From the Spice Rack

From the Spice Rack
by Kathe Kitchens, Bestemor Herb Farm


This relative of ginger and turmeric is similar in its flavor and therapeutic qualities.  Historically there were three varieties, now generally reduced to green and black or brown types.  Cultivation is believed to have begun in India, varieties used and traded for at least two thousand years.  There is the “true” cardamom, Elettaria, and the close relative group of plants Amomum, Alpinia and Aframomum.  As with cinnamon and its relative cassia, these cultivars are close in flavor and are often used to extend the real spice, or substituted in its place.  It is still grown primarily in India, but was introduced to Guatemala in the 1920’s and became a leading crop.  It can be grown in Texas, but only in pots as it is a tropical zone species.  The seeds of the plant are harvested, picked by hand to retrieve them at the proper maturity; it is one of the world’s three most expensive spices, after saffron and before vanilla.

Its value as a cleaner for teeth and breath made it a staple for after meal consumption in ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian society and later in Europe.  Green “true” cardamom has shown promise in research for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, studies prove the value of black cardamom as a therapy for cancer.  Naturally diuretic and full of fiber, this spice lowers blood pressure and supports cleansing of the kidneys.  Its anti-inflammatory properties are especially effective on the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat.  Energizing for those who suffer from fatigue or depression, it is also reported to stimulate the production of hormones and enzymes, digestive juices and peristalsis in the intestines, speeding up the elimination of toxins.  It also promotes sweating and helps to clear respiratory congestion, and relieves headaches resulting from illness.  Like antimicrobial garlic, coriander and other spices, it is used in foods to delay spoilage.

In essential oil form, cardamom is valued as an astringent and antimicrobial. One or two drops in warm water used as a mouthwash disinfects oral tissues and eliminates bad breath.  Used in a bath, it will disinfect skin and hair.  Blended with coconut or other natural oil, it is reputed to be unsurpassed in producing glowing skin.  As a hair treatment, cardamom is renowned for the elimination of dandruff and producing shiny locks, and is also a natural lightener for those who prefer the sun kissed look.  Like most essential oils, it should not be applied directly to skin unless blended with dilution oil.

A strong warming spice, cardamom should not be used by pregnant or nursing mothers or very young children. Properly trained aroma therapists, herbalists, naturopaths or practitioners of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurveda can direct the safe and effective use of this treasured spice.

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