Cardamom seed pods spilled

Cardamom Elettaria – Identification, Uses, Medicinal Properties, & Role in Cognition

So In this article, I will be investigating how cardamom affects our mind and our body. Many spices have substantial affects on our cognitive and body functions. Cardamom is one of them. Before we dig into the specific properties of cardamom, let me first briefly discuss background & identification information for cardamom, basic medicinal properties of cardamom, and other details.

What is Cardamom?

Cardamom is a type of seed pod that has very aromatic seeds that are generally used as a spice to impart flavor in cooking. There are two main types of cardamom:  Black Cardamom (Amomum cardamomum) & Green Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Both types of cardamom originate in South Asia, specifically native to India, Bhutan, Indonesia, and Nepal regions.

black & white cardamom side by side
By Autopilot (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons On the right is Elettaria cardamomum, a.k.a. Green Cardamom. The large ones on the left is Amomum subulatum, a.k.a. Black cardamom. The colour of matured fresh large cardamom is pink and this colour can be retained as such (pink) if the fresh cardamom is cured by flue pipe curing system; but the local farmers cure it by smoking in Bhatti curing system and the pink colour of fresh capsule turns to black and hence is called black cardamom.
But including the aforementioned areas, farmers have spread the spice to cultivate them in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, morocco, Malaysia, Central America, and even Guatemala. In fact, Guatemala is the biggest supplier of the cardamom spice. In this article, I will be talking about the green cardamom.


Green cardamom can be identified as small green or white seed pods that range from half an inch (1/2″) long or smaller, roughly one fourth inch (1/4″) or less in diameter. From one end to another end, the seed pods taper to a point, and have a triangular cross section that corresponds to 3 chamber for storing seeds. In fact, a cardamom’s seed pod shell almost always separates into 3 separate pieces when peeled apart.

cardamom seeds whole clumped powdered
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The shell itself has a green color, whitish-tan when bleached, and feels papery like a tried leaf. Makes sense, since the cardamom pods are often dried before being distributed to the markets. Inside the pod is the actual cardamom spice itself, the seeds. The seeds are black when picked ripe, but a whitish-tan when picked under-ripe. You’ll notice the ripe-black seeds have a lot more flavor than the unripe-white seeds.

Properties & Uses

Cardamom has a number of properties[1] that make it useful as a medicine, not only a culinary spice. They include:

  • analgesic (cardamom has a cooling effect like mint)
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-cancer
  • Anti-diabetic
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-hypertensive
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-microbial
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-spasmodic (has a calming effect)
  • anti-platelet aggregation agent (prevents blood from clotting, much like ginger or aspirin)
  • Gastroprotective
  • Laxative

Cardamom is traditionally used as a folk remedy to treat teeth & gum infections, lung & pulmonary tuberculosis, digestive and kidney disorders. And cardamom is still used in our modern era for a few medical applications. Too list them out, Cardamom is also used to treat:

  • abdominal pain
  • inflammation (reduces swelling)
  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • cardiac disorder
  • carminative (helps relieve flatulence)
  • cataracts
  • coughs
  • diarrhea
  • diuretic
  • Headache relief
  • influenza
  • infection (anti-bacterial)
  • libido enhancer
  • nausea
  • spasms
  • sciatica
  • stimulant
  • stomachic (promote appetite & assisting digestion)
  • is a tonic for the Nervous System

Cardamom also has the interesting property of inhibiting the formation of histamine in mast cells (a type of white blood cell). Could be useful for histamine food poisoning.

The essential oil (EO) content of cardamom has a strong effect on the respiratory system, promoting clear breathing and better respiratory health.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, cardamom Essential Oil has an insecticidal action. It’s normal for seeds in the world of plants to have insecticidal properties, in order to deter insects from eating them. This may mean cardamom may also be good for killing off parasitic worms living in an organisms intestines.

Antioxidant Effect

The phytonutrients, vitamins, phenolics & flavonoids (quercetin, kaempferol, luteolins, and pelargonidin) of cardamom fruit and essential oil act as antioxidants. Andioxidants stop harmful oxidation inside cells. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radical electrons that can react to damage cells. So stopping oxidation prevent free radical damage at the cellular level- thereby preserving cellular health, function, and resisting cellular aging.

On top of that, the essential oil of cardamom can boosts glutathione levels in a dose-dependent manner from 100 to 5000ppm in the organism. Human beings have their own system of defending their cells from free radical damage, such as producing an antioxidant called glutathione. So that means cardamom further reduces free radical damage by improving the body’s internal defense against free radicals.

Antimicrobial Effect

The EO of cardamom has a significant amount of phenolics and antimicrobial agents, such that it acts as a natural antioxidant and food preservative. The antimicrobial action of cardamom Essential Oil is potent, inhibiting the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, escherichia coli, yersinia enterocolitica, pseudomonas aeruginosa, lactobacillus plantarum, aspergillus niger, geotrichum candidum, and Rhodotorula. Additionally, cardamom EO inhibits the growth of food-borne viruses and fungus (mold).

Although it seems that not all of the bacteria listed above are bad. For example, lactobacillus plantarum is often used in probiotics to promote gut health. Some example supplements using this train of bacteria include Allergy Research Group Probiotics and Lilibe Health Probiotics. And people found those probiotics to help with their gut health, histamine intolerance, reduce eczema, increased energy (reduced fatigue), IBS relief, and pain reduction. It makes sense that a probiotic can have so many different beneficial effects, given that the health of our gut influences the health of the whole body.

So the takeaway is that antimicrobials affect both good microbes and bad microbes, and should be taken into account when consuming a antimicrobial substance.

How Cardamom Affects Cognition

So we can determine how cardamom affects the cognition by looking at scientific studies and by looking at the effect that the cardamom essential oil has on the person. Let’s start by looking at the essential oil composition of cardamom, and how each substance affects the mind.

Essential Oil Composition

The composition of the essential oil of cardamom varies from region to region, by the parts of the plants used for the extraction (i.e. seeds, leaves, fruits), the maturity of the plants, etc. The major components in cardamom seed and the essential oil fraction of the seed includes phenolics, α-terpinyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, linalool, limonene, terpinolene, and myrecene. But a general ballpark for the composition can be given for cardamom essential oil. The essential oil of cardamom is mostly composed of 1,8 cineole (20-60%), and α-Terpinyl acetate (20-55%).

Increasing Acetylcholine Levels

acetylcholine 3D chemical model
Ball and Stick 3D model of Acetylcholine

1,8 cineole inhibits acetylcholinesterase. That means 1,8 cineole stops the enzyme that helps breaks down acetylcholine. So what happens when you increase acetylcholine neurotransmitters in the brain? Well, scientists themselves used acetylcholinesterase inhibitors to increase the level of acetylcholine in the brain as a way to treat dementia.

The acetylcholine neurotransmitter has many different functions. Outside the brain, Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter that activates the muscles.

Inside the brain, acetylcholine play roles in arousal, attention, memory and motivation.

Better Memory Function

Additionally, rosemary is high in 1,8-cineole. One study[2] used rosemary instead of cardamom for their experiment, and found that increased levels of 1,8 cineole in the blood correlated with improved long-term & working memory. Also it was found that 1,8-cineole or the other constituents of rosemary Essential Oil (EO) was better at improving the performance of tasks that had less cognitive load. To explain this, rosemary EO may improve the function of the brain, but smartness and intellect are dependent on how much you actually use the brain; for example, in learn something new.

In other words, a nootropic won’t teach you high level mathematics by itself. But it may help you during your learning session.

Psychomotor Speed

According to the same rosemary study, 1,8 cineole may have a psychomotor effect that may explain the increase in speed at which a task is completed. Note that psychomotor refers to our voluntary movement according to our mental activity.

The increase in psychomotor speed may be explained by 1,8 cineole ability to increase the level of acetylcholine neurotransmitters in the peripheral cholinergic system that controls movements, much like cholinergic drugs.

Given that cardamom has high amounts of 1,8 cineole, it may share these cognitive benefits with rosemary.

Random Notes & Anecdotes

When I chew the cardamom seeds alone, I find that they have a very relaxing effecting. Very soon after chewing the cardamom seeds, I feel very relaxed, tired, and perhaps colors appear to be brighter. It might be that the cardamom actually made me a bit “stoned”. When I did go to sleep that day, I definitely found that I slept earlier and much better.

I’ve tried cardamom with my coffee, I do believe this mixture is called “gahwah” in Arabic. What the arabians used to do (and still do right now) is make coffee in combinatino with cardamom and coffee. I mixed about 1 tablespoon of coffee with 3 pods of cardamom. And I experienced a significant difference to drinking coffee without the cardamom.

By adding the cardamom, I feel more sleepy. I tried going to sleep, and I found my libido increased, which is out of the norm. And the Arabians do drink cardamom coffee in order to boost their libido. I suppose they drink this concoction because it works.

But I definitely don’t recommend this mixture if you want to be productive. I couldn’t focus at all when I was trying to work after drinking cardamom coffee. It’s only useful purpose, as far as I can tell, is solely as an aphrodisiac.

Related Links


  1. Essential Oils in Food Preservation, Flavor and Safety: Chapter 33 – Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum Maton) Oils [Science Direct] [Google Books Preview]
  2. Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma [Ther Adv Psychopharmacol.]
  3. Blood Levels of 1,8-Cineole and Locomotor Activity of Mice After Inhalation and Oral Administration of Rosemary Oil [Planta Med.]

What's Your Opinion?