Cardamom is a very aromatic spice with a complex flavor. It's a staple ingredient in many chai tea recipes and graces the cuisines of regions in India, China, the Middle East, Finland, and Norway. Besides its aroma and flavor, the health benefits of cardamom are enough reason to give this spice a try.
Although you may not be as familiar with it as spices like cinnamon and cloves, cardamom is one of the oldest recorded spices. It was once used in embalming (because of its antimicrobial properties) and sacred rituals.
Here's more about the origins of this spice, plus the top benefits of cardamom for your health.
What is Cardamom?
Cardamom belongs to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), making it also related to turmeric. Elettaria cardamomum, also called green cardamom, is often referred to as true cardamom. This is to distinguish it from a related species (Amomum) that often goes by the name of black cardamom.
Although native to India, most cardamom now grows under cultivation. The biggest exporter of cardamom is Guatemala with India following right behind.
Still referred to as "the Queen of spices," cardamom has a fascinating history. It was once the third most expensive spice in the world after saffron and vanilla. The seedpods still remain relatively expensive, but since a little goes a long way, they are much more affordable than first glance.
Growing cardamom is a long process. The plants grow on tropical plantations and flower for 8-9 months before developing seedpods. These pods ripen slowly and are harvested when they are 3/4 of the way ripened.
The pods are then dried for only a day (and night), which helps them retain their green color. Each pod has three seeds inside that are considered the actual spice. You can crush and use whole seedpods in certain recipes, buy the hulled seeds, or use powdered cardamom.
Many of the health benefits of cardamom come from the intense essential oils found in the seeds. Using freshly crushed or ground seeds will keep more of these compounds intact.
Top Health Benefits of Cardamom
Supports Digestive Health
One of the oldest uses for cardamom is as a digestive aid. It's been frequently used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine as an overall digestive support. As a warming spice, cardamom can "heat" or speed up a sluggish digestion. It's also a carminative herb, which means it helps relieve gas and bloating.
In studies, cardamom extract has shown benefits for preventing and healing gastric ulcers. It has also demonstrated strong activity against bacteria that frequently cause gastrointestinal problems. (1)(2)(3)
Combats Bad Breath & Promotes Oral Health
Chewing on cardamom pods or seeds is an ancient remedy for bad breath. Recent studies have confirmed that extracts from the seeds do indeed possess antimicrobial properties that fight common oral pathogens. Not only will it freshen your breath, cardamom can also protect against cavities and tooth decay. (4)
You don't necessarily have to chew on cardamom to get its oral benefits, but following this old remedy can further clean your teeth due to the mild abrasiveness of the seeds.
Supports Your Respiratory System
Cardamom has been used often for respiratory support. Specifically, it may boost airflow to your lungs by improving blood circulation. This also improves your oxygen uptake, which can be especially beneficial during exercise.
Animal studies have indicated that cardamom also works by relaxing your airway, allowing air to flow more easily to your lungs. Though more research is needed, this benefit could be especially useful for asthma sufferers who often have inflamed airways. (5)(6)
May Lower Blood Pressure
One of the benefits of cardamom still being researched is its potential to lower blood pressure. A small study found that 3 grams of cardamom taken daily for 12 weeks successfully decreased systolic, diastolic, and mean blood pressure. (7)
Lowering high blood pressure levels is great for protecting your heart's health. Cardamom may further benefit your heart by lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. (8)
Boosts Your Mood and Fights Stress
Often considered an aphrodisiac, cardamom can have a general lifting effect on your mood. Using the essential oil for aromatherapy is an especially good way to feel less stressed, but a cup of chai tea can help as well.
Besides general stress, studies indicate that cardamom may also have an anti-anxiety effect when used as an extract. (9)
Using Cardamom for Health
The best way to get the health benefits of cardamom is to use the seeds freshly crushed or ground as much as possible. The already powdered version of cardamom is convenient, but it loses some beneficial properties by being ground and left on a shelf.
Another way to use cardamom is by trying the essential oil. You can diffuse it or dilute it and apply topically. Diluting cardamom oil in a carrier oil makes a great massage oil that also boosts circulation.
For a flavorful and healthy drink, try making your own homemade chai. Use spices like cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, and black pepper. You'll end up with a delicious, warming drink that is great for your digestion.
Cardamom is also a popular spice to use in baking. Try the powder in oatmeal, pancakes, cakes, cookies, and other desserts.
Cardamom is a very safe spice and has no recorded side effects. Occasionally, very large doses may cause stomach upset or diarrhea.
Be sure to dilute cardamom essential oil before using it on your skin. Do a small patch test to make sure you don't have a reaction before using it on a larger area of your skin.
Though gentle, cardamom is a warming herb, which means it could aggravate an already "hot" digestion. If you find it makes your digestion system feel worse, discontinue use. You may wish to try a cooling herb like peppermint instead.
The Queen of Spices
Have you tried the Queen of spices yet? If not, you might be missing out on the benefits of cardamom for your digestion, mood, respiratory system, and more.
Add this eastern medicinal spice to your diet and discover its wonderful flavor and many uses for yourself!