Known as the Queen of Spices, cardamon or elaichi, is one of the most common spices in South Asian cuisine; as well as widely consumed around the world. Cardamom is an aromatic spice with sweet yet floral profile which has been used for centuries to flavour foods and drinks. Beyond its pleasant smell, cardamom has numerous health benefits and has been extensively used as a natural healing aid.

cardamom pods and ground

Origin of Cardamom

Cardamom is native to moist forests of south India and is believed to be cultivated there some 4000 years ago. Cardamom was used by ancient Egyptians for its medicinal and aromatic properties as healing agent, and part of the religious and embalming rituals. 

Like many other spices, Greeks and Romans also adapted cardamom into their diets and medical practices. Ayurvedic and ancient Chinese practices used this spice as a remedy for tooth and gum infections, throat aches, congestion, treating inflammation within the lungs, eyelids and kidneys. Cardamom was also utilized to alleviate gastrointestinal disorder, gallbladder stones and used as an antidote for poisons and venoms.

In 1914, cardamom plants were brought to Guatemala by a German coffee planter Oscar Majus Kloeffer. Today, Guatemala is the largest producer of the spice in the world, surpassing India in year 2000. 

What is Cardamom?

Cardamom is related to ginger, turmeric and galangal; which are part of flowering plant of Zingiberaceae family. Native to south east Asian countries such as India, Bhutan, Nepal and Indonesia, cardamon is one of the most commonly consumed spices worldwide.

Cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices, surpassed only by saffron and vanilla.  The plant produces pods or capsules containing between 15 to 20 seeds inside. These seeds are often ground and used in cooking or natural medicine recipes. Though there are several versions of cardamom, the two main types commercially available:

  • green or true cardamom are small plant pods known as Elettaria cardamomum and,
  • black or winged cardamom are of larger variety known as Amomum subulatun.

Green cardamom is more prevalent within Indian cooking as black cardamom is commonly used in Nepalese and other Eastern Himalayas cuisines. Both types have been used in traditional Ayurvedic and Unani medicinal practices.[1]

The resin of essential oil inside cardamom seeds contains numerous bioactive ingredients within three compound classes: Terpenes, Flavonoids and Propanoids. Terpenes are the fragrant compound, in particular alpha-terpinyl acetate and 1,8-cineole produce the unique aroma of cardamom.[1]  As with many spices, the terpenes, flavonoids and propanoids found in cardamom possess numerous antioxidant properties.

Because of its aroma, cardamom oil is used to flavour pharmaceuticals and added to perfumes, soaps, detergents and other body care products.

Cardamom is rich in manganese—an important element for the body’s numerous processes including: producing bone, connective tissue and sex hormones; as well as playing roles in brain activity, fat metabolism, calcium absorption and nerve function, and blood sugar regulation.

Powerful Benefits of Cardamom

Antioxidant and Detox Properties

The body’s numerous metabolic reactions naturally produce free radicals and release toxins which may cause damage to other internal molecules, compounds and cells. Furthermore, number of environmental factors such as diet, smoking, poor air quality and others, increase our free-radical production leading to oxidative stress. Many of severe and life threatening diseases including forms of dementia, diabetes and cancers have recently been attributed to increase in oxidative stress. This is where antioxidants play an important role by reacting with free radicals and neutralizing their effect. 

Cardamom is full of powerful active compounds such as vitamins, phytonutrients and essential oils and ranks #39 on the ORAC essential oil scale for antioxidant value among all of the foods and beverages across the world.[2]

Compared to other spices, bioactive ingredient amounts are not as high in cardamom. However, the amount present are powerful and shown to have significant potential against several biochemical and cell damaging processes, including skin cancer.[3] 

Fights Oral Bacteria and Bad Breath

Cardamom is commonly used as a natural breath freshener. The locals in South East Asia simply chew the seeds within cardamon pods, extracting essential oils along with fragrant fragrance. This is by no accident, as some studies revealed antibacterial effects of cardamon extracts against common oral strains.[4] 

An active ingredient cineole, found in cardamom oil has been shown as a strong antiseptic, stopping bacterial growth.[5] Both cardamom types (green and black) demonstrated bacterial fighting abilities against cavity-causing microorganisms commonly found in the human mouth.[6]

Helps Fight Bacterial and Fungi Infections

The antibacterial properties of cardamon expand beyond countering bad breath. Laboratory testing showed green cardamom extract to inhibit growth of several candida yeast cultures. Essential oil from black cardamom was also impressively effective against the growth of many bacterial and fungal species. [7,8] Though the mechanism is not fully understood, it is believed that active ingredients found in cardamom’s essential oils interfere with proteins inside bacterial membranes, leading to organism’s inactivity and death. [9,10]

Reduces Muscle and Joint Pain

Throughout Ayurvedic practices, cardamom has been used for muscle and joint pain. Irregular neural signal cause fatigue, leading painful muscle contractions and spasms, often seen in older generations. Cardamom research revealed number of bioactive ingredients possessing anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.[11] In animal studies, cardamom’s anti-inflammatory ingredients have been shown to be effective in decreasing muscle pain and spasms. [12,13]

Improves Digestive Health

As mentioned before, cardamom has been widely used in South Asian cuisines to not only flavour the dishes but improve overall digestion. [14] Research shows cardamom to enhance secretion of stomach’s bile acid, further enhancing overall digestive process. [15] Due to number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds found in cardamom’s extract, it also stimulates overall metabolism, while preventing other gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux, heartburn, stomach cramps and diarrhea. [16] This healing ability is believed to come from the same bioactive compounds that reduce muscular spasms, as the stomach line is largely made from smooth muscle cells. [13,17]

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition where digestion is somehow impaired. The symptoms may include: upper abdominal pain, abdominal fullness, heartburn, nausea, belching and sometimes can be painful. Indigestion can also be a symptom of stomach ulcers, which are inflated lining of the stomach. Researchers found that cardamom’s anti-inflammatory ingredients reduced aspirin and alcohol induced ulcer formation, by decreasing inflammatory protein levels (TNF-alpha) and their activity.[18] Tumor necrosis factor (or TNF for short) is one of the main cell signalling protein families for the immune system. TNF activates natural response causing inflammation to fight off foreign damaged cells or infections. The foreign invaders cause TNF levels to rise, bringing a surge of inflammatory immune response. But, constant stress maintains elevated TNF levels resulting in chronic inflammation resulting in hyperactivity and damage of healthy or un-infected tissue. So, by decreasing TNF-alpha concentrations, you’re also decreasing overall inflammation.

Improves Liver Health

Cardamom extracts contain powerful antioxidant properties and have been used as natural detox agents. Liver is the main detoxification organ that uses numerous specific enzymes to process, filter and remove body’s byproducts and toxins. Because of such highly specific and complex function, liver is often subjected to various levels of stress, leading to greater production of free radicals. If not addressed, that stress can become chronic or oxidative in nature, leading metabolic imbalance between body’s free radicals and antioxidant levels. In the liver, free radicals attack and cause damage to cellular proteins, lipids and DNA, destroying these molecules and compounds, as well as disrupting or decreasing overall functionality of the organ. The free radical influx creates an immune response and release of several signalling proteins called cytokines. These cytokines such as transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) are important parts of the immune system but, in large quantities can lead to destruction of healthy tissue. In the liver, this type of immune response that is chronic in nature can lead to several diseases. Research shows that various antioxidants found in food are shown to decrease anti-inflammation—restoring antioxidant capacity and improving liver diseases.[19]

Animal studies show, a three month treatment with black cardamom resulted in an increase of antioxidant enzymes and improved liver function overall. [20] Furthermore, black cardamom supplementation increased liver activity of animals on high-carbohydrate and high-fat diet.[21]

Similar positive effects have been seen with green cardamom supplementation which increased antioxidant enzymes inside the liver such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione (GHS), and glutathione S-transferase (GST).[22]

Reduces Asthma

Asthma is a condition where the smooth muscle cells within the airway are hypersensitive or inflamed, leading to restriction of the area. For centuries, cardamom has been used as a natural remedy to treat respiratory illnesses including asthma. Anti-inflammatory ingredients within green cardamom extract were investigated and have been shown to reduce overall allergic response, by improving overall messaging sequence (of calcium ion channels) resulting in relaxation of the airway smooth muscles.[22]

Majority of studies come from animal studies, and further human trials are needed to determine exact extent of cardamom’s ability to effect asthma in people.

May Help Fight Cancer

The same powerful antioxidant compounds that have produced numerous health benefits throughout the body, may also possess cancer fighting abilities. This is a fast developing research area, where cardamom continues to be tested on variety of cancer cell types.  

Recent animal studies showed cardamom supplementation was effective in decreasing, delaying or even preventing the growth of number of tumors, and may prevent skin and stomach cancers.[23] The active compounds that have shown anti-cancer abilities are terpene category compounds — limonene, cineole and gamma-Bisabolene.[24] These compounds were shown to decrease overall inflammation, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells and initiates their cell death (apoptosis).[25,26,27]

Above mentioned bioactive components of green cardamom were shown to protect against DNA damage from free radials. This includes preventing free radicals from attacking lipids imbedded in cell walls; while increasing activity of antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione (GSH). Research into cardamom’s active compounds identified messaging network of protein-protein interactions within serval pathways which not only protect DNA and initiate cancer cells self-deaths but, also increase the activity of natural killer cells. 

Active ingredients within cardamom oil have been shown to protect DNA against cancer damage and increase natural killer (NK) cell response through several protein messaging pathways. An important component of immune response, NK cells are highly evolved with abilities to develop specific memories to many types of infections and tumors, as well as identify and destroy stressed cells which have not yet been exposed to pathogens (and have not yet developed antibodies). [28,29,30,31]

Improves Heart Health and Lowers Blood Pressure

Cardamom’s nutrient profile spans beyond just antioxidant phytonutrients which improve conditions for better blood circulation, lower blood sugar levels and overall lower cholesterol levels. Cardamom contains fiber, which helps with digestive health and lowering of overall cholesterol. Both cardamom types show strong benefits when it comes to heart health. The antioxidant terpene compounds in black cardamom are shown to lower blood plasma lipids, preventing blood clots from forming in animals with metabolic syndrome.[32]

Heart pumps blood throughout the body, which is a crucial component of delivering gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide), nutrients (glucose), dissolved proteins, clotting factors, lipids, electrolytes and hormones to name a few. If the body needs to activate an organ, transport food to tissues, or communicate specific instructions—blood plasma is the vehicle that transports or relays such important tasks. Coagulation is an important feature of blood plasma, where it thickens into gel like substance, sealing the cut and stopping foreign infection from coming in.  These blood clotting proteins are also capable of doing the same inside arteries and veins of the circulatory system. This natural process that prevents blood clots is know as fibrinolysis. Present day environmental factors, Western diet and daily stressors produce more free radicals that lead to elevated internal damage and oxidative stress. This also happens to blood plasma as the body’s fibrinolysis process falls behind, and if not fixed, may result in number of blood related diseases.

Green cardamom has been studied in people as well as test tube experiments where human blood plasma proteins were investigated for fibrinolysis. Green cardamom extract improved fibrinolysis and antioxidant levels; while decreased mean blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).[33] Human blood platelets also showed less clotting and damage caused by oxidative stress when treated with green cardamom extract.[34] Moreover, being a natural diuretic, cardamom helps the body control inflammation through management of various electrolyte ions by enhancing calcium ion channels while excreting sodium and potassium through urination. The overall process relaxes blood vessels, as seen in animal studies.[35]

Helps Fight Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster or an umbrella term for several conditions including: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abdominal obesity, high blood triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia) and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol”.  HDLs remove excess fat molecules like cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids from cells and transport them to liver where these lipids are reduced, reused and recycled. HDLs also decrease plaque buildup inside arteries (atherosclerosis), a condition that can lead to vascular diseases, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke. Metabolic syndrome is closely associated with insulin resistance and excessive weight gain, placing such individuals at higher risk of developing CVD and type 2 diabetes (T2B). [36]

Scientific studies discovered that cardamom’s powerful antioxidant compounds improve metabolic syndrome conditions. Small animals with metabolic syndrome (due to high-fat and high-carbohydrate diet) improved their liver and heart function while losing body weight when given a course of black cardamom supplementation. The black cardamom appeared to perform better than the green counterpart. The blood work in these animals also improved with decreased triglyceride and lower blood pressure.[21] 

In a recent study, green cardamom showed its anti-inflammatory might when given to obese and glucose intolerant animals. The results showed improvement in number of metabolic markers including: significantly lowering blood sugar (impaired glucose tolerance – or IGT), decreasing fat levels (including cholesterol, phospholipids and triglycerides) in blood and liver.  The powerful antioxidant properties of cardamom restored number of important antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and glutathione (GSH)—important factors in fighting oxidative stress. These animals also lost body fat as the results of cardamom experiment.[37]

Lowers Bad Cholesterol

Due to it’s well known antioxidant properties, cardamom has been investigated for involvement in blood health and lipid management. For starters, cardamom contains fiber which enhances overall heart health and helps lower cholesterol levels. 

Modern diet often contains high fat content which negatively impact blood circulation and some metabolic processes. High levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), sometimes referred to as “bad cholesterol” have been associated with number of problems including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and coronary artery disease. LDLs carry fats (such as cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids) around the body to designated cells. However, LDLs can be damaged through oxidation when they enter endothelium (a thin cell line that covers interior of blood vessels). Oxidized LDL particles get stuck in these arterial cell walls, and if not cleared begin to gather more debris, eventually progressing into full atherosclerosis.[38]

Cardamom is a rich source of manganese, an important component in managing high blood sugar levels. Recent animal study found that manganese within cardamom has great potential for combatting early signs of diabetes, by not only reducing blood sugar levels but also decreasing LDL levels compared to control group.[39] Cardamom and cholesterol have also been extensively studied on people. Green cardamom powder produced a gradual 25 percent decrease of LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides reductions in hypertensive patients over a three month trial.[33]

There is also a growing belief amongst science community that oxidative stress and chronic inflammation is a great contributor to number of metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.  Because of powerful antioxidant properties, spices like cardamom are at the centre of science testing for their effects on symptoms like hyperglycaemia. Studies showed that cardamom is an effective agent in lowering LDL as well as total cholesterol levels in both diabetic and pre-diabetic patients.[40,41]

Reduces Anxiety

For centuries, cardamom has been used for its distinct smell and taste to flavour dishes and as a natural remedy. However, the powerful ingredients within cardamom’s essential oils are also believed to possess anti-depressant properties, and are extensively used in aromatherapy. The generations old, tried-and-true remedy for depression talks about the power of the cardamom seed. Grinding cardamom seeds into powder and boiling them in water with tea leaves, produces soothing aroma and a drink that is an effective treatment for depression.

The scientific research supports cardamom’s impressive anti-inflammatory properties to have multiple treatment applicabilities. Mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are complicated in nature, possessing many different symptoms and triggers.  These symptoms cause various problems in person’s personal, professional and social circles.  What makes such conditions especially complex is that symptoms vary from person to person.  Scientist actively search for effective treatments including experimenting with various powerful antioxidants. Animals with PTSD-like symptoms showed improved anxiety-like behaviours when treated with green cardamom. [42] Quercetin is a flavonoid compound within cardamom, believed to be responsible for such powerful effect. Research into quercetin showed lowered anxiety and depression in small animals.[43,44]

Micronutrient Profile

With current diet we often don’t get enough important vitamins, minerals and elements which not only participate in benefits discussed in this article, but also take part in numerous metabolic processes which maintain body’s function and fitness levels. Besides protein and dietary fiber,  cardamom contains number of important micro- and phytonutrients, including:

  • calcium
  • copper
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • zinc
  • potassium,
  • phosphorus
  • iron
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid)
  • vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Some of these micronutrients are in small concentrations (like copper, zinc, riboflavin and thiamin), while other minerals (such as manganese, magnesium, zinc and potassium) are cardamoms’s main active nutrients. All these components play important roles in blood circulation, growth development, tissue regeneration and repair, bone density, sex hormones and overall metabolic health. For example, one tablespoon of cardamom provides 80 percent of body’s manganese daily requirement, an element which plays a crucial role in number of body’s body systems.

Final Thoughts

Often referred to as the queen of spice, cardamom is as captivating in flavour and aroma as it’s medicinal potential in number of illnesses. The fragrant smell separates cardamom from the rest of the power spices. Cardamom contains number of phytonutrients, containing powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The antioxidant content within cardamom detoxify the body, improving digestive track, blood pressure, heart and liver. These compounds also fight symptoms of various metabolic disorders such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood sugar, and cholesterol, while reducing anxiety.

Along with all extensive health benefits, cardamom has been extensively used for centuries and has been proven safe to consume. Cardamom is an important factor in many traditional homeopathic medicines used by many cultures all over the world. Cardamom’s unique and delicious flavour is an easy and tasteful addition to almost any food or beverage, making it a true superfood.

Cardamom is a staple ingredient in most masala chai recipes. You can discover the taste, fragrance and power of Cardamom—third prominent spice—in our Arise Chai and Elevate Chai blends.

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32.  Bhaswant et al. Green and Black Cardamom in a Diet-Induced Rat Model of Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26378573

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36.  Metabolic syndrome – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolic_syndrome

37.  Rahman et al. Cardamom powder supplementation prevents obesity, improves glucose intolerance, inflammation and oxidative stress in liver of high carbohydrate high fat diet induced obese rats. Lipids Health Dis. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28806968

38.  Low-density lipoprotein – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-density_lipoprotein

39.  Bhat et al. Comparison of the efficacy of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) with pioglitazone on dexamethasone-induced hepatic steatosis, dyslipidemia, and hyperglycemia in albino rats. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26317079

40.  Fatemeh Y et al. The effect of cardamom supplementation on serum lipids, glycemic indices and blood pressure in overweight and obese pre-diabetic women: a randomized controlled trial. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29026804

41.  Azimi P. et al. Effects of Cinnamon, Cardamom, Saffron, and Ginger Consumption on Markers of Glycemic Control, Lipid Profile, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation in Type 2 Diabetes Patients. Rev Diabet Stud. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26177486

42.  Masoumi-Ardakani et al. The effect of Elettaria cardamomum extract on anxiety-like behavior in a rat model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28073098

43.  Bhutada et al. Reversal by quercetin of corticotrophin releasing factor induced anxiety- and depression-like effect in mice. Prog Neuropsychopharacol Biol Psychiatry. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20447436

44.  Masoumi-Ardakani et al. Chemical Composition, Anticonvulsant Activity, and Toxicity of Essential Oil and Methanolic Extract of Elettaria cardamomum. Planta Med. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27433883