Cardamom: Queen of Spices

by Jade Shutes

Cardamom: Queen of Spices
Walk gently upon the earth

Falling in love with Cardamom this Autumn Season! When I smell cardamom I feel transported to a place between heaven and earth where my feet touch the earth gently and my mind feels clear and light. It ignites a feeling of attraction, compassion, and kindness. There is a natural warming love which emanates from the self within and gently spreads its wings out to others. The way the cardamom pods grow close to the ground yet remain above it reminds me of being rooted yet not so securely that movement is not possible. The imagery also speaks to me of walking firmly yet gently and lightly upon the earth.  – Jade Shutes

A most beautiful image of cardamom flower can be found here:


Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a leafy perennial herb with hairless leaves neatly arranged along thick fleshy stalks. The attractive flowers are borne at ground level on much-branched flowering stems and they develop into small green, white or brown three-valved capsules, each containing several brown seeds. (Van wyk and Wink)


Cardamom is native to the moist evergreen forests of western Ghats of southern India and has been highly valued as a spice since Ancient times.

The name Elettaria is derived from the root Elettari, which in the popular South Indian language Tamil, means granules of leaf. Cardamom is a member of the Zingiberaceae family which includes over 48 genera and 1200 species including ginger and turmeric. The Zingiberaceae family is a highly aromatic family of plants, with most being prized for their exotic spicy aromas and tastes.

The Elettaria genus has about 7 species although E. cardamomon is the only one considered to be of economic importance. Three varieties of E. cardamomom are recognized: 1/ Malabar characterized by prostrate panicle, 2/ Mysore characterized by erect panicle and 3/Vazhukka which is considered to be a natural hybrid between the two. According to several sources, the Mysore variety is known to contain elevated levels of cineol and limonene. This means that this cardamom has a stronger aroma to it.

Elettaria cardamomum is also called small cardamom to distinguish it from large cardamom which is a different species altogether. Large cardamom is obtained from Amonum subulatum, a species native to Arabia and Syria. Amonum subulatum is commonly referred to as Black cardamom or Greater cardamom and is said to have a much higher cineole content that Elettaria cardamomum, upwards of 70% or more.


The history of Indian spices dates back to the beginning of the human civilization. Spices were inducements for war, voyages, expeditions, and romance and in shaping the course of world events and history. (Korikanthimathm, et al) Cardamon has been used as a medicine and in cooking since ancient times. It enjoys a long and fascinating history dating back to Vedic times, about 3000 years B.C.. The Charaka Samhita and Susrutha Samhita, the ancient Indian Ayurvedic texts, written in the post-Vedic period (1400-1600 BC) make mention of cardamom. Assyrians and Babylonians were also familiar with the uses of cardamom.

Theophrastus, far to the west in Greece, is able to report in 310 BC of cardamom and amomon that ‘some say they come from Iran, others from India, like spikenard and so many other aromatics’. He lists cardamom – and not amomum – among the plant aromatics that were used for perfumes, adding that it was especially suitable for combining with the aroma of cypress. (Dalby)

Spices were the symbols of royalty and luxury and cardamom was used in the manufacture of perfumes during the Greek and Roman times. (Prabhakaran Nair)

I shall keep this section brief as there is much to cover. To learn more about the history of cardamon see reference section.

Current world producers of cardamom include: India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Guatemala


Purchase some organic cardamom pods from a local natural food store or order from Banyan Herbs or Mountain Rose Herbs. **You may want to go ahead and order 4 ounces as this is a wonderful spice to utilize throughout the year and particularly through the winter months. Have your cardamom essential oil out as well.

Take some time to create a sacred moment in your day to sit quietly to experience cardamom.

As you sit in this place take a cardamom pod and gently break open to release the seeds. Place a seed in your mouth, keeping it towards the front teeth and gently bite into the seed. Experience the sensation of cooling yet warming and also the spice note that is released. Experience the aroma in the back of the throat that seemingly extends into the nose. Taste the eucalyptol/camphor notes that are also released. Then swallow the seed bits.

After a few moments, sit with the essential oil of cardamom. Hold a bottle of the oil a few inches from your nose or use a smell strip (whichever you prefer), close your eyes and slowly inhale through the nose. Place one drop on the back of your hand and then lick off, tasting the essential oil of cardamom.

What differences do you note? How did smelling the dried cardamom seeds enhance your perceptions of the cardamom essential oil? How did the essential oil taste compared to the dried seed? Note your observations.


Cardamom essential oil is extracted from the dried seeds, which contain between 4-8% essential oil, via hydrodistillation . The volatile oil can also be extracted via CO2 extraction (Supercritical CO2) and there appears to be growing interest in this method.

CO2 is considered a good technique for the production of flavors and fragrances as the scent is more similar to the starting material than the essential oil obtained via hydro or steam distillation and a variety of other products can be obtained via CO2. (Marongiu, et al. 2004)

The chemistry of the essential oil and the CO2 extract is very similar (Marongiu et al. 2004):

E/O Hydrodistillation chemistry:

  • Major components: 1,8 cineole 27.4%, a-terpinyl acetate 37.7%
  • Other principal components: linalol 6.6%, linalyl acetate 3.3%, sabinene 3%, limonene 3.5%, and a-terpineol 5%.
  • Minor and trace components include: b-pinene, myrcene, terpin-4-ol, geranyl acetate, neral, neryl acetate, geranyl acetate, terpinolene, limonene and several others.

CO2 extraction chemistry:

  • Major components: 1,8 cineole 21-21.4%, a-terpinyl acetate 42.3-44.2%,
  • Other principal components: linalol 5.4%, linalyl acetate 8.2-8.6%, sabinene 3.2-3.1%, limonene 3.7-5.4%, a-terpineol 2.8-3.2%
  • Minor and trace components: very similar to above hydrodistillation components.

The one thing noted about the CO2 extract that was interesting is that even though the CO2 extract is considered to be of better quality as far as its aroma, it deteriorates faster than the distilled essential oil.

NOTE: 1,8 cineole syn. eucalyptol or cajeputol is an oxide and an ether. The name 1,8 refers to the fact that the oxygen atom is bonded to the first and eighth carbon atoms. 1,8 cineole is found in high concentrations in such essential oils as: Eucalyptus species, Laurus nobilis, Lavandula latifolia, Melaleuca quinquenervia, Myrtus communis, Rosmarinus officinalis ct. cineole and Elettaria cardamomum.

1,8 cineole possesses noted antiviral activity, antitussive effects (relieves coughs), bronchodilator effects (help open the bronchial tubes (airways) of the lungs, allowing more air to flow through them), mucolytic and mucociliary effects (mucolytics break down or dissolve mucus and thus facilitate the easier removal of these secretions from the respiratory tract by the ciliated epithelium, a process known as mucociliary clearance) and anti-inflammatory activity. 1,8 cineole also has positive effects on lung function parameters whether for the common cold or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Harris, 2007)

The alpha-terpinyl acetate is said to be responsible for the mildly herbaceous, sweet, spicy variation in aroma and mild spicy taste. (Parthasarathy, et al., 2008)


The Aroma of Cardamom: Psychological and Spiritual affects

The aroma of cardamon essential oil is warm-spicy, sweet, somewhat floral and camphoraceous. Cardamom’s aroma can be intoxicating. Its nature is to clear what is muddled, confused, weighted down and/or heavy. Clears the mind from over thinking, creating a peaceful place to make decisions. When combined with Ylang ylang, cardamom makes a highly beneficial oil for alleviating or reducing feelings of depression or self worthlessness. Cardamom can also have a rejuvenating effect on those who feel exhausted by the challenges of life or support altering a perception that ‘life is difficult’.

According to Pole (2006), cardamom is very high in sattva and prana. It regulates the flow of prana in the digestive tract which also means it regulates the flow of prana in how we digest our perceptions of the world and how we assimilate them.


Cardamom has traditionally been used for its aphrodisiac, digestive, carminative and flavoring properties. Cardamon has a special affinity for the mucosa of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. (Wood)

Core therapeutic actions include: Carminative, Digestive, Antispasmodic, Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic, Antiemetic

Cardamom as both a herb and essential oil are indicated for: Colds, coughs, bronchitis, foggy thinking, chronic indigestion with bloating, nausea, belching, indigestion from stress/tension, upper respiratory tract infection, and nerve weakness.

Cardamom is considered to be a plant remedy traditionally used as an aromatic remedy and thus is indicated for colic, flatulence, congestive dyspepsia, and catarrh and bronchial congestion. (Mills and Bone)



In Ayurvedic medicine cardamom, known as Ela in Sanskrit, is utilized to stimulate digestion, alleviate intestinal spasms and pain, to stop coughing, to increase sexual potency, relieve hiccups, prevent nausea and to redirect the flow of vata downwards. The herb is considered to be very high in sattva and prana, regulating the flow of prana in the digestive tract, specifically samana and apana vayu. (Pole, 2006)

The herb and essential oil, according to Ayurveda, are: cooling, pungent, sweet, light and dry. (note: in western herbalism, cardamom is considered warming)

It helps to regulate samana vayu and direct apana vayu downwards and is thus indicated for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, burping and acidity. (Lad and Frawley, 1986)

In Ayurvedic medicine cardamom is indicated for:

  • Weak digestion, bloating, flatulence, colic, intestinal pain and indigestion
  • Cough with mucus and asthma with wheezing
  • Clears avalambaka kapha and regulates vata (Pole, 2006)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

In TCM, cardamom would be indicated for ‘damp’ conditions affecting assimilative functions (represented by the Spleen in TCM). Symptoms include abdominal and thoracic congestion (sometimes associated with cough and breathlessness), loss of appetite and loose stools. (Mills and Bones)

Dosages of the herb:

  • Tea: 2-3 pods (remove seeds and steep in hot water, do not boil), 3 to 4 cups daily.
  • Traditionally, the typical dose of cardamom is 1.5 grams of the ground seeds per day.
  • As a digestive, a tea prepared from 1 teaspoon of freshly crushed cardamom seeds infused in 1 cup boiled water for 10-15 minutes has been used.
  • Tincture: 1 to 10ml of a 1:3@45% tincture (Pole)
  • Essential oil: Use in mixture with other oils or on its own at .5 to 15% dilution in carrier


  • Considered non-toxic when used appropriately.


Soothing warm milk with cardamom

  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamon seeds, powdered or just the seeds will do too!
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 to 2 cups milk

Warm in sauce pan. Once warm, let stand for a few minutes and then pour into cup/s. Enjoy. Good right before bedtime especially for little ones. In the winter months, if a cold is coming on, you can add 1/8 – 1/4 tsp tumeric powder.

Image-14.26-Ylang-ylangAphrodisiac Massage Oil

  • 1oz Organic Jojoba oil with:
  • 5 drops Ginger Zingiber officinale
  • 6 drops Ylang ylang      Cananga odorata
  • 3 drops Cinnamon leaf     Cinnamomum zeylanicum
  • 6 drops Mandarin      Citrus reticulata
  • 4 drops Cardamom   Elettaria cardamomum


  • 1oz vanilla infused jojoba oil
  • 7 drops Ylang ylang     Cananga odorata
  • 10 drops Cardamom    Elettaria cardamomum
  • 5 drops Bergamot        Citrus bergamia
  • 3 drops Jatamansi      Nardostachys jatamansi

Enkindle the digestive fire: massage oil

  • 1 ounce sesame oil
  • 14 drops Cardamom    Elettaria cardamomum
  • 10 drops Fennel         Foeniculum vulgare
  • 7 drops Coriander      Coriandrum sativum

Combine and apply on the reflex zones for digestion on the feet and abdominal massage along the colon. Drink tea below to support this blend.

fennelcardcorianCardamom, Coriander, Fennel Tea (Recipe from Maya Tiwari’s Ayurveda: A life in balance) She writes that the three herbs included in this recipe combine to form the sweet, bitter, and pungent tastes. Coriander and fennel have a cooling tendency while cardamom is heating. This combination makes a good year-round brew. Excellent for balancing pitta.

  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom seeds
  • 1/4 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup

Place seeds in warmed container (e.g. canning jar) and cover with boiling water. Steep for 5-10 minutes. Strain with fine mesh strainers and add maple syrup of unrefined brown sugar, if desired.

Cramps be-gone

  • 1 ounce jojoba
  • 8 drops Clary sage      Salvia sclarea
  • 17 drops Cardamom      Elettaria cardamomum
  • 6 drops Sweet marjoram     Origanum marjorana

Respiratory health synergy for diffusor
  • 18 drops Cardamom         Elettaria cardamomum
  • 6 drops Cinnamon leaf       Cinnamomum zeylanicum
  • 7 drops Thymus vulgaris ct. linalol or thymol

Autumn Cardamom Salt Scrub

Combine two cups of sea salt with:

  • 14 drops Cardamom         Elettaria cardamomum
  • 7 drops Juniper berry      Juniperus communis
  • 10 drops Grapefruit        Citrus paradisi

and enough Jojoba or Sesame oil to ‘wet’ the salts.
Stir together and place in jar to store.

Love love massage oil: for autumn self abhyanga

  • 1 ounce organic jojoba
  • 7 drops Ginger       Zingiber officinale
  • 4 drops Rose         Rosa damascena
  • 7 drops Cardamom       Elettaria cardamomum

Deep enlightening meditation synergy

  • 20 drops Cardamom       Elettaria cardamomum
  • 7 drops Jatamansi          Nardostachys jatamansi
  • 5 drops Angelica root     Angelica archangelica

Cough syrup (with excess kapha/mucus)

  • 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 1 water (or more if desired)
  • 8 drops Cardamom       Elettaria cardamomum
  • 3 drops Cypress          Cupressus sempervirens
  • 2 drops Cinnamon leaf       Cinnamomum zeylanicum


  1. Al-Zuhair H, El-Sayeh B, Ameen H A, Al-Shoora H. Pharmacological studies of Cardamom oil in Animals. Pharmacological Research, Vol. 34, No. 1/2, 1996.
  2. Dalby, A. Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.
  3. Harris, B. 1,8 cineole – a component of choice for respiratory pathologies. International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy 4:1, 2007.
  4. Lad V and Frawley D. (1986). The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press.
  5. Mills, S., and Bone, K. (2000). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. London: Churchill Livingstone.
  6. Marongiu B, Piras A, and Porcedda S. Comparative Analysis of the Oil and Supercritical CO2 Extract of Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2004, 52, 6278-6282.
  7. Prabhakaran Nair, KP. The Agronomy and Economy of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum: The Queen of Spices. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, India
  8. Parthasarathy V A, Chempakam B, and Zachariah T J (2008). Chemistry of Spices. United Kingdom, CABI publisher.
  9. Pole, S. (2006). Ayurvedic Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
  10. Van Wyk, B., and Wink, M. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World. Oregon: Timber Press.
  11. Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.


Image of Cardamom flower can be seen here: Botanical image

Additional resources or sites of interest:

Some more history:

Interesting videos:

This is a really interesting video although they are speaking in their native language. It is interesting to watch and observe the amount of work that goes into growing and harvesting cardamom.