Cardamom Oil: History, Benefits, and More
Cardamom is an ancient and well-respected spice.
Cardamom with all of its cultural, culinary, perfumery, and medicinal uses embodies the history of the Asian spice trade in a way that not many South Asian spices still can.
Spices like cinnamon and black pepper that used to be valued like gold, are now considered to be commonplace in the western world.
Cardamom, however, has maintained its exotic standing, prominent price point, and to some degree its exclusivity. Cardamom is still only grown in a few places in Asia and Central America. No matter how far time rolls along, cardamom refuses to become commonplace.
It gives even modern consumers the smallest taste of what it meant to trade and use expensive, foreign spices in the ancient world. And as much as we’d love the price point to go down—we really do love cardamom just the way it is.
Cardamom essential oil is valued by millions for its abilities to help regulate emotion, soothe the respiratory tract, improve digestion, and perhaps even work as a neuroprotective agent. How far these benefits can go is for future phytomedicine research to decide, although looking at what historical and scientific research has discovered so far is fascinating...
History of Cardamom Oil
Cardamom was likely one of the most valuable trade spices of the ancient world.
It grew almost exclusively in India and was shipped out to be a part of culinary and/or medicinal traditions in Egypt, Greece, the Middle East, and China.
The popularity of the spice in the Middle East during the Medieval Period helped reintroduce the spice to Europe, especially to Spain, Scandinavia, and Norway.
The government of Kerala held a monopoly over cardamom for many, many years, but British colonizers and the eventual cardamom plantations in Guatemala changed that. Even so, cardamom continues to be one of the most highly-priced spices in the world!
Cardamom Essential Oil Uses
As esteemed as cardamom has been as an herbal medicine, modern research into its health benefits is rather limited. The clearest picture to date of cardamom’s potential comes from a mix of human, animal, and in vitro studies investigating, not just with cardamom oil, but also cardamom extracts and the oil’s major constituents: 1,8-cineole and alpha-terpinyl acetate.
Taking all of these sources together, we can piece together some clues as to the benefits of cardamom oil.
Mental & Emotional Benefits
Can cardamom oil help manage Alzheimer’s Disease?
Possibly. One animal study with cardamom oil (Auti 2019) and another in vitro study with alpha-terpinyl acetate (Chowdhury 2020) show cardamom’s potential for such a benefit, but more research is needed.
Can cardamom oil reduce anger?
Cardamom has been said to soothe anger and restore objectivity to the mind. This is perhaps the primary purported emotional benefit of cardamom oil, and yet, there have been no direct studies with cardamom oil and anger management.
However, 1,8 cineole has been shown to improve concentration in one human study from Northumbria University (Moss 2012).
Can cardamom oil improve digestion?
Possibly. Apart from anecdotal evidence, there are a limited number of studies that suggest cardamom oil’s gastroprotective potential. One animal study with cardamom extract has shown promise (Gilani 2008) as well as multiple studies with 1,8-cineole (Caldas 2015, Jalilzadeh-Amin 2014, Santos 2004).
What skin benefits does cardamom oil have?
Direct studies with cardamom oil and human skin are, as of yet, unavailable. However, cardamom oil carries a number of properties and constituents that are considered beneficial for the skin.
- Ant-iinflammatory abilities of cardamom oil demonstrated in animal (Al-Zuhair 1996) and in vitro (Han 2017) studies.
- Antioxidant effects of raw cardamom (Qiblawi 2015) and 1,8-cineole (Santos 2001) in animal studies
- Antibacterial and antifungal properties of cardamom oil in some in vitro studies (Noumi 2018, Megd 2015).
Can cardamom oil reduce pain?
Possibly. Cardamom oil has been shown to reduce animal pain in a laboratory setting (Al-Zuhair 1996) and other animal studies have shown 1,8-cineole’s ability to ease specific sources of pain such as gout arthritis (Yin 2020) and neuropathic pain (Junior 2016).
Can cardamom oil improve respiratory health?
Maybe. Cardamom oil contains a significant amount of 1,8-cineole—which is perhaps the most well-studied essential oil constituent in regards to respiratory health. Clinical human studies have seen positive effects in using 1,8-cineole to address asthma (Worth 2012), (Juergens 2003), acute bronchitis (Fischer 2013), acute viral rhinosinusitis (Tesche 2008), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Worth 2009).
Also, cardamom extract has shown a bronchodilatory effect in an animal study from the Bangladesh Journal of Pharmacology (Khan 2011) .
Is cardamom oil safe for dogs?
Cardamom oil is one of those oils that enjoys a better reputation in the pet community than other oils. Of course, you should always talk with your veterinarian before introducing any essential oil to your pet, but many popular pet health websites, such as SitStay.com and DogsNaturalluyMagazine.com, approve or even recommend using cardamom to help your dog with nausea, colic, and even heartburn!
Manufacturing Cardamom Oil
Cardamom thrives in tropical or sub-tropical environments with lots of moisture, just the right amount of shade, and humus-rich soil. The planting, cultivating, and harvesting cycles are regular, though the exact months may vary depending on whether you are in Asia or Central America.
Cardamom seedlings are often planted shallowly in groups, and often indoors, for a number of weeks before they are transplanted to their pots, and eventually into the ground. Some, however, like to grow cardamom plants in pots, making it easier to protect them from both drought and cold. However, the cardamom plant can grow to be five to ten feet tall, so potting can become a difficult option to maintain.
After two or three years, the cardamom plant will begin to flower and bear capsules. The precious seed-bearing capsules are typically harvested at 20-30-day intervals, allowing a significant amount of capsules to reach the point where they are still green (green cardamom fetches the highest price) but are mature enough not to offer much resistance to being taken off the stalk.
Throughout the year, the cardamom plants have to be carefully guarded against moisture deficiency, weeds, leaf and fungal diseases, and pests. Adequate irrigation, fertilization, weeding, and pest control can curb most of these problems. But farmers also “trash” the cardamom plants a few times a year, that is, removing any diseased or dried leaves and/or leaf sheaths.
Once harvested, the cardamom seeds are husked, washed, dried, and winnowed before going through the steam distillation process. Of course, no matter how labor-intensive the job is or has ever been to raise and harvest cardamom, the world has been willing to pay handsomely for access to this spice and its essential oil.
Cardamom Oil Varieties
Glabrous or pubescent leaves
Requires less water
Slightly higher minimum elevation
Variable capsule shape
Slightly higher minimum elevation
(Hill, Bengal, Greater, Nepal, Winged) - Amomum Subulatum & Amomum tsao-ko
Cool, camphoraceous taste
Any essential oil can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
The three rules that apply to just about every essential oil are:
- ALWAYS dilute according to your distributor’s instructions
- ALWAYS apply a patch test before using any new essential oil.
- And make sure to ONLY apply your essential oil according to the doses and routes (aromatherapy, topical application, or ingestion) approved by your distributor.
Cardamom oil contains high concentrations of 1,8-cineole—which is a useful constituent, but also a potentially dangerous one if used too much or in the wrong way. Too much 1,8-cineole can cause central nervous system and breathing problems, especially in young children, so experts recommend not using Cardamom oil on or near the faces of infants and children.
Cardamom is a rich essential oil. Rich because it is one of the most valued spices worldwide, rich in medicinal properties, rich in its cultural ties, and rich in potential.
No wonder it is called the “Queen of Spices”.
We suspect her reign as one of the world’s very favorite medicinal and culinary plants will be long and prosperous.