What Is Cardamom?
Cardamom, the spice, comes from several plant species from the genera Elettaria and Amomum, and these plants are closely related to ginger. Both the pods and the seeds of the spice have a pleasant, sweet and spicy aroma, and the pods are typically harvested whole and dried.
Dried cardamom pods are sold whole, ground up into a powder, or as an herbal supplement in capsule form. Fresh cardamom can also be turned into an essential oil, which is often used in fragrances, topically or as aromatherapy. The plant originated from India, but it’s widely used and easily available all across the globe today.
Both in India and in the Middle East, the spice is used to add flavor to warm beverages, such as tea and coffee, but it’s also commonly used as a spice in both sweet and savory foods in a number of eastern countries. The first recorded mentions of the spice are from Ancient Sumer around 2,000 BC and Ayurveda, and already then, cardamom was used for medicinal purposes.
Today, we know a lot more about the positive effects of cardamom on our health and are aware that the spice is a good source of zinc, potassium, and magnesium (for full nutrition info, see the table above). All this makes cardamom an excellent dietary addition. More on the specific health benefits of cardamom below.
1. Diabetes Prevention
Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are both often preceded by metabolic syndrome, a complex systemic condition that affects 60% of the population past the age of 50. The primary cause of the condition remains unknown, but researchers believe that a combination of a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, aging, and even stress construct metabolic syndrome.
Animal studies in those suffering from type 2 diabetes showed that supplementing with cardamon improved blood sugar levels and metabolic symptoms. Another study showed that the waist circumference in overweight women with metabolic syndrome decreased after 2 months.
All this evidence suggests that cardamon may lower the level of inflammation in the body and protect you from metabolic syndrome, diabetes and even heart disease (we'll discuss more on the latter later).
2. Cancer Prevention
Cardamom contains specific phytochemicals that were suggested to help the immune system to fight off cancer cells. More specifically, cardamom may boost cancer-fighting enzymes and certain immune cells that eradicate cancer cells.
Though scientists aren’t sure which compounds in cardamom are responsible for the cancer-fighting effects, they believe it may be some of the antioxidants the spice contains. Cardamom has been found to reduce the risk and severity of cancerous tumors in animal models and test-tube studies.
3. Oral and Dental Health
For centuries, if not millennia, people have been using cardamom to soothe a sore throat, get rid of bad breath and prevent cavities. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the spice combined make it excellent for killing harmful bacteria that impair oral health.
In vitro research showed that cardamom extract lowers the number of bacteria in saliva by 54%. One study also found that chewing on a cardamom seed for 5 minutes helped balance the pH in the mouth, with the latter being a marked cause of infections and cavities.
4. Antimicrobial Properties
Studies suggest that cardamom essential oil may possess powerful antifungal and antibacterial compounds that act by damaging the microbes’ cell membranes. Reportedly, the oil is effective against a wide range of microbes, such as the Candida fungus, E. coli, Staphylococcus and Campylobacter, which are known to cause a wide range of dangerous diseases throughout the body.
Do note, however, that ingesting the oil is toxic and even when used topically, the essential oil should be diluted by a carrier oil.
5. Digestive Issues
One of the most ancient Ayurvedic uses of cardamom is for detoxification and digestion issues. Science, too, seems to support the claims that cardamom can improve the body’s detoxing abilities by boosting liver health in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Cardamon can also help prevent liver damage, and this way, it may help maintain the body’s blood-cleaning capabilities.
Apart from that, cardamom can also help prevent nausea and vomiting, as well as the development of peptic ulcers in some individuals. To prevent ulcers, cardamom is added into beverages, and to deal with nausea, people typically smell cardamom essential oil.
6. Lung Health
One of the most unique capabilities of cardamom is its ability to relax the airways and increase your breathing capacity. Inhaling cardamom essential oil may be especially beneficial for those of you suffering from asthma or even stress-related breathlessness, as the invigorating smell of the oil when used in aromatherapy will help your lungs relax and help them breathe in more deeply.
6. Heart Health
As we mentioned previously, cardamom can reduce one’s risk of heart disease by preventing and contributing to the treatment of metabolic syndrome. However, the rich antioxidant content of cardamom, as well as its possible diuretic and cholesterol-lowering capabilities may help people with high blood pressure lower it slightly.
Studies have found this to be the case, but medical professionals don’t recommend relying on cardamom completely to treat your blood pressure, but you may still benefit from adding the spice into your drinks and meals.