Cardamom is the queen of spices, second only to black pepper the king of spices. It is one of the most valued spices in the world, native to the Middle East, North Africa, and Scandinavia. They are dried fruits of the ginger family. There are three types of cardamom – green cardamom, brown cardamom and Madagascar cardamom. Cardamom pods were chewed as a mouth refresher from ancient times in India. They have a pleasant aroma with a characteristic, slightly pungent taste and leave a warm feeling in the mouth. It is the seeds, taken out from the fruit, which produce the warm sensation.
The fat green pods grown in South India are considered the best in the world. Green cardamom is available in the pod form or as powder. The whole pod stores better and retains the aroma of the seeds. Many Indian savouries and sweets are flavoured with cardamom. This fragrant spice is used in rich curries and milk-based preparations. In India, tea and coffee are sometimes spiked with cardamom. Around the world, green cardamom is used in spiced cakes and breads.
Brown cardamom pods are larger in size than the green cardamoms, and are hairy. In fact, they look like tiny fibrous coconuts. Brown cardamom is medicinal in flavour. In India, it is used only in savouries, especially to flavour rice dishes like biryani. Along with green cardamom, it is an essential ingredient in garam masalas [a blend of mixed spices].
Each cardamom pod encloses several dark brown seeds which contain the entire flavour. An analysis of the cardamom capsule shows it to constitute of carbohydrates, moisture, protein, ether extract, volatile oil, crude fibre, calcium, phosphorus and iron. The seed contains a volatile oil. The principal constituents of the volatile oil are cineol, terpinene, limonene, sabinene, and terpineol in the form of formic and acetic acid.
Healing power and curative properties
The aroma and therapeutic properties are due to the volatile oil in its seed. Tinctures of cardamom are used chiefly in medicines, to relieve flatulence and for strengthening digestion activities.
Let us see a few curative effects of cardamom –
Cardamom reduces the air and water elements, increases appetite, and soothes the mucous membrane. It relieves gas and heartburn caused by garlic and onion. Ground cardamom seed mixed with ginger, cloves and coriander, is an effective remedy for indigestion. A tea made from cardamom is valuable in headache caused by indigestion.
Cardamom is commonly used as a breath freshener. A few seeds chewed for a brief period will remove foul smell.
The powdered seeds mixed with a teaspoon of banana leaf powder and amla juice taken thrice a day will serve as an excellent diuretic for gonorrhoea [purulent inflammation of the urethra or the vagina], cystitis [inflammation of the urinary bladder], nephritis [inflammation of the kidneys], and burning or infrequent urination.
Powdered seeds of cardamom are boiled in water to make tea. It gives a very pleasing aroma to the tea. This is used as a remedy in the treatment of depression.
The spice is useful in sexual dysfunctions like impotency and premature ejaculation. A nightly dose of a pinch of powdered cardamom seeds boiled in milk, and sweetened with honey, would yield excellent results. However, excessive use of cardamom has adverse effects.
Gargling with an infusion of cardamom and cinnamon cures pharyngitis [inflammation of the mucous membrane of the pharynx], sore throat, relaxes uvula [the fleshy conical portion at the back of the tongue], and hoarseness during the infective stage of influenza. Gargling with this infusion daily can also be useful in averting bouts of flu.
- An infusion made by boiling a couple of pounded whole cardamoms along with five mint leaves in a cup of water is useful in relieving hiccups.
- In India, cardamom is used as a masticator [a machine for cutting tough substances into fine pieces] and often included in paan-supari. It is used for flavouring curries, cakes, bread and for other culinary purposes like flavouring coffee or confectionaries.
- The essential oil from cardamom is used for pharmaceutical purposes, perfumery, flavouring liqueurs and bitters, in the preparation of tincture, and as a stimulant.
Cardamom the queen of spices is as old as can be… add a bit of it to your daily diet and pep up your life!
Some additional health benefits
- Has a cooling effect
- Detoxifies the body of caffeine
- Stimulates digestive system and reduces gas
- Has an expectorant action
- Improves circulation to the lungs and thus considered good for asthma and bronchitis
- Is anti-spasmodic [suppresses pain due to involuntary muscle contractions]
- Can counteract excess acidity in the stomach
- Stimulates appetite
- Eases stomach cramps
- Cardamom infused water eases colic pain in children
Excerpted with permission from Indian Spices & Condiments as Natural Healers by H K Bakhru; Jaico Publishing House
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