Skip to main content

This versatile spice has crossed borders and continents, enriching cuisines worldwide. From Indian curries and Middle Eastern coffee to Scandinavian pastries and Latin American drinks, cardamom adds a touch of magic to many culinary traditions. But it’s not just one of the most treasured spices in the world.

After saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the third most expensive spice. People around the world consider it the “queen of spices” for its unique taste and aroma. Cardamom also boasts a rich history in traditional medicine, and there is growing scientific evidence for its potential health benefits for a number of conditions. Let’s delve into both the plant and its medicinal uses.

The plant

Cardamom [Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton] is a member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family. It grows in Guatemala, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tanzania, and other hot climates. The plant can grow to over six feet, and different types are grown in different areas (1).

There are three main species:

  1. Green (or small) cardamom. This is the most widespread species, featuring light green pods with black seeds and a citrusy, floral aroma. It includes a variety (or cultivar) called Malabar, which is considered by many in India to be of the highest quality and is often referred to as “true cardamom”. This is because of its intense flavor and aroma.
  2. Black (or false) cardamom. These plants have larger, darker pods with brownish-black seeds, offering a smoky, camphoraceous (subtle coolness, earthy richness with a slight medicinal note) aroma. Nepal and Vietnamese varieties are prominent in this species.
  3. White cardamom has a milder flavor and is typically used in delicate dishes.

The history of cardamon’s medicinal use

India boasts the longest and most comprehensive history of using cardamom as medicine. As early as the fourth century BCE, ancient Ayurvedic texts like the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita documented cardamom’s use for digestive issues, respiratory problems, and pain relief.

In China, records dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) mention cardamom alongside other spicies in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating coughs, colds, and digestive disorders.

There is evidence that cardamom was also popular with ancient Egyptians. They used it in perfumes and incense, in the embalming process, and medicinally as a digestive aid and to help with flatulence.

The medieval spice trade brought cardamom to Europe, where it gained popularity for its digestive benefits and was even used as an aphrodisiac. It has also been used in indigenous communities to treat fever and diarrhea, to reduce inflammation, and to help with pregnancy and female fertility issues.

Traditional medicine uses

Cardamom is used in many traditional medicine systems, including Ayurveda (India), TCM (China), and Unani Medicine (Middle East and South Asia).

It’s been used to:

  1. Ease indigestion, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
  2. Support metabolism and weight management.
  3. Help with respiratory issues such as coughs, colds, and asthma.
  4. Reduce plaque and gingivitis and promote oral health.
  5. Provide relief from muscle aches, headaches, and toothaches.
  6. Boost immunity, act as a general tonic, and help cleanse the liver.
  7. Act as a diuretic (promoting urination), easing urinary tract infections and reducing edema.

Recent research into cardamom’s potential medicinal benefits

Several human studies have investigated the benefits of cardamom. We’ll look at a few.

Antibacterial properties

Bacteria may form “communities” (known as biofilms) that can attach to surfaces such as the lungs, teeth, urinary tract, and even medical implants. These biofilms surround themselves with a sticky substance called extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) that makes it difficult for antibiotics or our immune system to reach the bacteria inside. Biofilms made up of harmful bacteria can cause persistent infections that may be hard to treat.

A recent study by Pourkhosravani et al., 2021 (2) investigated the antibacterial and antibiofilm properties of cinnamon and cardamom essential oils in two bacteria: Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis). Both essential oils demonstrated antibacterial effects against these two bacteria. Cardamon essential oil, however, was also able to inhibit biofilms significantly.

Effects of blood lipids and blood glucose levels on type 2 diabetes

Researchers are still exploring the exact mechanisms by which cardamom reduces blood glucose levels, but most believe it involves several potential pathways:

  1. Some studies suggest that cardamom may stimulate the pancreas to release more insulin. Increased levels of insulin help cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
  2. Cardamom might improve the sensitivity of cells to insulin, allowing them to take up glucose more effectively and, therefore, helping to lower blood sugar levels.
  3. Certain components of cardamom, like α-pinene and α-terpineol, might inhibit enzymes involved in carbohydrate breakdown and absorption. This might help prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar after meals.
  4. Cardamom possesses antioxidant properties that combat oxidative stress, a factor linked to insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism. Reducing oxidative stress can potentially improve overall metabolic health and support blood sugar control.
  5. Recent research indicates that cardamom may activate SIRT1, a protein known as the “longevity gene” due to its involvement in various metabolic processes. SIRT1 activation can enhance insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, potentially contributing to lower blood sugar levels.

In 2019, Aghasi et al. conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on humans to investigate the potential of green cardamom supplementation for improving metabolic parameters in patients with type 2 diabetes (3). On a dose of 3 grams of green cardamom powder per day (in capsule form) over 10 weeks, the cardamom group showed significant improvements in HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin), insulin sensitivity, and HOMA-IR (insulin resistance index). There was also a decrease in triglycerides, implying reduced cardiovascular risk, and an increase in serum SIRT1 levels, potentially contributing to the observed metabolic benefits.

Inflammatory markers and PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common endocrine disorder, is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. PCOS and chronic inflammation are intricately linked, with inflammation appearing to be involved in the development and progression of PCOS symptoms. Green cardamom has a reputation for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This is due to polyphenols and flavonoids such as lutein, anthocyanin, and quercetin that the plant contains (4).

In 2022, Cheshmeh, et al. (4) conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial incorporating a low-calorie diet along with 3 grams of green cardamom powder per day for two months. The group taking the cardamon showed an improvement in both endocrine hormones and inflammatory markers. The researchers concluded that green cardamom has a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect on women with PCOS.

Limitations of studies

According to Singletary (1), animal trials provide some promising evidence of the medicinal benefits of cardamom, whereas human trials are inconsistent in their results. He suggests this, in part, is due to differences in trial size, experimental designs, and participants’ baseline health characteristics. He believes it’s too soon to recommend the use of cardamon. We need larger and more controlled human trials before doing this.

It’s also important to note that many of these trials use dosages of up to 3 grams per day – far more than you’d consume by using cardamom as a spice.

What can we conclude about using cardamom for our health?

It seems the jury is still out when it comes to using cardamom medicinally. Before doing so, it’s essential to consult your medical practitioner, especially if you have an underlying health condition or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

In the meantime, feel free to add it to your cooking. There’s no shortage of amazing recipes using cardamom.

References
  1. Singletary, Keith PhD. Cardamom: Potential Health Benefits. Nutrition Today 57(1):p 38-49, 1/2 2022. | DOI: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000507
  2. Pourkhosravani E, Dehghan Nayeri F, Mohammadi Bazargani M. Decoding antibacterial and antibiofilm properties of cinnamon and cardamom essential oils: a combined molecular docking and experimental study. AMB Express. 2021 Oct 26;11(1):143. doi: 10.1186/s13568-021-01305-6. PMID: 34704145; PMCID: PMC8548479.
  3. Aghasi M, Koohdani F, Qorbani M, Nasli-Esfahani E, Ghazi-Zahedi S, Khoshamal H, Keshavarz A, Sotoudeh G. Beneficial effects of green cardamom on serum SIRT1, glycemic indices and triglyceride levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized double-blind placebo controlled clinical trial. J Sci Food Agric. 2019 Jun;99(8):3933-3940. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.9617. Epub 2019 Mar 18. PMID: 30701554.
  4. Cheshmeh, S., Ghayyem, M., Khamooshi, F. et al. Green cardamom plus low-calorie diet can decrease the expression of inflammatory genes among obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. Eat Weight Disord 27, 821–830 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-021-01223-3
Image: What is Cardamom and How Is it Used? (simplyrecipes.com)
Desiree Pule

Desiree Pule

Desiree Pule is a graduate in Sports Sciences and has an MBA. She has worked in the medical industry, distribution and manufacturing for many decades. She has taken her years of business experience and her passion for health and launched Alma Herbs, an online store selling only the best natural food and remedies. You can take a look at their bespoke offering: https://almaherbs.co.za/product/organic-turmeric-powder-200g/

Longevity Live is a digital publisher AND DOES NOT OFFER PERSONAL HEALTH OR MEDICAL ADVICE. IF YOU’RE FACING A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, CALL YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY SERVICES IMMEDIATELY, OR VISIT THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM OR URGENT CARE CENTER. YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER BEFORE STARTING ANY NUTRITION, DIET, EXERCISE, FITNESS, MEDICAL, OR WELLNESS PROGRAM.

This content, developed through collaboration with licensed medical professionals and external contributors, including text, graphics, images, and other material contained on the website, apps, newsletter, and products (“Content”), is general in nature and for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, procedure, or treatment, whether it is a prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, vitamin, supplement, or herbal alternative.

Longevity Live makes no guarantees about the efficacy or safety of products or treatments described in any of our posts. Any information on supplements, related services and drug information contained in our posts are subject to change and are not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects.

Longevity does not recommend or endorse any specific test, clinician, clinical care provider, product, procedure, opinion, service, or other information that may be mentioned on Longevity’s websites, apps, and Content.

Leave a Reply