Elettaria cardamomum or cardamom are black seeds that are contained within small green pods and these are used whole, in powder form, or to extract EO. Cardamom can used in cooking, as a supplement in many healing modalities, and as an essential oil (EO). For instance, I take out the black seeds from four to five pods, grind them, and add them into teas, desserts, and other foods.
Cardamom belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, which includes ginger and turmeric, and is native to the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, although it is found in other parts of Asia and Central America.
Known as the Queen of Spices, cardamom has anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, carminative (fights gas and flatulence), diuretic, and stimulating effects. It has been used to support anorexia, asthma, bacterial infections, bronchitis, cholesterol, fungal infections, general debility, kidney stones, urinary tract disorders, and viral infections (Azimi, Ghiasvand, Feizi, Hariri, & Abbasi, 2015; Mutlu-Ingok & Karbancioglu-Guler, 2017; Vijayalakshi, Thenmozhi, & Rajeswari, 2016).
Studies provide evidence of the many benefits of cardamom, in both herb and EO form, and I am highlighting three here.
1. Cardamom has Anti-cancer Activity
Cardamonin, a constituent of cardamom, was found to have anti-cancer activity in lab studies involving cultured human cancer cells and mice (Sung, Prasad, Yadav, & Aggarwal, 2012).
A separate study broke down the anti-cancer activity of 45 or more constituents within cardamom EO. It determined that several constituents were responsible for cancer cell apoptosis or cancer cell death. These constituents also contributed towards anti-inflammatory action against cancer cells, and had anti-proliferative, anti-invasive, and anti-angiogenic action, which means they prevented the spread of cancer cells.The study indicated that the effectiveness of cardamom EO oil is due to the synergistic action of these constituents (Bhattacharjee & Chatterjee, 2013), supporting what we well know, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, as Aristotle so famously said.
2. Cardamom Supports Glucose Intolerance
Cardamom powder was used in a study involving rats that had been fed a high carbohydrate and high fat diet. Rats received powdered cardamom seeds, and this powder was 1% of their total diet. Cardamom powder did not significantly reduce overall weight in the rats, but it did contribute to less fatty liver deposits, less fat in the abdomen, reduction in oxidative stress markers in the liver, and a decrease in blood glucose levels, as well as a decrease in cholesterol and triglycerides. The study concluded these results were most likely due to the phenolic constituents of cardamom (Rahman et al., 2017).
However, another study conducted on humans did not show the same effect in decreasing glycemic indexes in patients with type 2 diabetes (Azimi et al., 2015), indicating that further studies are necessary to fully understand the effects of cardamom on blood glucose levels.
3. Cardamom has Antimicrobial Activity
Candida albicans is a common cause of fungal infections, and many strains are resistant to anti-fungal medication. An in vitro study that included 202 isolates of Candida albicans and other Candida species indicated that more than 80% were resistant to drugs (Vijayalakshmi, Thenmozhi, & Rajeswari, 2016).
Extracts of cardamom were effective in inhibiting these Candida species. Cardamom was also effective in inhibiting other fungal strains (Vijayalakshmi, Thenmozhi, & Rajeswari, 2016).
Another study looked at the effect of EOs of cardamom, cumin, and dill weed on bacterial species of Campylobacter. These bacteria are frequently responsible for food-borne illnesses that result in diarrhea and gastroenteritis. The study found that EOs of cardamom and dill weed had stronger action against the bacteria as compared to Cumin EO, however all three EOs were effective. Cardamom EO was especially effective against Campylobacter jejuni (Mutlu-Ingok & Karbancioglu-Guler, 2017).
Cardamom was also effective against other types of bacteria, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, and inhibited mold-causing species of Aspergillus (Mutlu-Ingok & Karbancioglu-Guler, 2017; Al-Othman & El-Aziz, 2013).
It is easy to understand why cardamom is known as the Queen of Spices. Its distinctive aroma and taste, and its many benefits make it an illustrious herb and EO.
This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine and has been adapted for use here with permission from the publisher.
Al-Othman, M. R., & El-Aziz, A. R. A. (2013). Inhibitory effect of cardamom essential oil on aflatoxin b production by Aspergillusspp. in Arabic coffee. Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology, 7, 1943-1950.
Azimi, P., Ghiasvand, R., Feizi, A., Hariri, M. & Abbasi, B. (2015). Effects of cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, and ginger consuption on markers of glycemic control, lipid profile, oxidative stress, and inflammation in type 2 diabetes patients. The Review of Diabetic Studies, 11(3-4), 258-266. doi:10.1900/RDS.2014.11.258
Bhattacharjee, B. & Chatterjee, J. (2013). Identification of proapoptopic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-invasive, and anti-angiogenic targets of essential oils in cardamom by dual reverse virtual screening and binding pose analysis. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 14(6), 3735-3742. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.7314/APJCP.2013.14.6.3735
Mutlu-Ingok, A., & Karbancioglu-Guler, F. (2017). Cardamom, cumin, and dill weed essential oils: chemical compositions, antimicrobial activities, and mechanisms of action against Campylobacterspp. Molecules, 22(7), 1-13. doi:10.3390/molecules22071191
Rahman, M. M., Alam, M. N., Ulla, A., Sumi, F. A., Subhan, N., Khan, T., Sikder, B., Hossain, H., Reza, H. M., & Alam. M. A. (2017). Cardamom powder supplementation prevents obesity, improves glucose intolerance, inflammation and oxidative stress in liver of high carbohydrate high fat diet induced obese rats. Lipids in Health and Disease, 16(151), 1-12. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-017-0539-x
Sung, B., Prasad, S., Yadav, V. R., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2012). Cancer cell signaling pathways targeted by spice-derived nutraceuticals. Nutrition and Cancer, 62(2), 173-197. doi:10.1080/01635581.2012.630551
Vijayalakshmi, P., Thenmozhi, S., & Rajeswari, P. (2016). The evaluation of the virulence factors of clinical Candidaisolates and the anti-biofilm activity of Elettaria cardamomumagainst multi-drug resistant Candidaalbicans. Current Medical Mycology, 2(2), 8-15. doi:10.18869/acadpub.cmm.2.2.3