Cardamom is a mild stimulant, but it's nowhere near as strong as caffeine. Sensitive folks might feel its stimulating effects, but most people will get more out of cardamom by enjoying its flavor in Indian or Middle Eastern cooking, or its scent in perfumes and aromatherapy. Before using cardamom to treat any health condition, consult your physician.
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Cardamom, whose Latin name is Elletaria cardamomum, is a member of the ginger family. The plant is native to southern India and also grows in China and Southeast Asia. The flowering plants with purple-veined leaves can reach 20 feet tall. Seedpods are harvested and dried for use in cooking and traditional medicines. Both Chinese medicine and the Indian Ayurvedic system incorporate cardamom.
A Stimulant Called Cineole
Cardamom gets its reputation as a mild stimulant from cineole, a substance which stimulates the central nervous system. Aficionados claim it sharpens their thinking, aids digestion, improves vitality and increases circulation, although there is no clinical research backing these claims. Cineole is also an antiseptic that kills bacteria that cause bad breath.
Related to its claim as a stimulant, Ancient Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Egyptians touted cardamom’s aphrodisiac powers. The spice was incorporated into love potions and mentioned in the Arabian Nights. Some Eastern cultures still regard cardamom as a defense against impotence.
Other Health Benefits
Cardamom is used in herbal concoctions in several ways. It’s considered a boon for bronchitis and asthma sufferers, as it improves circulation to lungs. Some people use it to cleanse the bladder and kidneys, and to detox from caffeine. In Chinese medicine, the spice is associated with the stomach and lungs, and used to stop diarrhea and vomiting, especially in children. Pregnant women may find it helpful in easing morning sickness.
Cooking with Cardamom
Try incorporating cardamom into sweet and savory dishes. Indians use the ground pods in curries. Arabs use it to flavor coffee, along with sugar, saffron and cloves. Cardamom is a good addition to pudding, cakes and creme brulee.