Zingaberaceae, Ellataria cardamomum, Cardamom
Cardamom is an herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family native to the monsoon forests of Southern India, and also grows wild in Burma. The plant has tall leafy shoots, grows between 8 – 10 ft tall and produces slightly pungent, highly aromatic pods. The pods are full of seeds with a distinct smell, not dissimilar to camphor. The fruit is a three-sided green oval containing dark reddish-brown seeds. Pods are picked just before maturity and washed. They are then sun dried, or dried on roofs or over stove-top heat.
Cardamom is cultivated on a commercial scale in India, Sri Lanka and Guatemala. Virtually all of Guatemala’s cardamom is exported to the East.
The name cardamom is ancient Greek in origin. Cardamom’s generic name Elletaria, is derived from a Sanskrit name ela, and ellatari is still Indian vernacular for the spice, meaning ‘seeds of ela’.
There have been many historical references indicating that Cardamom is an aphrodisiac. In many parts of the East it was considered sacred, and used for the purposes of sacrifice. It was said to have been cultivated, along with turmeric (another member of the Zingaberaceae family) in the Gardens of Babylon in the eighth century. The ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds to keep their teeth white.
Medicinally, cardamom is an aromatic stimulant, acting on the digestive system, good for colic, indigestion and flatulence; recommended to treat the after-effects of gastronomic indulgence. Additionally, cardamom is a purgative, and has a cooling effect on the body. It has been used in the treatment of jaundice, piles, and disorders of the heated. Early Brahmanic texts mention it in connection with headache, nausea, halitosis and fever.
Cardamom is one of the spices, along with sesame, dedicated to Circe, Medea and Hecate, the latter being the goddess of the infernal regions, queen and patroness of witches and sorcerers. cardamom has evil connotations.