Cardamom is a seed pod, known for centuries for its culinary and medicinal properties. This aromatic spice is native to the evergreen rain forest of southern Indian Kerala state and grown in only a few tropical countries. Botanically, it belongs to the family of “Zingiberaceae” and consists of two genera; Elettaria and Amomum.
Both Elettaria and Amomum cardamom types feature three-sided fruits (pods) with a thin, yet tough, papery outer cover. Inside, tiny, deep-brown, aromatic seeds arranged in vertical rows with each grain ensheathed again inside a delicate, transparent membrane.
Elettaria pods are small and light green, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown. The seed pods are being in use as a flavoring agent in both food and drink as well as in medicine.
Black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) also known as Nepal cardamom (bari or kali elaichi in India and Nepal) is a relatively bigger sized pod of the same Zingiberaceae family. They have dark brown, rough outer coat, measuring about 2-4 cm in length and 1-2 cm in diameter. The seed-pods possess camphor-like intense flavor and commonly employed in spice mixtures in sub-Himalayan plains of India, Pakistan, Nepal and China.
The content of essential oil in the seeds is strongly dependent on storage conditions, but may be as high as 8%. In the oil were found α-terpineol 45%, myrcene 27%, limonene 8%, menthone 6%, β-phellandrene 3%, 1,8-cineol 2%, sabinene 2% and heptane 2%. Other sources report 1,8-cineol (20 to 50%).
In the seeds of round cardamom from Java (A. kepulaga), the content of essential oil is lower (2 to 4%), and the oil contains mainly 1,8-cineol (up to 70%) plus β-pinene (16%); furthermore, α-pinene, α-terpineol and humulene were found.
10 Amazing Benefits
1. Antioxidant and Diuretic Properties May Lower Blood Pressure
Cardamom may be helpful for people with high blood pressure.
In one study, researchers gave three grams of cardamom powder a day to 20 adults who were newly diagnosed with high blood pressure. After 12 weeks, blood pressure levels had significantly decreased to the normal range.
The promising results of this study may be related to the high levels of antioxidants in cardamom. In fact, the participants’ antioxidant status had increased by 90% by the end of the study. Antioxidants have been linked to lower blood pressure.
Researchers also suspect that the spice may lower blood pressure due to its diuretic effect, meaning it can promote urination to remove water that builds up in your body, for example around your heart.
Cardamom extract has been shown to increase urination and decrease blood pressure in rats.
2. May Contain Cancer-Fighting Compounds
The compounds in cardamom may help fight cancer cells.
Studies in mice have shown that cardamom powder can increase the activity of certain enzymes that help fight cancer.
The spice may also enhance the ability of natural killer cells to attack tumors.
In one study, researchers exposed two groups of mice to a compound that causes skin cancer and fed one group 500 mg of ground cardamom per kg (227 mg per pound) of weight per day.
After 12 weeks, only 29% of the group who ate the cardamom developed cancer, compared to over 90% of the control group.
Research on human cancer cells and cardamom indicate similar results. One study showed that a certain compound in the spice stopped oral cancer cells in test tubes from multiplying.
Even though the results are promising, these studies have only been conducted on mice or in test tubes. Human research is needed before stronger claims can be made.
3. May Protect from Chronic Diseases Thanks to Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Cardamom is rich in compounds that may fight inflammation.
Inflammation occurs when your body is exposed to foreign substances. Acute inflammation is necessary and beneficial, but long-term inflammation can lead to chronic diseases.
Antioxidants, found in abundance in cardamom, protect cells from damage and stop inflammation from occurring.
One study found that cardamom extract in doses of 50–100 mg per kg (23–46 mg per pound) of body weight was effective in inhibiting at least four different inflammatory compounds in rats.
Another study in rats showed that eating cardamom powder decreased liver inflammation induced by eating a diet high in carbs and fat.
Though there are not as many studies on the anti-inflammatory effects of cardamom in humans, research shows that supplements may increase antioxidant status by up to 90%.
4. May Help with Digestive Problems, Including Ulcers
Cardamom has been used for thousands of years to help with digestion.
It’s often mixed with other medicinal spices to relieve discomfort, nausea and vomiting.
The most researched property of cardamom, as it pertains to relieving stomach issues, is its possible ability to heal ulcers.
In one study, rats were fed extracts of cardamom, turmeric and sembung leaf in hot water before being exposed to high doses of aspirin to induce stomach ulcers. These rats developed fewer ulcers compared to rats that only received aspirin.
A similar study in rats found that cardamom extract alone could completely prevent or reduce the size of gastric ulcers by at least 50%.
In fact, at doses of 12.5 mg per kg (5.7 mg per pound) of body weight, cardamom extract was more effective than a common anti-ulcer medication.
Test-tube research also suggests that cardamom may protect against Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria linked to the development of most stomach ulcer issues.
More research is needed to know if the spice would have the same effect against ulcers in humans.
5. May Treat Bad Breath and Prevent Cavities
The use of cardamom to treat bad breath and improve oral health is an ancient remedy.
In some cultures, it’s common to freshen your breath by eating entire cardamom pods after a meal.
Even the chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley uses the spice in one of its products.
The reason why cardamom can lead to minty fresh breath may have to do with its ability to fight common mouth bacteria.
One study found that cardamom extracts were effective in fighting five bacteria that can cause dental cavities. In some test-tube cases, the extracts prevented the growth of the bacteria by up to 0.82 inches (2.08 cm).
Additional research shows that cardamom extract can reduce the number of bacteria in saliva samples by 54%.
However, all of these studies have been conducted in test tubes, making it unclear how the results may apply to humans.
6. May Have Antibacterial Effects and Treat Infections
Cardamom also has antibacterial effects outside of the mouth and may treat infections.
Research shows that cardamom extracts and essential oils have compounds that fight several common strains of bacteria.
One test-tube study examined the impact of these extracts on drug-resistant strains of Candida, a yeast that can cause fungal infections. The extracts were able to inhibit the growth of some strains by 0.39–0.59 inches (0.99–1.49 cm).
Additional test-tube research found that essential oils and extracts of cardamom were just as, and sometimes more effective than standard drugs against E. coli and Staphylococcus, bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Test-tube studies have also shown that cardamom essential oils fight the bacteria Salmonella that leads to food poisoning and Campylobacter that contributes to stomach inflammation.
Existing studies on the antibacterial effects of cardamom have only looked at isolated strains of bacteria in labs. Therefore, the evidence is currently not strong enough to make claims that the spice would have the same effect in humans.
7. May Improve Breathing and Oxygen Use
Compounds in cardamom may help increase airflow to your lungs and improve breathing.
When used in aromatherapy, cardamom can provide an invigorating odor that enhances your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise.
One study asked a group of participants to inhale cardamom essential oil for one minute before walking on a treadmill for 15-minute intervals. This group had a significantly higher oxygen uptake compared to the control group.
Another way that cardamom may improve breathing and oxygen use is by relaxing your airway. This may be particularly helpful for treating asthma.
A study in rats and rabbits found that injections of cardamom extract could relax the throat air passage. If the extract has a similar effect in people with asthma, it may prevent their inflamed airways from restricting and improve their breathing.
8. May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
When taken in powder form, cardamom may lower blood sugar.
One study found that feeding rats a high-fat, high-carb (HFHC) diet caused their blood sugar levels to remain elevated longer than if they were fed a normal diet.
When rats on the HFHC diet were given cardamom powder, their blood sugar did not stay elevated for longer than the blood sugar of rats on a normal diet.
However, the powder may not have the same effect in humans with type 2 diabetes.
In a study in over 200 adults with this condition, participants were divided into groups that took only black tea or black tea with three grams of either cinnamon, cardamom or ginger every day for eight weeks.
The results showed that cinnamon, but not cardamom or ginger, improved blood sugar control.
In order to better understand the effect of cardamom on blood sugar in humans, more studies are needed.
9. Other Potential Health Benefits of Cardamom
In addition to the aforementioned health benefits, cardamom may be good for your health in other ways as well.
Studies in rats have found that the high antioxidant levels in the spice may prevent both liver enlargement, anxiety and even aid weight loss:
1. Liver protection: Cardamom extract may decrease elevated liver enzymes, triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They may also prevent liver enlargement and liver weight, which reduces the risk of fatty liver disease.
2. Anxiety: One rat study suggests that cardamom extract may prevent anxious behaviors. This may be because low blood levels of antioxidants have been linked to the development of anxiety and other mood disorders.
3. Weight loss: A study in 80 overweight and obese prediabetic women found a link between cardamom and slightly reduced waist circumference. However, rat studies on weight loss and the spice have not found significant results.
The number of studies on the link between cardamom and these potential benefits is limited and mostly done on animals.
Furthermore, the reasons why the spice may help improve liver health, anxiety and weight are unclear.
10. Safe for Most People and Widely Available
Cardamom is generally safe for most people.
The most common way to use cardamom is in cooking or baking. It’s very versatile and often added to Indian curries and stews, as well as gingerbread cookies, bread and other baked goods.
The use of cardamom supplements, extracts and essential oils is likely to become more common in light of the promising results of research on its medicinal uses.
However, there is currently no recommended dose for the spice since most studies have been on animals. The use of supplements should be monitored by a health professional.
Furthermore, cardamom supplements may not be suitable for children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Most supplements recommend 500 mg of cardamom powder or extract once or twice a day.
The FDA does not regulate supplements, so be sure to choose brands that have been tested by a third party if you’re encouraged to try cardamom supplements by a healthcare provider.
If you’re interested in trying cardamom, remember that adding the spice to your foods may be the safest way.