CARDAMOM: ELETTARIA CARDAMOMUM
If you have ever been to the Middle East you may have sampled the delights of their local coffee, a wonderfully aromatic and spicy brew combining the bitterness of good strong coffee with the sweet, pungent flavour of cardamom pods. Not only does cardamom coffee taste delicious but also the cardamom is reputed to neutralise the over- stimulating effects of caffeine, thus making it a drink more conducive to the health of your nerves than ordinary coffee. You can buy cardamom coffee or make your own by heating, almost simmering, 4 split cardamom pods and 4 heaped teaspoons of ground coffee in a pint of water for about 15 minutes.
Not only can cardamoms protect against the harmful effects of caffeine but also they can be positively beneficial for the nervous system. In Ayurvedic medicine they have long been esteemed for their ability to lift the spirits, reduce pain, restore vitality and induce a calm, meditative state of mind. Originally from the rainforests of India they have been prized for centuries for their beautifully fragrant flavour and aroma as well as for their therapeutic effects. They were carried from the East to Europe along caravan roots from classical times, first to Greece and later to Northern Europe where their tonic and energising properties were apparently put to good use in love potions and aphrodisiac preparations. Today in the West they are still highly valued for their ability to relieve tension and anxiety, to dispel lethargy and nervous exhaustion, to lift the spirits and to improve memory and concentration. While there is not a massive amount of scientific data on cardamom, it is known that up to 8% of cardamom seed consists of volatile oil that includes limonene, cineol, terpineol and terpinene. (1) Studies from Saudi Arabia have demonstrated that the essential oil has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. (2) Over years in practice I have observed that cardamom is highly effective as an antispasmodic, relieving muscle pain and spasm throughout the body.
Added to foods and drinks, cardamom seeds have a warming and invigorating effect throughout the body, beginning as soon as they reach the stomach. By stimulating the secretion of digestive juices they stimulate appetite, enhance digestion and absorption of food, and with their relaxing effect on smooth muscle in the digestive tract they can settle the stomach, especially when it is affected by stress. They actually have a balancing effect in the digestive tract for whilst stimulating the flow of digestive juices they can counteract excess acidity in the stomach. It should be noted however that large amounts of cardamoms are not recommended to those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux and gallstones and that there are no known herb drug interactions. (3)
In modern Ayurvedic medicine cardamoms are a popular remedy for nervous digestive upsets in children, and are often combined with fennel. When simmered in water for a few minutes and taken as a hot tea, they will relieve colic, wind and indigestion, and help to quell nausea and vomiting. They make a good remedy for anorexia and are well worth using to counteract the nausea often experienced while undergoing chemotherapy. A pod can be sucked slowly over an hour or two or a decoction can be sipped through the day. Cardamoms are veritably one of the best remedies for gas and they particularly aid the digestion of dairy produce. The seeds can be chewed after a meal to aid digestion and sweeten the breath, even helping to dispel the strong taste of garlic and onions. In India it is common practice to offer cardamoms at the end of a meal as a digestive and breath sweetener. (4) They have a mild laxative effect and are especially good for relieving that uncomfortable feeling from overeating. Apparently in the nineteenth century, English ladies used to carry them around in their pockets and chew them as sweets for their digestive and energising properties. I have done similarly. When going out in the evenings to a meeting, having consumed a hearty meal, I have often chewed cardamoms to prevent the rather relaxing post prandial effect from lulling me to sleep at inappropriate times!
Their warming and stimulating effects are recommended for those feeling run down and tired, especially in the winter. Their ability to dispel cold and damp may account for their ability to reduce phlegm which is often a symptom of such wintery conditions. Added to milk products and puddings they can actually counteract the mucus-forming properties of milk. Their stimulating expectorant action helps to clear phlegm from the nose and sinuses as well as the chest, making them a good remedy for colds, coughs, asthma and chest infections.
The tonic effect of cardamoms extend to the kidneys and urinary tract. In modern herbal medicine they are used as a strengthening remedy for a weak bladder, involuntary urination and bedwetting in children as well as to treat urinary tract infection. They can also be used for male problems such as premature and involuntary ejaculation. When used traditionally in aphrodisiac recipes they were often combined with herbs such as cinnamon, nutmeg, peppers and onions.
One of my favourite recipes using cardamom pods is a deliciously warming tea which I drink regularly in the winter to keep me warm and ward off colds, coughs and flu. Take:
4 cardamom pods
4 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
a few slices of fresh ginger
Place all ingredients in 1 pint of water, heat to nearly boiling, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Strain. Add a little milk or honey. Drink a cupful hot twice a day
(1) Chopra D & Simon D. The Chopra centre Herbal Handbook. Rider. 2000. P. 119
(2) Al-Zuhair H, el-Sayeh B, et al. Pharmacological studies of Cardamom oil in animals. Pharmacol Res 1996, 34: 79-82, from Chopra D & Simon D. The Chopra Centre Herbal Handbook. Rider 2000
(3) Skidmore-Roth. Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs & Natural supplements. P. 168-169. Mosby USA2001
(4) Patnaik N. The Garden of Life. P.102-103. Aquarian, Harper Collins, London 1993