By Dr. Mercola
Cardamom is a spice that, if not relatively unknown in the U.S., could be termed as one that’s used very seldom. In the culinary world, however, cardamom is recognized as an ancient and sought-after seasoning that originated in tropical parts of India, Nepal, South Asia and the Middle East. Packaged in a rather large, odd-shaped pod, cardamom is renowned as the third-most expensive spice in the world (as high as $30 per pound, behind saffron and vanilla).
Compared with other spices, its one-of-a-kind essence might include such adjectives as strong and camphor-like, but at the same time sweet. The pods contain around 20 minuscule black seeds. Finely pulverized, the grounds are often used to make coffee or tea in the earlier-mentioned regions and are popular in Scandinavia for flavoring baked goods, used for spicing up masala and curry dishes in the East Indian tradition and popular as an ingredient in sausages to create a unique flavor essence.
The pods come from an attractive, flowering, 5- to 10-foot-tall tropical plant belonging to the Zingiberaceae family, along with ginger. The pods can range in color depending on the variety: green or “true” cardamom in the small elettaria variety, or black, white or red for the larger amomum type.
Cardamom for Freshening Breath and Smoking Cessation
As is the case for the majority of plants grown for food, this one also has a long history of medicinal uses. There’s evidence that cardamom is excellent for dental health, which reflects a traditional use for the spice going back thousands of years.
What native populations may not have realized over centuries was how beneficial some of these substances were for health: in the case of cardamom, dental and other types of health and fighting tooth decay, aka dental caries. Just as steeping the Elettaria cardamomum seeds in boiling water brings out an intense flavor, chewing the seeds is endorsed by a dentistry study in India as a pleasantly fragranced breath freshener, which also stimulates the secretion of saliva.
“It is a common sight to see women folk as well as men popping cardamom pods to make their breath not minty fresh but ‘cardamom fresh.’ It is also an essential component of the traditional betel quid … ”1
Betel quid, according to one book on the topic,2 is a popular “chew” in tropical countries that grow areca nut, which mixes with leaves from the betel tree; “quid” is a substance or mixture of substances placed in the mouth containing the second basic ingredient: tobacco. As a tobacco alternative, or at least healthier “chew,” cardamom, cloves, saffron, aniseed or turmeric are popular, depending on local availability and preferences.
Gum with cardamom as a main ingredient is cited in one study as being effective for reducing nicotine addiction for people trying to quit smoking.3
Cardamom: Caries Preventive Agent
Another study found cardamom extracts to be effective against such oral bacteria types as Streptococcus mutans and the fungus Candida albicans.4 The dentistry study in India, discussing the antimicrobial effects of cardamom on oral bacteria, supports it:
“The oil extracted from cardamom seeds is a combination of terpene, esters, flavonoids and other compounds. Cineole, the major active component of cardamom oil, is a potent antiseptic that is known to kill bacteria producing bad breath and other infections.”5
Other compounds in cardamom that exert healing effects include limonene, linalool, eugenol, quercetin and alpha-terpinyl acetate, which are pine oil flavonoids with potent antioxidant power. A poor diet is one of your mouth’s greatest threats, causing tooth decay and other types of problems for several different reasons, but as a quick review, cardamom imparts health for your mouth several ways:
- Antimicrobial activity
- Pleasant taste stimulates saliva secretion
- Fibers in cardamom help clean your outer teeth
- The strong camphor-like essence freshens breath
- May cut nicotine craving
Studies Enumerate the Healing Benefits of Cardamom
One interesting aspect of cardamom is its traditional use as an aphrodisiac, according to the featured study. Luxury Insider lists eyelid inflammation, pulmonary tuberculosis and digestive disorders as additional traditional uses.6 SelfHacked7 cites a study on how the spice’s antispasmodic properties relieve gut problems such as diarrhea8 and ulcers, in some cases better than drugs for the same condition,9 as well as the following advantages:
- Chronic inflammation — When a cardamom supplement was compared with a placebo on 80 prediabetic women, the researchers found that green cardamom supplements significantly decreased serum levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, as well as oxidative stress biomarkers compared with the placebo group.10
- Boosts antioxidant activity — Twenty patients suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) were given a three-month battery of cardamom powder to take, which increased the antioxidant activity in their bodies by 90 percent and reduced their blood pressure.11
- Prevents/dissolves blood clots — The same 20 patients with high blood pressure who took the green cardamom supplements also had an increased ability to dissolve blood clots, which also reduced their heart disease risks.
- Heart damage protection — Black cardamom fed to rats helped maintain their glutathione levels, which, as a result, helped protect their hearts against free radicals (which, one may infer, might also be the case with humans).12
- Decreases metabolic syndrome symptoms — Rats with markers of metabolic syndrome given black cardamom (as opposed to green cardamom) showed reversed symptoms: fat mass, triglyceride levels and blood pressure decreased, while their heart and liver function improved.13
In addition, studies also suggest cardamom may:
Improve liver function
Help prevent skin14 and stomach cancers
Protect cells against DNA damage
Suppress asthma symptoms
Act as a diuretic
Help with weight loss
Slow growth of Candida yeast
Improve detox enzymes
Please note that cardamom has been cited as a cause of severe allergic reactions, one being anaphylaxis,17 according to one study. It may also trigger dermatitis symptoms18 and in other cases act as a hormone disruptor.19 In addition, there’s been a vast difference between black and green cardamom in many studies, so make sure you know which type you’re getting when you buy or order cardamom spice pods or supplements.
Cardamom to Create a ‘Zen’ Healing Experience
For a rather Zen experience involving chewing cardamom seeds, Aromatic Studies suggests a ritual for cleansing your mind and “to clear what is muddled, confused, weighted down and/or heavy” while simultaneously cleaning your teeth, freshening your breath and all the other benefits:
“Take some time to create a sacred moment in your day to sit quietly to experience cardamom … Take a cardamom pod and gently break open to release the seeds. Place a seed in your mouth, keeping it towards the front teeth and gently bite into the seed. Experience the sensation of cooling yet warming and also the spice note that is released. Experience the aroma in the back of the throat that seemingly extends into the nose.
Taste the eucalyptol/camphor notes that are also released. Then swallow the seed bits. After a few moments, sit with the essential oil of cardamom. Hold a bottle of the oil a few inches from your nose or use a smell strip (whichever you prefer), close your eyes and slowly inhale through the nose. Place one drop on the back of your hand and then lick off, tasting the essential oil of cardamom.”20