Elettaria cardamomum Monograph

by Shannon Smith April 08, 2022

 Authored By: Shannon Smith                                                                                      [1]

Elettaria cardamomum Monograph
Shannon V. Smith
Bastyr University


Materia Medica II
Winter 2016

Latin name: Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton [2]

Standardized common name: cardamom [3]

Ayurvedic name: Ela / Elachi [3]

Other common names: Green cardamom, Grains of Paradise, True cardamom, Mysore cardamom.  [4] [5]

Family: Zingiberaceae [4]

Authored By: Shannon Smith

Parts used: Seed [4]

Botanical description: Cardamom is a perennial herb, which grows from about 6 feet to 13 feet tall in a clump of about twenty shoots and is native to the monsoon forests of southern India and Sri Lanka.  It has a fleshy rhizome, similar to ginger, from which it proliferates into new shoot growth. The leaves grow alternately up the flowering stems, and are lanceolate shaped blades that are 1 to 2 1/2 feet in length, and are smooth and dark green in color with pale undersides that have silky hairs. The flowers it bears are yellowish to white with a violet to pink striped lip, and pink or violet veins with yellow margins. The inflorescence is a loose panicle of many small blossoms that develops on a separate, horizontal stem that spreads along the ground. The panicle has a cane-like peduncle with nodes and internodes. Each node has a scale leaf in the axil where the flowers are borne. The most conspicuous part of the flower is the whitish labellum located at the tip of the corolla tube, which has violet nectar guides leading to the corolla tube and a single fertile stamen with bi-lobed anthers. The fruit is an oblong and bluntly triangular, papery seed pod, which is richly aromatic. This seed pod, which is what is used in medicinal and culinary purposes, has three separate chambers which contain two rows each of dark, reddish-brown seeds in each chamber. Each seed pod contains 15-20 aromatic seed pods. They are harvested by hand when they are plump but still closed to ensure the encapsulation of the seeds which contain the essential oils that are sought after. [6]


Habitat: Its native habitat is in the Ghat Mountains in southern India,  where it grows naturally in forests at an altitude of 2500 to 5000 feet above sea level. It grows in a similar climate in Sri Lanka. It  is also cultivated in India, southern Asia, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand and in Central America, namely in Guatemala. Cardamom prefers to grow in moist evergreen forest.  It can be grown as a perennial outdoors in zones 10 and 11, however can be grown in a greenhouse in zone 9 or in a pot in all other zones. [6] [14] [29]

Taste: The seeds have an aromatic and perfume-like taste, which is sweet, pungent and warming; however, it simultaneously also has a moistening, slightly numbing mouth feel. It is a very pleasing flavor that I love to taste, especially when it is in Chai Tea, one of my favorite tea mixtures. This drink is the only drink I want when I have a sore throat, as it did the trick for me when I was awaiting surgery to have my tonsils removed at age 28. It removed the pain for about 30 minutes, which was like a miracle to me at that time.

Energetic properties: Cardamom has a sweet, spicy aroma with eucalyptus-like undertones that are lemony, so it is very uplifting and warming energetically. These properties coupled with its pungent taste make it an essential stimulant to the gastrointestinal system, which is how I like to use it in herbal remedies. In Galenic medicine, it has been used as a mucolytic, as it not only is a remedy for damp, catarrhal digestive conditions but also for the respiratory system as well.  It has a history of being used in Chinese Medicine as a nervous or cerebral restorative, as it has an energetic element that causes a decrease in depressive feelings. [5]

 [10]   [11]

Doctrine of signatures: Cardamom is a very tall plant with long, sparsely distributed leaves in an alternate pattern up the stem, which sway and wave in the wind. This appearance is a signature for the plant being related to the wind. In Ayurvedic medicine, plants can be organized within the framework of their Vayu, which literally means wind, and corresponds to their energetic movement or flow. The pungent taste of cardamom is related to our digestive fire and is thought to be a signature for aiding this fire, therefore has been associated with the Samana Vayu, or the Vayu that resides in the abdomen below the navel. The downy hairs of the undersides of cardamom leaves resemble the ciliae of the respiratory tract, and could be thought of a signature for their ability to treat the mucosa of the lungs. The yellow highlights of color on the flowers are a signature for the liver as this plant stimulates bile secretion, which also aids in improving digestion. The seed of the fruit of cardamom is the most important signature this plant displays. Seeds are a representation of birth, new beginnings, potential, creation, reproduction and restoration of life or energy. Cardamom with its spicy and pungent taste and aroma brings new life and energy or restores digestive fire to one that is stagnant or congested. It can have this same effect on the lungs. The hollow seed pods when broken open resemble the inside of a lung, with its alveoli attached to a septum, which strengthens the other signatures this plant has to indicate its use in lung ailments and in treating hollow organs in general such as the stomach, liver, and intestines. [7] [8]

Collection:  Cardamom seed pods should be harvested before they start to open to avoid losing the essential oils contained in the seeds. Seed pods should be picked when it is dry out in autumn and then dehydrated. They will keep for two years if kept out of the sunlight and in an airtight container. When buying seed pods, look for pods that are an even light green color, not pale or bleached. Also, look for seed pods which are intact, and not split open at the corners. They should have a papery skin with a slight oily feel and a scent similar to eucalyptus, with a lemony undertone and a hint of mint or pepper. [14] [25]


Constituents: Volatile oils (namely 1, 8- cineole, alpha- terpineol, alpha- terpinyl acetate, limonene, eugenol, etc.), minerals (rich in manganese and iron), carbohydrates, fixed oil, and proteins. Cardamom also contains phenolics and flavonoids. [4] [17]

Actions section: Cardamom is aromatic and has been used mainly as a flavor ingredient in food and drinks, including liquor, but is also used in perfumery, and in medicine. Being a warm and pungent, aromatic herb, cardamom is prized for its culinary uses, especially in India, where it is used commonly along with coffee or tea to reduce the toxic effects of caffeine and to counteract the mucus-producing effects of foods such dairy products. Cardamom is an excellent stomachic, and carminative.  Internally, it is used as an antispasmodic to the digestive tract, so is used to treat indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. It is also antispasmodic to the lungs and used for bronchial remedies, and as an expectorant for pulmonary disease that is characterized by excessive phlegm.  Cardamom has been used for the treatment of enuresis, or involuntary urination, as it has a tonifying effect, not only on the lungs and digestive tract, but also on the kidneys. It is also considered a cholagogue due to the fact that it increases the release of bile, which aids in its use as a digestive herb. Cardamom is known to correct the griping caused by the use of anthraquinone laxatives. Used externally, cardamom can be used in a liniment which can be painted on fungal skin infections, as the volatile oils it contains are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. The antibacterial properties of cardamom make it useful for treating bad breath and sore throats. The phenolics and flavonoids have an inflammation modulation action by increasing glutathione in the body. [4] [9] [15]

Pharmacodynamics: The main constituents that are responsible for the action of cardamom is from the volatile oils contained in its seeds. Although the chemical composition of cardamom can vary considerably based on the variety, region, and age of the seeds, cardamom has been measured to have a volatile oil content in a range of 2% to 8%. Cardamom can contain from 23 to 25 different volatile compounds, but the main compounds are 1, 8-cineole (20-40%), α-terpinyl (30-42%), and α-terpineol (4-45%) which have also been identified as the volatile oils that are responsible for its distinct aroma. Cardamom exerts its antispasmodic activity to both the lungs and the intestines by blocking the muscarinic ACh receptor, which prevents contraction of smooth muscle. The volatile oils, α- terpineol, α- terpinylacetate, and 1, 8-cineole are carminative due to the antispasmolytic activity of these volatile oils on the gastrointestinal system. In an experiment done by Jamal et al on rats using the essential oils from Elettaria cardamomum, it was is observed that the essential oils exhibited a gastro-protective influence on ethanol induced ulcerations in the rats by causing relaxation of circular muscles and flattening of the mucosal folds. This same mechanism is how it also works to relive the griping caused by anthraquinine laxatives. Cardamom appears to increase the movement of food through the intestine, therefore can have a mild laxative effect, dispelling gas and bloating as it moves through the digestive system. In another study on the effects of cardamom on the lungs of rats, cardamom exhibited bronchodilatory effects mediated through the mechanism of Ca+ antagonism. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [22] [32]

Pharmacokinetics: The volatile oils, in general, are low molecular weight terpenes that are fat soluble and absorb straight into the fat globules and then are carried into blood circulation then excreted through the breath. There are three ways that essential oils are absorbed into the body, they are inhaled through the olfactory system, absorbed through the surface of the skin or they can be taken internally, which is how much of the volatiles from cardamom are absorbed. If inhaled, the olfactory membrane will be stimulated and sense the smell of the volatile oils. This in turn stimulates a response in your autonomic nervous system to activate digestion.  If ingested, the volatiles of cardamom will stimulate salivary glands to increase secretion, which triggers gastric secretions in your stomach and the release of bile once the volatile oils are absorbed in the stomach and intestines. The bile is secreted to help digest the oil. As the volatile oils are absorbed into the blood stream they will exert their action on the rest of the digestive system or lungs or kidneys. Eventually, they will be excreted by kidneys, bladder and large intestine. The flavonoids of cardamom are hydrolyzed by gut flora in the intestines or otherwise would be poorly absorbed. However, even taken topically, flavonoids can be absorbed sufficiently through the skin to affect inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract favorably and seem to be consistently useful in treating all GI inflammatory conditions, such as diarrhea due to the astringent properties of the flavonoids.  [21]

Indications and Effects: Matthew Wood lists these specific indications for the use of cardamom for the lungs: colds, coughs, bronchitis, and asthma. He describes it as having a special affinity, however for the mucosa of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, specifically for damp, hot weather which may cause a cold stomach with diarrhea. This may also bring about chronic indigestion with bloating, belching, gas, and hiccoughs, all which will be treated effectively by cardamom. Cardamom is also an excellent treatment for inflammations, especially of the mouth and throat. It is indicated for children who are nauseous or vomiting or for people who may have indigestion related to stress, tension, or other nervous conditions. [23]

Safety considerations: Mills and Bone do not have any information about the safety considerations of cardamom, however, the World Health Organization issues a general warning to patients that have gallstones to check with their physician first before taking medicinal preparations of cardamom. Due the action of stimulating the release of bile there is a theoretical risk of having a gallstone obstruct the biliary tract if cardamom is used by persons with existing gallstones. Also, there have been reports of contact dermatitis with handling cardamom seeds, therefore, gloves should be worn when harvesting or handling the seeds. Since no information is known about the safety of cardamoms use other than in amounts that are in foods, it should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation, and has not been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine during pregnancy or lactation either. Due to the lack of information on safety it is contraindicated to use with children under the age of 18.  [18]

Classic formulas:

  1. Cardamom milk:

1 cup milk

½ to 1 tsp. jaggery or sucanot (Whole or dehydrated sugar cane)

Seeds from 1 Green cardamom pod, freshly ground

(*Taken as a sleep remedy in Ayurveda) [24]

  1. Chai with Green cardamom:

1 cup milk

2 cups water

1 tbsp. black tea leaves

1 Tbsp. sucanot (dehydrated sugar cane)

Seeds of 1 green cardamom pod, freshly ground

(* Used as a digestive stimulant in Ayurveda) [24]

  1. Cardamom coffee:
  • 4 cups water (900ml - 1L approx.)
  • 3 tablespoons gulf coffee
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 12 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 tablespoons rose water

(*Cardamom is added to tea and coffee in Middle Eastern countries to decrease the toxic effects of the caffeine.) [9] [31]

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses: Cardamom has been known to be used as early as the 4th century B.C in Greece. It has been highly esteemed as both a spice and a medicine. Throughout history it has been used for the treatment of digestive issues such as indigestion, gas, and cramps. In Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used to treat stomach ailments, asthma, bronchitis, heart problems, skin conditions, bad breath, and to treat the urinary system. In Ayurveda it has been associated with the Samana Vayu, or the Vayu that resides in the abdomen below the navel, so is used to regulate the flow of prana in the digestive tract, specifically samana vayu and apana vayu.  The seeds and oil were also what was used to treat the lungs. Also, an infusion of cardamom has been used to treat sore throats, applied as a gargle, and it has been made into cough sweets. To relieve stomach ailments the seeds are either chewed or made into an infusion to drink. The seeds are chewed to relieve bad breath. The aromatic oils in cardamom are also used as an aid to depression by using the seeds in a bath, or by taking an infusion. Traditionally cardamom has been used to treat areas of the body that have red-pigmentation on the skin or it has been made into soaps and creams for the hands. In Traditional Chinsese Medicine, cardamom is taken as a urinary tonic. [6] [14]


  1. Elettaria cardamomum (fr) + Coffea arabica (fr)

Cardamom is added to coffee to decrease the toxic effects of caffeine in India. [9]

  1. Elettaria cardamomum (fr)+ Pimpinella anisum (fr) + Foeniculum vulgare (fr)

Cardamom seed is mixed with anise and fennel seeds as an appetite stimulant and a digestive aid before meals. [25]

  1. Elettaria cardamomum + Glycrrhiza glabra

Cardamom is combined with licorice to improve the voice and if used regularly, will also prevent tooth decay. [25]

Preparations & Dosage:

  1. Traditional Ayurvedic preparations:

Infusion, powder, or milk decoction; Dosage: 250 mg-5 g per day. [25]

  1. WHO Monograph for Semen Cardamoni:

Crude drug, extracts, and tinctures; Average daily dose: 1.5 g of drug; Tincture: 12g per day. [18]

  1. Matthew Wood:
  2. Infusion: 2-3 pods per cup, keep on the lid and do not boil. Drink when cool enough.
  3. Paste: Grind up the pods, and mix with butter and honey to make an edible paste.[23]
  4. Sharol Tilgner:

Infusion: 1 tsp. of crushed seeds per cup of water;

Tincture: (1:3.5) dry liquid extract; Dose: 20-30 drops 1-4 times per day in water.

Sustainability/Ecological issues:  Cardamom has become the third most expensive spice by weight in the international spice trading market, second only to saffron and vanilla. As cardamom became a cultivated crop in high demand, it has had a negative impact on the biodiversity of its native habitat in Sri Lanka and south India because of its invasive nature. This plant does not appear to be threatened or at risk for overharvest, but instead poses a risk wherever it is cultivated by encroaching upon the native species of the areas it is grown. Cardamom has naturalized in Renunion, Indochina, and Costa Rica where it is has been widely cultivated as well.  Cardamom is listed as invasive in Reunion as reported by the Global Invasive Species Database.  Cardamom cultivation under current practices is reducing the diversity of the local forests in East Usambara Mountains in Tanzania where it is an important crop for many of the resource-poor farmers that inhabit this biome. A study was undertaken by Teija Reyes, which looked into solutions to sustainable cultivation in Tanzania and it was discovered that cardamom could be cultivated on farms instead of in local forests alongside Piper nigra or Grevillea spp. to replicate conditions of the soil that resembled that of the local forests. The crops yielded 2.3 times more when grown alongside Piper or Grevillea. Also, the Piper crop itself yielded 3.9 times more growing with cardamom and is an excellent money crop as well.  [6] [26] [27] [28 [29]

Current Literature:

Cardamom is useful in treating asthma

Elettaria cardamomum has been used in traditional medicine for asthma for centuries, however few studies have been done to test the rationality or the mechanism of action. In this study, crude extract of cardamom was tested on rats against carbachol-mediated bronchoconstriction with favorable results. This study also investigated the mechanism of action on rabbit trachea tissues. In both carbachol-evoked and K+ -induced contractions cardamom was capable of causing relaxation to the tissues, and appeared to do so by blocking the Ca+ channels antagonistically. This study proves that there is mechanistic rational to use cardamom for the treatment of asthma. [20]

Does cardamom have a gastro-protective effect?

Elettaria cardamomum has frequently been used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders as a stomachic, carminative, and an antiemetic. It has also been prescribed in the treatment of gastritis, and for acid peptic disorders. Some studies have shown that the fruit of Elettaria cardamomum contains essential oils that have shown antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antispasmodic activities. However, due to the lack of research on traditional claims for the use of cardamom on gastrointestinal disorders, this study was created to investigate the anti-ulcer effects of two different fractions and of steam distilled essential oils of E. cardamomum in different models of gastric lesions. Rats were induced with ulcers by alcohol, aspirin, and pylorus ligation. The essential oils inhibited ulceration the best at 73% compared with 50% for the fraction at 100mg/kg. The 150 mg/kg fraction did not significantly reduce ulceration. Also, the cardamom fractions were effective at having a gastro-protective effect by the documentation of increased gastric wall mucus and flattening of the mucosal folds alluding to the gastro-protective effects being related to the decrease of gastric motility. [19]

Cardamom is a great prospect for the treatment of bacterial and fungal infections.

In this study the essential oil was extracted from plant material via steam distillation and the composition of the essential oils of Elettaria cardamomum was determined using Gas chromatography (GC). Twenty three volatile oils were detected in E. cardamom with the highest percentages present being 1,8—Cineole at 85.2%  , followed by cis-Ocimene at 3.7%, α-Terpinene at 2.2%, and formic acid at 2.1 %. Previous research about the composition of E. cardamomum has shown that volatile oil compositions may differ by region, variety and age of the seeds. The antimicrobial properties of these essential oil was tested against the pathogenic bacterial strains E. coli, Stapholococus aureus, and Baccilus subtilis, and also against the pathogenic fungal strains Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans, using tetracycline and fluconazole as standards.  The essential oil tested positively in its antimicrobial action to all bacterial strains and fungal strains at most concentrations. Only A. niger and A. flavus at concentrations less than 5 μL/ ml of essential oil tested negatively in the fungal strains, and at less than 7 μL/ ml of essential oil the test was negative for antibacterial action on S. aureus.

Personal experience: I first discovered cardamom when I was about to have surgery to remove my tonsils. I had been trying various throat sprays, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory medications to lessen the severe pain in my throat, when I tried a Chai Tea for the first time. It contained two herbs that I believe helped with the pain in my throat, clove and cardamom. I had relief from pain for about 30 minutes which was miraculous to me as nothing was even touching the pain up to that point.  I noticed the milk in the Chai Tea also did not cause the usual phlegm storm that I would experience when I ingest dairy products and later found out this was a property of cardamom as well. More recently I have used it successfully to treat the indigestion and bloating I have been experiencing when I eat certain rich foods that I am no longer accustomed to eating, or digesting apparently. Also, I have used it to help treat acute upper respiratory inflammation of the sinuses, throat and nose. It seems to help reduce pain, inflammation and the mucus production that comes with these ailments.


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Shannon Smith
Shannon Smith


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