingiberaceae

Cardamom seed pods are aromatic and filled with soothing, relaxing and anti-spasmodic essential oils.

  • How does it feel?

    Cardamom is a delight to taste. With a unique and dynamic taste profile of powerful pungent aromatic oils.

  • What can I use it for?

    Cardamom seed pods contain a high level of essential oils which are the component responsible for the majority of this herb’s medicinal properties. These warming and aromatic essential oils clear mucus and calm acid indigestion whilst strengthening a weak digestive system. 

    The essential oils stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, which helps to promote efficient digestive processes and also shifts stubborn mucous congestion throughout the system. These oils also act as an effective anti-spasmodic, providing relief from intestinal tension and spasms.

    Cardamom may be used to assist in improved assimilation of digestive nutrients as well as to calm symptoms of indigestion such as borborygmus, bloating, flatulence, colic, intestinal pain and indigestion.

  • Into the heart of Cardamom

    Cardamom is renowned for its pungent, aromatic taste and smell. It is the essential oils that create this dynamic aromatic quality and taste which are responsible for the plant’s medicinal capabilities. 

    Cardamom is pungent and sweet, making it a cooling remedy. It has a post digestive effect and acts to support digestive function and improve the assimilation of digestive nutrients. Energetically cardamom is cool and dry working upon the plasma and blood system (1).

    According to the Ayurvedic understanding cardamom is very high in sattva and prana, this means that it regulates the vital force or energy in the digestive tract (1).

    It is specific for mucus excesses in the digestive and respiratory tract. The drying action is directed to help clear congestive conditions in these systems.

    Aromatic compounds are ‘channel openers’, driving the herbs to where they need to go. Like other aromatic pungent herbs, cardamom is sometimes added to a prescription to support the assimilation of other herbs into the digestive system. This assists the medicinal compounds to be absorbed into the system, making them more bioavailable in the tissues where they are most needed.

  • Traditional uses

    The uses of cardamom have been recorded since the times of Ancient Egypt. It was used as a medicinal ingredient and a mouth freshener, that due to its fibrous nature was believed to also help keep clean the teeth. It was also the prime ingredient for the preparation of oils that were applied in the mummification process. 

    Some of the early references to cardamoms medicinal uses are found in Sumer, and in the Ayurvedic literatures of India. Some of the suggested historical uses of this herb are recorded as being used to treat infection and as a digestive aid. Through the early 1800s to today, cardamom is known as the queen of spices. It is said that the Vikings first discovered cardamom during their travels and brought it back to Scandinavia, and thus it was bought to Europe.

    The ancient Greeks also thought highly of this spice. The Greek physicians Discorides and Hippocrates wrote about its therapeutic properties in the historical texts, identifying it as a digestive aid.

  • What practitioners say

    Digestive system: This plant’s medicinal activity is concentrated within the digestive tract where it will stimulate and support an efficient digestive metabolism. Its stimulating effect upon digestive enzymes and juices means that it helps to balance out excess acidity. Its pungency and stimulating nature help to relieve digestive tension and shift stubborn congestion. 

    These actions also extend to the respiratory system where it can help clear mucous congestion in the lungs. The essential oils are particularly strengthening and tonifying to mucous membranes throughout the body, but specifically the digestive, respiratory and the urinary system.

    Cardamom is specific for a weak digestion and symptoms such as borborygmus, bloating, flatulence, colic, intestinal pain and indigestion. Cardamom stimulates the digestive fire, agni, improving absorption capabilities within the gut. Its pungent and clearing nature also indicates this herb in nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, burping and acidity.

    Respiratory system: Cardamom is indicated in coughs characterised by excess mucus and asthma with wheezing. It is good for sore throats and freshens the breath. 

    Urinary system: Cardamom is recommended for painful, burning urination.

  • Research

    In a review of scientific studies carried out to investigate the therapeutic effects of cardamom it is clear that much of the focus of research on the plant has been on its dynamic essential oil content. The review discusses the effects of capsules made with cardamom essential oils and concludes that much of the research on the compounds found within cardamom essential oil have therapeutic benefits including antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral and gastroprotective activities (4).

    Metabolism: A study designed to determine the effect of cardamom on serum lipids, glycemic index, and blood pressure in pre-diabetic women was carried out using eighty overweight or obese pre-diabetic subjects over a period of two months. The subjects were randomly allocated into two groups. One group received 3g of green cardamom and the placebo group received 3g of rusk powder. 

    Several factors were measured before and after intervention. The results showed that the total cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein levels significantly decreased and insulin sensitivity increased in the cardamom group. However, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, glycemic index, and serum lipids values were the same in the cardamom group when compared to the placebo group (2).

    A systematic review was carried out to analyse the effects of cardamom on blood pressure and inflammatory markers among patients with metabolic syndrome and related disorders. The review analysed 625 clinical trials of which eight reports with a total of 595 patients (299 in intervention group and 296 in control group) were included.  

    The results show a promising outcome for cardamom in improving blood pressure control as well as a clear demonstration of anti-inflammatory effects. The review concludes that cardamom could support patients with unhealthy metabolic profiles in health management. There were few eligible randomised controlled trials with quite a low number of participants. Further prospective studies on larger and more diverse subject groups with a longer duration of treatment are due to fully investigate the therapeutic application of this plant (5).

    Immune system: An in vitro study was carried out using encapsulated cardamom essential oil in chitosan nano-composites. The study was conducted to determine the efficacy on antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens and cytotoxicity. The results demonstrate that cardamom essential oil loaded nano-capsules are highly effective in controlling multi drug resistant E. coli and MRSA in vitro. A promising conclusion given that the study also confirms that there were also no signs of toxicity to human cells (3).

  • Did you know?

    Guatemala is the globe’s largest producer of cardamom in the world, with an annual yield of up to 30,000 tonnes. India is the second largest contributor.

Additional information

  • Safety

    When eaten in the typical amounts found in foods, cardamom is considered a safe during pregnancy. Cardamom essential oil is also popular, and is sometimes used in aromatherapy for nausea. It is recommended however to avoid large, medical amounts of cardamom during pregnancy.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    According to the Ayurvedic understanding, cardamom should be avoided by people with aggravated pitta, ulcers and those with general excessive heat (inflammation) signs in the body (1).

  • Preparation

    • Tincture
    • Dried
    • Infusion
    • In food
  • Dosage

    Dried herb: To be taken in food or as a decocted infusion. Infuse 250mg–6g of dried ground seed into simmering water in a pan for unto 15 minutes. Drink throughout the day. 

    Tincture (1:3) 45%: Take between 1- 10ml per day.

  • Plant parts used

    Seed

  • Constituents

    As a powerfully aromatic plant cardamom is high in volatile oils at around 4%. The main volatile oils isolated in cardamom are borneol, pinene, humbleness, camphor and eucalyptone (1).

    Cardamom also contains a variety of important trace minerals such as; iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and sulphur (4).

  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste) Pungent, sweet.
    • Virya (action) Cooling.
    • Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
    • Guna (quality) Light, dry.
    • Dosha effect: VPK-, P+ in excess.
    • Dhatu (tissue) Plasma, blood, nerve.
    • Srotas (channels) Digestive, respiratory, circulatory, nervous.
  • Habitat

    Cardamom thrives in the tropical jungles of South-West India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and South-East Asia. The cardamom plant is native, typically grows in forests up to 5,000 feet above sea level.

  • Sustainability

    The IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants database has not yet assessed the endangered rating of this plant. It is unclear whether this species of cardamom remains in the wild. However, there are other species of cardamom that grow in the wild which are threatened by habitat loss .

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that effect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown. 

  • How to grow

    Cardamom is an understory plant that grows natively in tropical forests. It prefers humus rich, slightly acidic soil. 

    • Sow seeds approximately 1/8 under fine soil and keep the medium evenly moist. 
    • The seedling can be transferred to a pot once two pairs of true leaves appear (true leaves are the leaves that grow after the cotyledons which are the first leaves to appear from a germinating seed).  Cardamom may flower three years after planting.
    • This plant does not tolerate drought, so must be kept moist to reflect its native rainforest habitat as best possible. It also greatly benefits from regular humidifying through the leaves
    • Grow on outdoors in summer or year-round in warm regions. Bring indoors during the colder months and ensure around 6- 8 hours of dappled or filtered sunlight.
    • With good care, rhizomes can live for decades. Transplant older plants every few years to prevent root binding. Cardamom is fairly easy to grow indoors, however the mature plants can reach up to 10 feet so ensure the plant has plenty of space.
  • Recipe

    ‘Digestive detox’ tea

    This detoxifying blend of tasty seeds and roots will help to regulate digestion, banish sluggishness and cleanse the blood.

    Ingredients:

    • Aniseed 4g
    • Fennel seed 4g
    • Cardamom pod 3g
    • Dandelion root 2g
    • Licorice root 1g
    • Celery seed 1g
    • Lemon a twist per cup

    This will serve 2 cups detoxifying tea with a citrus twist.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot (except for the lemon juice).
    • Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
    • Enjoy with a twist of lemon in each cup.

    Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

  • References

    1. Pole, S. (2013). Ayurvedic medicine : the principles of traditional practice. London: Singing Dragon.
    2. Fatemeh, Y., Siassi, F., Rahimi, A., Koohdani, F., Doostan, F., Qorbani, M. and Sotoudeh, G. (2017). The effect of cardamom supplementation on serum lipids, glycemic indices and blood pressure in overweight and obese pre-diabetic women: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders, [online] 16. doi:10.1186/s40200-017-0320-8.
    3. B Jamil et al. (2016) Encapsulation of cardamom essential oil in chitosan nano-composites: In-vitro efficacy on antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens and cytotoxicity studies, Frontiers in microbiology. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27757108/ (Accessed: January 12, 2023). 
    4. Ashokkumar, K., Murugan, M., Dhanya, M.K. and Warkentin, T.D. (2020). Botany, traditional uses, phytochemistry and biological activities of cardamom [Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton] – A critical review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 246, p.112244. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2019.112244.
    5. Izadi, B., Joulaei, H., Lankarani, K.B., Tabrizi, R., Taherifard, E., Sadeghpour, A., Vali, M. and Akbari, M. (2022). The effect of green cardamom on blood pressure and inflammatory markers among patients with metabolic syndrome and related disorders: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized clinical trials. Phytotherapy Research. doi:10.1002/ptr.7648.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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