A highly aromatic spice native to the Indian subcontinent, cardamom has a long history of culinary and medicinal uses. It is widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines for adding a distinctively sweet, fresh aroma and depth of flavor to various sweet and savory dishes. It is also an essential ingredient in the famous masala chai and often features in many delicious Arabian beverages.
A member of the medicinal ginger family, cardamom boasts numerous health benefits that can improve your health and support emotional wellness. In the Ayurvedic tradition, cardamom is highly regarded for its immune-boosting, digestive, detoxifying, soothing, nootropic, pain-relieving, and sleep-inducing properties. Research shows that this Ayurvedic spice is loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants and nourishing phytonutrients that can prevent chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, dementia, and even cancer.
Read on to find out all about cardamom and its healing properties.
Green vs. Black Cardamom: Which one should you use?
There are mainly two types of cardamom used in Ayurvedic cooking. While both are from the ginger family and have similar medicinal properties, they slightly differ in taste and Ayurvedic energetics.
Green cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum): Adoringly called ‘the queen of spices,’ the green variant is one of the most prized and expensive spices in the world. It has a sweet, slightly herbaceous, eucalyptus-like flavor that goes well with sweet delicacies, smoothies, cakes, cookies, puddings, ice creams, teas, herbal drinks, and coffee, as well as with curries and stews. Green cardamom has cooling potency that reduces stomach acidity and helps with ulcers.
Black cardamom (Amomum subulatum): Black cardamom is slightly larger and has a hot, smoky, and pungent flavor, which makes it more suitable for curries and savory dishes. It has warming and immune-boosting properties and is traditionally used for treating respiratory infections like the common cold, cough, sore throat, sinus congestion, allergies, asthma, and bronchitis. It also stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and reduces bloating.
Healing Properties of Cardamom
1. Incredibly rich in antioxidants. Cardamom is a powerhouse of strong antioxidants that neutralize free radicals—a toxic by-product of metabolism that reacts with cells and proteins, causing DNA damage and accelerating the aging process. A diet high in antioxidants is well-known to improve immune response against invading pathogens and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Being rich in flavonoids and essential minerals also makes cardamom immensely beneficial for brain health. Research shows that phytochemicals present in cardamom seeds can improve cognition, elevate mood, and protect brain cells from oxidative damage and inflammation. It can also reduce the accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques, which are a type of brain toxin associated with Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration.
2. Improves digestive health. Cardamom is extensively used in Ayurvedic cooking and medicine for easing digestion and reducing symptoms of constipation, bloating, flatulence, indigestion, nausea, abdominal cramps, and other discomforts. When taken with other foods, it improves agni and assists in the production of digestive enzymes while also controlling excess stomach acidity.
Full of antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds, cardamom also kills intestinal parasites and promotes a healthy gut microflora. Research shows that including this Ayurvedic spice in your diet can lower gut inflammation and help prevent and heal stomach ulcers. One study found cardamom supplements even more effective than anti-ulcer medications.
3. Improves blood sugar control. Evidence suggests that including cardamom in the diet may help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in persons living with type-2 diabetes. It inhibits certain key enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates and starch into sugars. Suppression of these enzymes reduces the intestinal absorption of glucose and improves glucose metabolism.
By lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, cardamom also protects organs against diabetes-related serious complications like atherosclerosis (clogging of arteries), nerve damage, glaucoma, retinopathy, and kidney disease.
4. Helps fight chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a part of our defense mechanism and essential for healing. But when the immune system keeps sending inflammatory cells without any potential threat, this causes low-grade inflammation to linger in the body. Evidence suggests that persistent low-grade inflammation might be a silent killer that can go undiagnosed for years, slowly decaying and damaging your cells over time and putting you at an increased risk of chronic conditions.
Studies show that cardamom has a strong anti-inflammatory effect that can improve healing and reduce the risk of serious complications in persons living with metabolic syndrome—a group of conditions that often occur together. Metabolic conditions include obesity, type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Researchers found that including cardamom in your diet can lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce blood pressure, improve blood sugar control, and inhibit genes involved in obesity. In another study, taking cardamom supplements for eight weeks reduced the levels of cytokines, C-reactive proteins, and other inflammatory proteins in overweight women who had prediabetes and high cholesterol.
5. Aids in cancer prevention and treatment. Numerous studies have suggested that cardamom can prevent tumor development and progression and improve chemotherapy’s effectiveness. It contains cardamonin—a natural phenol that has been shown to induce cell cycle arrest and promote apoptosis (programmed cell death) in malignant cells. It also facilitates enzymes that choke the blood supply of tumor cells, thus impairing their multiplication and growth.
In addition, cardamom helps fight free radical damage (and thus prevents cell mutations) and lowers chronic inflammation—two major risk factors that assist in rapid tumor progression and increase the chances of tumors evading cancer therapies.
A recent 2022 study suggested that cardamonin may have therapeutic potential against triple-negative breast cancer—a challenging disease that spreads faster than other breast cancers and is difficult to treat with available drugs.
Researchers found that this compound can target specific genes that allow tumors to evade the body’s immune response. Currently, cardamonin is being studied as a potential adjunctive therapy for improving chemotherapy success.
6. Promotes sleep and emotional wellness. Taking a pinch of cardamom with milk is an age-old way to relieve pain and improve sleep quality. Green cardamom contains melatonin—a hormone naturally produced by the brain that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps you relax after dark. Research shows that including melatonin-rich foods in your diet can help with sleep disorders, promote hormonal balance, improve immune response, and lower stress levels.
When taken before bedtime, cardamom has a mild sedative-like effect on the nervous system that reduces fatigue, relaxes muscles and the spine, calms mental agitation, lowers heart rate, and supports an easy transition to sleep. It is also known to help alleviate muscle spasms and stress headaches.
7. Helps fight infections. In various animal and test-tube studies, cardamom has been shown to possess powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties that can help you recover faster from common ailments. It has been found effective against a number of bacterial strains that cause stomach infections in humans, including E. coli, Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and Campylobacter bacteria.
In one study, cardamom helped inhibit the growth and multiplication of drug-resistant Candida strains—a type of yeast that causes recurring fungal skin infections.
8. Encourages detoxification and reduces water retention. Poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, high intake of sodium (packaged foods), uncontrolled diabetes, and overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like paracetamol) can trigger an imbalance in Kapha, causing your body to retain more fluids than usual. Excess water retention can cause symptoms like puffy face and skin, swollen feet, bloating, aching joints, or rapid weight gain.
Due to its high antioxidant content and diuretic properties, cardamom works as a great blood detoxifier. It is also a good source of potassium and magnesium—two vital electrolytes that promote optimal fluid balance and assist the kidneys in flushing out excess sodium and water, thus reducing blood pressure and improving circulation.
In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is most commonly known for its ability to reduce the accumulation of ama and unclog the circulatory system. Evidence shows that phytochemicals present in this spice can activate certain detoxification enzymes that help the liver eliminate toxic chemicals and potential carcinogens from the bloodstream.
9. Balances all three doshas. Cardamom is tridoshic in nature, which means it helps pacify all three doshas and can safely be enjoyed by everyone. It is considered especially useful in expelling excess Kapha and Vata from the stomach and lungs, which can help soothe respiratory pathways and support optimal breathing.
The warming potency of black cardamom can slightly increase Pitta, especially during the summer season. If you have a Pitta-dominant constitution, consider limiting your intake during summer and watch out for any signs of imbalance.
Cardamom is a popular Ayurvedic spice that prevents dosha imbalance and reduces excess ama—two major factors that are considered the root cause of all illnesses. It is an excellent digestive and contains several healing compounds that can improve physical and mental wellness.
Evidence suggests that including this age-old spice in your tea or cooking can ward off chronic conditions and help treat various common ailments, from indigestion and sore throat to headaches and insomnia. Typically used in small amounts, cardamom is generally regarded as safe for most people. If you plan to take cardamom supplements, consider speaking with your doctor for doses, safety, and possible drug interactions.