Cardamom is the third most expensive spice by weight, behind only saffron and vanilla. But with a captivatingly complex flavor profile crammed into such a small package, there’s little mystery behind its steep price. This spice delivers a pungent taste that’s smokey, yet contains hints of coolness reminiscent of mint and lemon, packed inside the tiny black seeds of the small cardamom seed pod. The cardamom genera belong in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. True cardamom, also known as green cardamom, falls within the genus Elettaria and is grown in India and Malaysia. Black cardamom is of the genus Amomum and grown primarily in Asia and Australia.
While popular in foods and drinks, cardamom is equally admired in traditional medicine. Therapeutic uses range from antiseptic, expectorant, stimulant, and tonic . Cardamom oil is especially known to help alleviate digestive system problems, working as a laxative, colic, stomachic, and diuretic . Perhaps most interesting is its airway relaxant potential in the treatment of asthma . Cardamom contains flavenoids, which exhibit bronchodilatory activity, essential to asthma relief by relaxing constricted bronchial tubes . Moreover, cardamom extracts were observed to relax carbachol- and potassium-induced contractions in tracheal tissues , effectively relieving bronchospasms in asthma attacks. Bronchospasms occur in instances of high levels of carbachol or potassium, which are able to cause tracheal tissue contractions by simultaneously opening L-type calcium channels and stimulating muscarinic receptors. Both calcium channels and muscarinic receptors regulate signals for smooth muscle thickening; carbachol and potassium interaction with these signaling pathways leads to airway constrictions. In the study, cardamom showed inhibitory effects against carbachol and potassium, enabling relaxation of the contracted tissues.
Whether the ailment is asthma, digestive problems, or simply thirst, cardamom is all the more reason to enjoy a spicy cup of masala chai.
- “Cardamom Essential Oil (a.k.a. Cardomon Essential Oil) Information.”Cardamom Oil (Elettaria Cardamomum). N.p., 29 May 2014.
- Khan A, Khan Q, Gilani A. Pharmacological Basis for the Medicinal Use of Cardamom in Asthma. Bangladesh Journal of Pharmacology. June 2011;6(1):34-37.
About the author: Alice Phung once had her sights set on an English degree, but eventually switched over to chemistry and hasn’t looked back since.