Cardamom – Healthy Breathing, Healthy Feeding

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Cardamom is a perennial plant and grows up to 2-3 metres in height. It has white flowers with reddish stripes in the centre. The fruit capsules (pods) grow near the ground and contain the seeds which are used as spice. They are gathered before they are ripe to prevent bursting during the drying process which would lead to loss of the essential oil. The essential oil is gained through steam-distillation of the seeds. The main producing country today is Guatemala where Cardamom cultivation has been introduced in the last century and where most of it is grown for export as spice or essential oil. Other countries are Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia.

A bit of history

Cardamom has been a domestic spice for more than 3,000 years. It was and still is profusely used in India, Sri Lanka and all over South-East Asia. The Egyptians used extracted Cardamom for their ceremonies and their perfumes. The spice was later brought to the West and became well known by the Greeks and the Romans. Hippocrates already mentioned Cardamom in his scriptures and recommended it for sciatica, abdominal pains, spasms, nervousness and respiratory problems. It was also considered to be a good medicine against epilepsy, stiffness, paralysis and rheumatism. The physicians of the old School of Salerno prescribed Cardamom against cardiac disorders, and mentioned it as a good diuretic and stomachic remedy. In South Asia Cardamom seeds are traditionally used to treat inflammation of the gums and throat. It is used in diverse medical powders and beverages, often together with other ingredients as a laxative and for soothing the stomach. 

A precious spice of choice – aromatic and medicinal

Cardamom’s unique and intense aromatic fragrance make it a special spice for teas and numerous food preparations. The essential oil with its fresh and at the same time spicy-warm, slightly woody-sweetish odour on a background of a citrus top notes it is also widely used in modern perfumery. 

From an Ayurvedic perspective Cardamom “awakens the spleen and stimulates ‘samana vayu’, the upward-downward moving energy in the body located at the navel. It enkindles Agni and removes Kapha, the heavy element, from the stomach and the lungs. It enlivens the mind and heart and gives clarity and joy.   

Vasant Lad, The Yoga of Herbs

It is also considered to detoxify caffeine in coffee and to neutralize the mucus created in the system from drinking  milk or eating cheese. It is also considered to reduce fever.

“Cardamom’s quality  is ‘sattvic’ and it is particularly good for opening and soothing the flow of the pranas in the body.”

Vasant Lad, The Yoga of Herbs

Chinese Medicine describes Cardamom as a Qi tonic, emphasising on one hand its strengthening effect on the lungs and on the spleen, and on the other hand describes it as a nerve tonic which gives joy to the spirit. As such Cardamom may well act as an anti-depressant due to its ability to remove weakness of Qi.

The oil’s main effect lies in helping digestive disorders. Science has found out that Cardamom relaxes and tonifies the intestinal smooth muscle. Frictions with Cardamom oil on the stomach or 2-3 drops with honey help relieve indigestion, gas, and bloating. It is also indicated in case of nausea, morning sickness, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and cramps as described by the ‘British Herbal Pharmacopea’. Dr. Telphon, French author of ‘ABC des Huiles Essentielles’ (ABC of Essential Oils) recommends blending Cardamom oil in combination with Cumin oil and Peppermint oil in a base of Olive oil to enhance digestion.

Breathe it in!

Cardamom’s refreshing eucalyptol compounds are also very useful – in combination with other essential oils such as Ravintsara,  Spike Lavender, or Conifer oils – to prevent and relieve respiratory problems such as congestion of the lungs and coughing. With its anti-bacterial effects, Cardamom oil may also be used as a mouth freshener for oral cleansing. And it can be extremely helpful for steam inhalation and for liberating the respiratory tract when clogged. 

We remember: ‘Psyche’ means ‘breath’ in Greek. Healthy breathing is part of our innermost well-being and touches the finest energy channels inside our system. With its major oxide 1,8-cineol (or eucalyptol), Cardamom has its place in the group of the ‘respirators’ in aromatherapy, also together with oils such as Cajeput, Niaouli, different Eucalyptus oils, Myrtle, Bay Laurel,  etc. Other oxide oils – like for example Mountain Hyssop oil (Hyssopus decumbens) and its dominant compound translinalool oxide – may synergistically enhance their properties on the ‘aerial’ system of our physiology, the lungs.

Such oils are good to balance a dishamonious vata element (Ayurveda) and uncramp the heart, so often encaged in rhythmic imbalances, and thereby open up the flow between spirit and matter, consciousness and physiology. With ‘psyche’ our inner ‘breath’ being the mediator between the subtle and the gross, it is important to resort to the oxidic actors in Nature in order to bestow balance and empower the element of movement in the body. Many factors such as wrong diet, immobility during work or, on the contrary, too much mobility during travelling, ‘seasonal stress’, psychological or social problems may easily lead to respiratory cramping or congestion and therefore may need bio-chemical and subtle energetic keys to open up the system. Phytooxides such as 1,8-cineol are wonderful helpers for this. They open us up, relax us, make us ‘air out’ rigidity and breathe in space.

Some medicinal elements

  • Cardamom soothes gastrointestinal upset: It is useful for relief of indigestion, gas, and bloating. It is stomachic and an effective carminative                                                                                
  • Cardamom works as an antispasmodic for the intestinal smooth muscle. It is accepted by the German E Commission for dyspepsia (imperfect or painful digestion).
  • It is effective against catarrh and a powerful expectorant for the lungs 
  • It is anti-infectious and anti-bacterial        
  • Cardamom is tonic and stimulating and considered aphrodisiac

External use

It is good to use Cardamom in dilution with a carrier oil for frictions or local applications on the chest and on the back in case of pulmonary infection, and on the stomach for digestive problems. Used in a diffusers it is very helpful to purify the air and fight airborne germs. 

It would be highly advisable for the medical communities of today to look more deeply into the aromatic plants and their oils. The presence in them of numerous bio-active compounds is such a precious help to counteract the increasing resistance of pathogenic germs against a growing number of our common anti-biotics. The MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphilococcus aureus) for example, the famous ‘hospital super-bug’, is only one among many creating severe and life-threatening infections – particularly in clinical environments. 

Over ages, many cultures have protected themselves against the constant threat of pathogenic germs by choosing their food and spices accordingly. Due to the over-use of anti-biotics in clinical environments and elsewhere the interest in non-resistant anti-pathogenic strategies via essential oils should be a MUST – and fortunately scientific research shows how much we are getting from this perspective.

A study on Cardamom oil, published Nov. 2018 gives evidence – here with regards to the 1,8-cineol compound in Cardamom oil: 

“The chemical structure of Elettaria cardamomum (Cardamom oil) (…) Aframomum corriroma and Amomum subulatum oils (…) showed that these oils were mainly composed of the oxygenated monoterpenes, in particular 1,8-cineole. It is evident that the tested oils have effectively reduced/stopped the bacterial and fungal growth as well as the communication of bacterial cells. It is proposed that Cardamom oils especially their extracts may have a potential use in clinical settings for microbial.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6278479/

A toning and clearing wake-up oil

Due to its tonic-stimulating effects on the spirit Cardamom is useful in room-sprays and in an aroma diffuser to refresh and clear the air and purify the atmosphere. It is an excellent means to change a dull and sleepy environment.

A few drops of Cardamom oil used on the stomach and solar plexus have a soothing-enlivening effect. Its warming-fresh character makes it a beautiful oil in combination with carrier oils for massage formulas. 

Cardamom oil is a true gift of Mother Nature. It conveys happiness and has a character which pleases the spirit and at the same time soothes the physiology. With its strong tuberculous roots groping deep and large into the soil and its little fruit pods right on the ground it emphasizes its connection with the earth element. On the other hand, its large green leaves are stretching out to impressive 2-3 metres in height. This makes Cardamom a powerful vegetal energy contradicting playfully the ‘gravitational compulsion’ by rising to a proud vertical expression. When you walk around a Cardamom plantation, you nearly can get lost in the density of the high reaching green ‘sun-catcher’ leaves all around. And then: Where are the fruit-pods? There they are, down on the ground – they do not need to stretch out to the light – they rely on their green ‘partners’ above, the leaves… They are the ones which pull in the cosmic light and direct it down to the earth by crystallizing its radiance into beautifully spicy sun-enkindled fruits.

It is true: Again we can see here a signature of ‘medicinal behaviour’. Rise high up, unfold your plentiful large leaves as far as possible to catch the light. And then back to the ground, as near as possible to the earth to attract the ‘blessings from below’. The ‘samana vata’ as seen above under the Ayurveda perspective, exactly confirms this energy profile. It is true, through its sun-earth bound fruits, Cardamom reveals its true nature releasing a warming, comforting energy which is able to strengthen the human Agni (fire) and with it the metabolic system. And at the same time, it helps uplift and liberate the spirit from its bondage in its physical structure. 

It is this play between the forces of Earth (metabolism) and Air/Ether (respiration), also reflected in its biochemical profile and its therapeutic properties, which makes Cardamom oil a unique ally for a healthier and happier life.

Cardamom plants growing at Cardamom Hills, Kerala, Idukki district, India

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