Cardamom – The Queen of Spices

My favorite spice in the house!

Cardamom is the Queen of Spices and has grown lavishly under the tropical canopy on hillsides in the Ghat Mountains on the Malabar Coast of southern India to be harvested by hand and shipped around the world.  The cardamom familiar to India and the western world is called green cardamom and it, along with several other types such as giant cardamom, black cardamom, and bastard cardamom, have been used for cooking, perfumery, incense, and medicine since very early in history.

cardamom lotion

Ancient Egyptians used it frequently for perfume along with frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon and cassia, and had a recipe for an ointment called “Oil of Lilies” that included the scent from 1000 lilies. It is often mentioned as one of the ingredients of the ancient incense kyphi. Cardamom essential oil is one of the oldest essential oils known in perfumery and in the apothecary. Cardamom  is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla.

Why is cardamom called the Queen of the Spices? Maybe it is its association with queens. The large-leaved plant with purple and white flowers had a place in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The terraced garden was built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife who was homesick. Cleopatra burnt cardamom incense whenever Mark Antony visited.

Eletteria cardamomum is the popular green cardamom and has an exotic aroma with warm, spicy and highly aromatic nuances.  There is an initial sharp camphor note, somewhat like eucalyptus, that quickly evolves to a sweet, spicy-woody, balsamic scent that can have lovely floral tones.  It can be long-lasting in a blend and must be used with skill so that it doesn’t overwhelm a perfume or add too much sharpness. The warmth and sweetness of cardamom can provide a lovely backdrop to floral perfumes such as muguet and rose scents. It also warms Oriental perfume bases and is used in the heart notes of chypres perfumes. Although it is called the Queen of Spices, it is a favorite ingredient in masculine scents. Cardamom is available as an essential oil but there is also a solvent-extracted absolute and a CO2 extraction.

cardamom aromatherapyIn the company of the King of Spices, black pepper, cardamom was an important commodity of the early spice trade that also transported frankincense, myrrh and other resins and precious aromatics. Caravans with as many as 4,000 camels would carry treasures of the East in the form of spices to markets in Babylon, Carthage, Alexandria, and Rome.  Later traders would sail ships along the Indian Coast and through the Red Sea into Egypt and thus through the rest of the world. The Spice Route was second in importance only to the Silk Road and the spices it transported were often as valuable, or more so than gold or precious metals. In addition to Arab and Portuguese traders, the Vikings discovered cardamom on one of their raids and brought it back to Scandinavia where they enjoyed it in festival cakes.  According to The Economist the spice trade, founded on spices like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, has been the foundation of the world economy’s oldest, deepest, and most aromatic roots.

Cardamom plants require very warm and humid climates and are perfect understory plants for humid mountainsides. As a member of the Ginger family, they also have tall leaves, thick rhizomes, and a unique flower. The flower stalk or panicle comes out from the base of the plant and in the Malabar variety will grow along the ground but there is also a Mysore variety that has vertical panicles. Cardamom plants will bear seeds in pods clustered near the ground and continue bearing for 10-15 years. The seeds need to be gathered at exactly the right time, if too early the pods will shrivel and if too late they will shatter. They are then dried, traditionally in the sun but sometimes by fire or in traditional hot houses. The pods are naturally green and, if dried correctly, will retain a green color.  However, some markets prefer a light colored pod and producers will bleach cardamom pods to achieve a creamy or golden yellow color to the husk. Outside of India and Asia, Guatemala is a big producer of much of the world’s cardamom.

cardamom cakeThe Queen of Spices is best used in sweet dishes such as pastries, cakes, and baked goods; however it is often used in some meat dishes and curries where the spices are mild. It’s an important ingredient in the spice mix garam masala.  There is a Bedouin coffee called Gahwah that is made with freshly crushed green pods and often combined with mace, nutmeg, and/or saffron. In many Arabic countries, cardamom is symbolic of welcoming (traditionally male) guests; there is a ritual to making the coffee and  cardamom is closely associated with hospitality. The green coffee beans are first roasted and powdered with mortar and pestle then the cardamom pods are broken and dropped into the pot with the coffee.  Often the blend may be as much as half cardamom and half coffee or more.  Its common use with coffee in hot climates reflects the belief in the cooling properties of the spice. It is believed that Arabs consume one-half of the world’s cardamom annually.

Cardamom is frequently used to aid in digestion, and is often consumed after a meal as a breath freshener and digestive aid; it may even prevent tooth decay . The seeds have a distinctive tingling feel on the tongue when chewed and a tenacious sweet aroma.  Many people chew cardamom to freshen the breath and, in Sweden, it is thought to mask the residual aroma of too many alcoholic drinks. It’s used in over 30 traditional Chinese medicines and is a famous Ayurveda medicinal plant for digestive disorders, for detoxifying, stimulating the senses and may benefit those suffering from asthma or bronchitis.

It is called Ela “golden grains of paradise” in Sanskrit and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts,  as well as during the Vedic period (about 3000 BC). Cardamom has been used for thousands of years for its sexual powers. It is known in many cultures to have aphrodisiac properties and is included in the ingredients to be poured in “the sacrificial fire on the occasion of a Hindu marriage ceremony.” Asian cultures use cardamom as nature’s Viagra- to cure impotency and premature ejaculation.

The 1001 Arabian Nights makes frequent reference to cardamom’s use as an aphrodisiac.One might associate it with Venus but it is more closely allied with Mars due to its warming and stimulating effect.   But it is Mars exhibiting a lighter, feminine side with sweet heat.  It is frequently found in women’s love charms, or perhaps more accurately ‘lust charms’. Ancient Romans used cardamom to stimulate desire.  Does cardamom sweeten the words of love and soften the heart of the other?  Add some cardamom spice to your life and find out!

Cardamom Tea

Cardamom has many health benefits from detoxification, oral health, digestion. Usually, it’s the seeds in the cardamom pods that hold flavor and you can remove the seeds and then blend to have a powder, but I felt that using the pods/ shells reduces the work, later you can sieve it to get a fine powder.
cardamom tea
HOW TO MAKE CARDAMOM POWDER

Prep time – 10 mins
Makes – 1 and 1/4 cup cardamom powder
Storing suggestion – in an air-tight container at room temperature

Ingredients

Cardamom seeds- 1/2 cup
Sugar – 3/4 Th cup

Method

Using a mixer blend the sugar and cardamom pods for 3-4 minutes giving an interval of 30 seconds every minute. This is to avoid the mixer becoming really hot. later sieve this powder to grind again, let it cool down completely. Store in an air-tight container and use as and when required.


HOW TO MAKE CARDAMOM TEA/ ELACHI CHAI / YELLAKAI TEA

Ingredients

Tea powder – 3 teaspoons ( I used Taj Mahal Gold)
Water – 1/2 cup
Cardamom powder – 1 tsp
Milk – 1 and 12 cup
Sugar – 3 tsp (as required)

Method

In a saucepan bring water to a boil, add tea powder and let it boil further for a minute, now add milk, let it boil, add the sugar and cardamom powder and switch off

Serve hot along with crisps or snacks

Cooks Wisdom

  • You can remove the shells of the cardamom and use only the seeds to make a fine powder
  • Tea can be made with boiling tea powder in milk or with water and then adding milk. Since I used full-fat milk I used water to make the tea
  • Store the cardamom powder in a moisture free air tight jar for long life.

Cardamom {Elettaria cardamomum}

Also, Known As:

  • Bastard Cardamom
  • Cardamom
  • Cardamom Seeds
  • Cardamon
  • Ela
  • Elaci
  • Malabar Cardamom
  • Sha-ren

Queen of the Spices.

The plant is one of the oldest known spices in the world. The ancient Egyptians made extensive use of the cardamom in the manufacture of perfumes and cosmetics. However, the use of the cardamom as an herbal medicine is not as well known as its use in culinary and cosmetic preparations. In the Indian system of medication known as Ayurveda medicine, cardamom is utilized in the preparations of many remedies. The cardamom has been used for thousands of years in India as a medicine mainly employed as an excellent remedy for the treatment of many different digestive problems, particularly to help soothe indigestion and excess abdominal gas. The pungent and aromatic taste of the cardamom ensures that it combines well with other useful herbs in the preparation of herbal medicine.

Cardamom is a spice scented herb-like plant that grows perennially and up to a height of anything between 2 meters and 4 meters. The leaves of this herbaceous plant appear alternately in two levels, are straight and lance-shaped, growing up to 40 cm to 60 cm in length and having elongated sharp tips. The color of cardamom blooms vary from white to lilac or light violent and they appear on loose spikes that are about 30 cm to 60 cm in length. Cardamom fruits are three-sided pods that measure about 1 cm to 2 cm in length. These pods have a yellowish-green hue and each of them encloses many black seeds.

The seeds of the cardamom plant, which is indigenous to Southeast Asia, especially India, are used to make a spice. The cardamom plant is a member of the Zingiberaceae family and genuine cardamom is grouped as Elettaria cardamomum. The seeds are used to make a spice that is heady as well as aromatic and people in Europe have been using this spice since roughly 1214 A.D. while people in India have been using it for a very long time. Currently, cardamom is grown in several parts of the world, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Central America, Mexico, and Guatemala. Besides adding essence to foods, cardamom is also used to prepare traditional medicines.

cardamom_a natural perspective

The typical firm cardamom seeds that are used in the form of a spice are sold in their pods, after removing the seeds from the pods or most commonly after pounding the seeds to make a powder. The texture of the cardamom seed pods are akin to that of a rough paper and can be bought a split or as a whole. Ideally, you should buy the whole pods because when bought otherwise, the spice may give up its essence very quickly. Cardamom is a very well liked herb in India, where the plants grow naturally in the forests and are available in two major types – Malabar and Mysore, both names of well-known cities in south India. The Mysore variety encloses additional limonene as well as cineol, which makes this type of cardamom extremely fragrant.

Since cardamom is an extremely aromatic spice, it is preferred by chefs for preparing baked items, especially used in sweet bread. Its flavor is so strong that cardamom may also be used to add essence to teas and coffees. Occasionally, people in south Asia use cardamom to give flavor to entrees, counting a number of biryani varieties and also pilaf rice. In addition to its culinary use, cardamom is also used in an assortment of traditional medications all over Asia and is known to be excellent for promoting digestion, keeping the teeth clean and also counteracting certain varieties of poison.

In present times, cardamom is primarily used in food preparation and medicines, but this is definitely an ancient herb having several historical utilities. In ancient times, it is said that the Egyptians chewed cardamom with a view to cleansing their teeth while the Romans and Greeks used this herb in the form of a perfumed substance. Interestingly, the Vikings came to know about this herb when they first visited Constantinople approximately 1000 years back and they later took the herb to Scandinavia, where it continues to be popular even today.

It is worth mentioning here that cardamom is among the most costly spices anywhere across the globe. In addition to cardamom, only vanilla and saffron are sold regularly at elevated prices. Usually, it is difficult to find genuine cardamom, as unscrupulous traders adulterate this spice by mixing other substances. A number of low-quality substances, which are sold as genuine cardamom, including Siam, Nepal as well as winged Java cardamom, have flooded the market.

Plant Part Used:

Seeds.

Herbal Remedy Using Cardamom:

cardamom teaThe cardamom was one of the most valued spices in the ancient world and it was one of the principal items of trade. The ancient Greeks around the 4th century B.C. highly valued the cardamom as a culinary spice and as a base for herbal medicines. Trade in cardamom was an important part of the trade links between the India and the Mediterranean region.
In the ancient world, remedies made from the cardamom were used to bring relief from digestive problems, the historical uses of the cardamom in this respect include its use particularly in the treatment of problems such as indigestion, excess abdominal gas, and to bring relief from muscular cramps. Many other herbal digestive remedies were flavored using the cardamom, as the herb possesses a very pleasant taste and aroma, the delicate and nice flavor aids in suppressing the bad taste of less palatable but effective herbal remedies. In the ancient world, it was an additive to many medications.
The Indians have used the cardamom in herbal medications since ancient times for treating various conditions, these problems include disorders such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, problems like kidney stones, disorders such as anorexia, debility, and a weakened vata. Indians also use the cardamom extensively as a spice; it is used as a flavoring in many delicious Indian foods. The ancient medical system of China also included the cardamom in its herbal repertoire, in traditional Chinese medicine, the cardamom is used in the treatment of urinary incontinence and as a general herbal tonic.
One very effective use of the cardamom is its effective alleviation of bad breath. Cardamom also helps to mask the flavor of herbs such as the garlic, helping to suppress the pungent and strong aroma of the garlic. One long-standing reputation of the cardamom herb is its aphrodisiac effect.

Habitat of Cardamom:

cardamon flowersThe cardamom is an indigenous south Asian plant, growing in southern India and the island of Sri Lanka. In these tropical areas, the cardamom can be found teeming in forests at elevations of 2,500 ft – 5,000 ft – about 800 m – 1,500 m – above mean sea level. These days, cultivation of the cardamom at a commercial level occurs in India, in other tropical South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, in South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, and in tropical areas of Latin America like the country of Guatemala in Central America. The seed of the cardamom is the main method of propagation for this herb in commercial plantations. The seeds are sown in the fall, alternately, the plants are also propagated by root division method in the spring and summer seasons. Cardamom plants require shaded sites to grow well; such sites must have rich and moist soils that must also be well drained without the risk of water logging. Cardamom spice is actually the seedpods of the cardamom plant; these seed pods are harvested just before they begin to open in the dry weather during the fall. Collected seedpods are then dried by spreading them out in full sunlight for several days.

Research:

The volatile oil found in the cardamom was found to possess a potent antispasmodic effect during the course of research conducted on the herb in the 1960’s. This result of the clinical research confirmed the effectiveness of the cardamom herb in relieving gas and its use in treating colic and muscular cramps.

Components:

Cardamom contains volatile oil (borneol, camphor, pinene, humulene, caryophyllene, carvone, eucalyptol, terpinene, sabinene).

Infusion Of Cardamom:

Cardamom herbal infusion: this infusion can be prepared by using a cup of water to boil, a teaspoonful of the freshly crushed cardamom seeds, the herb must be allowed to infuse into the water for ten to fifteen minutes before it is cooled, strained and used as a remedy. The herbal infusion can be used thrice daily in the treatment of different disorders. The infusion can be used in the treatment of problems such as flatulence or a sudden loss of appetite; the ideal time to drink the infusion is thirty minutes before meal time.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

cardamom-botany

The use of cardamom hardly results in any undesirable side effects. However, sometimes cardamom seeds are likely to result in a condition known as allergic contact dermatitis. In addition, seeds of cardamom may possibly also activate gallstone colic (simply speaking, spasmodic pain) and it is advisable that people having gallstones should not use cardamom as a self-medication. While not much research has been undertaken on this particular aspect of cardamom, use of this spice may possibly enhance the chances of hemorrhages. Hence, people who are already taking medicines that may augment bleeding risks should use cardamom with great caution.

In addition, pregnant women or nursing mothers should also avoid cardamom as there is an absence of sufficient evidence regarding the safety of using this herb during these conditions. Besides, everyone should be especially careful to keep away from ingesting cardamom in amounts that exceed its normal content in food products.

As mentioned earlier, cardamom has the potential to enhance the chances of bleeding. Theoretically speaking, this hazard may augment further if cardamom is ingested in conjunction with different herbs and/ or supplements that also possess the aptitude to enhance the chances of hemorrhages. There have been several reports of hemorrhages following the use of the herb ginkgo Biloba and two specific incidences of bleeding after taking saw palmetto with cardamom. Hypothetically, using several other substances together with cardamom may possibly enhance bleeding risks. However, this hypothesis is yet to be established in the majority of the incidents.

Cardamom has the potential to obstruct the manner in which our body processes specific herbs as well as supplements making use of the cytochrome P-450 enzyme secreted by the liver. Consequently, this may temporarily enhance the intensity of these medications in our bloodstream resulting in augmented consequences or possibly a number of grave unfavorable reactions. In addition, in the long-term, it may also lessen the levels of these medications in the bloodstream.

It is likely that using cardamom may result in antispasmodic consequences. Hence, it is advisable that people who are already using herbs and supplements or even muscarinic agents having antispasmodic effects should use cardamom very cautiously.

 Harvesting Cardamom Seeds:

Cardamom seeds are principally obtained from commercial plantations found in Sri Lanka or in the Southern Indian states. In these areas, the cardamom crop is harvested in the fall, from October to early December. Most of the world’s cardamom supplies come from India and Sri Lanka.