The ancient Indian medicine system of Ayurveda mentions many plants, herbs and spices as a natural remedy to many disorders and a cure to many diseases. Cardamom is one such spice that has been extensively used in India for over 5,000 years not only for its warm and sweet flavor, but importantly, for its immense and innumerable health benefits.
After saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the most expensive spice in the world. This amazing dried pod with tiny jet-black seeds is often referred to as the Queen of Spices (the King of Spices, of course, is Black Pepper). Today, cardamom is one of the most widely used spices across the world in cuisines from Mediterranean to Middle Eastern and from Indian to Iranian.
Origin and History
One of the oldest spices known to mankind, cardamom is a native plant of India where it grew in the wild along the Western Ghats of South India since times immemorial. It was picked up by the tribals who sun-dried it and used it to flavor their food. Over time, cardamom was exchanged for cloth and other things with local traders, who then sold it to merchants from far-off lands like Arabia, Greece, and even Rome. Now one can find this ancient spice being used, not only in a variety of cuisines in the nation, but also as a prime flavoring spice in a cup of Chai.
In India, cardamom is mentioned in the ancient Vedic texts. In the Charaka Samhita - the medical compendium compiled around between 1400-600 BCE by the sage Charaka, and one of the founding texts of Ayurveda, details the many uses of cardamom. The Charaka Samhita also speaks highly of the health benefits of turmeric as well. In the celebrated treatise on statecraft and strategy - the Arthasastra written by Chanakya, cardamom is featured as a prominent gift for formal and diplomatic purposes.
Cardamom from India found its way to global markets through ports on the Malabar coast of India, as well as via the ancient Silk Road. There is evidence to suggest that Indian cardamom was used by the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt both as mouth-freshener and the essential oils of cardamom were used in the embalming process for mummification. Indian cardamom is also mentioned in the writings of the Greek physician - Hippocrates, considered as the father of modern medicine. Even the mighty Romans used Indian cardamom extensively in their cuisine as well as for healing.
True and False Cardamom
(Black Cardamom - Source : Commons.Wikipedia)
Cardamom belongs to the larger ginger family - Zingiberaceae. There are two types of cardamom - the smaller green cardamom and the larger black cardamom. The green cardamom comes from the species Elettaria cardamomum, while the black cardamom comes from the species Amomum subulatum. The green cardamom, known as true cardamom, grows in the southern part of on the Western Ghats along the Malabar coast. The black cardamom, also known as false cardamom, grows in Sikkim in North India.
Green cardamom is a warm spice with a distinctly astringent and intense flavor with slight undertones of sweetness and a hint of floral notes. The black cardamom has a earthy and smoky flavor with hints of camphor. You can check out our best-selling Cardamom Tea here.
The aroma and flavor of cardamom are obtained from the essential oils which are composed of mainly α-terpinyl acetate and 1,8-cineole. Cineole, the major active component of cardamom oil, is a proven antiseptic that is highly effective in killing the bacteria responsible for bad breath. It aids in treating infections and helps ease breathing. While green cardamom has a higher cineole content than black cardamom, there is a marked chemical difference in both.
In traditional medicine, green cardamom is used as a cure for many ailments. Both the dried pods as well as the seeds are used. The dried pods and the seeds can be crushed and grounded or even made into powder. It is used extensively in cooking as a spice for its flavor. Used extensively as a major spice in the delicious Indian Chai Tea. In food and drinks, it is also used as a garnish, and generally sprinkled on sweets and desserts.
The essential oil and extracts of cardamom are also used as a key ingredients in the formulation of a variety of medicinal compounds.
Based on scientific research, cardamom (particularly green cardamom) is beneficial for :
Blood Pressure - due to high levels of antioxidants, cardamom helps in lowering blood pressure.
Fighting Cancer – studies conducted on mice has demonstrated that certain chemicals in cardamom help increase enzyme activity of cancer-fighting cells.
Reduces Inflammation – the antioxidants in cardamom help in reducing and preventing inflammation.
Aids Digestion and Heals Ulcers – cardamom has been used for thousands of years to help digestion. Cardamom relieves nausea and vomiting. It has also been found to be effective in healing ulcers, particularly stomach ulcers.
Improves Oral and Dental Hygiene – the sweet and minty cardamom has been used as breath freshener for centuries. In many cultures, chewing on dry pods of cardamom is the best cure to avoid bad breath and prevent tooth decay and cavities.
Fights Infection – due to its strong anti-bacteria, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties, cardamom is used as an effective treatment to fight bacterial and fungal infections.
Improved Breathing – the active compound in cardamom, cineole, is found to be effective in improving breathing by relaxing the airway. The essential oil of cardamom also enhances the body’s ability to use oxygen during physical activities like running.
In addition, cardamom is also useful in lowering blood sugar levels, and helps reduce the incidence of diabetes. It is also used widely to relieve stress and anxiety.
Cardamom is one of those timeless gifts of nature that has been used in India for thousands of years. Unlike many other herbs, cardamom has an exquisitely pleasant flavor that can elevate any food or drink. Even as a medicine, addition of cardamom can make even bitter doses smell and taste palatable. This amazing spice is truly one of the most prized jewels from India’s rich heritage of ancient wisdom and knowledge. Cardamom is what India’s finest is all about.
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