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.
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.
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.
Cardamom is a large perennial herb that thrives in the tropical jungles of southwest India and Sri Lanka. It has large, fleshy roots, not dissimilar to those of the ginger plant. Its leaves are large, long and blade like, growing up to 2 feet in length. Its flowers are small and very beautiful, pale white-yellow in colour with a dark purple lip. The fruits are characteristically triangular in section and a pale green colour. Inside each fruit, there is normally two rows of small seeds. It is the seeds that contain the powerful, aromatic odour and pungent taste.
The cardamom plant is native and typically grows in forests up to 5,000 feet above sea level. It flowers in April and May and the fruits are harvested for three months from October. Ayurveda distinguishes two types: sukshmai (small) and brihat (large). Large is Amomum subulatum and has similar properties to Cardamom.
- True cardamom
- Elaichi (Indian)
- Cardamum (Indian)
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.
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).
- In food
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
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).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
‘Digestive detox’ tea
This detoxifying blend of tasty seeds and roots will help to regulate digestion, banish sluggishness and cleanse the blood.
- 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.
- 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
- Pole, S. (2013). Ayurvedic medicine : the principles of traditional practice. London: Singing Dragon.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.