Cardamom pods are a great-tasting spice both warming and refreshing at the same time. However, they’re more than just a nice addition to your chai or curry.
Known as the Queen of Spices in India, the health benefits of cardamom are as diverse as the recipes you can use it in.
- It has long been used to treat acute effects, such as relieving nausea and the embarrassing problem of bad breath.
- Being spice royalty means it can deal with more serious complaints. For example, it has been found effective against digestive complaints. Furthermore, there is evidence it may significantly contribute to the protection and health of the brain, the heart and the lungs – our three most important organs.
Let’s see what cardamom pods can do for you!
Cardamom pods may keep your breath fresh
One of the most embarrassing things when meeting new people is discovering that you’ve had bad breath all along! First impressions are so important, whether you’re on a date, at a job interview or business networking, and how we smell affects how we’re perceived.
Bad breath often has bacterial overgrowth as an underlying cause. They ferment nutrients from the food we eat to sustain themselves, which can create a nasty smell. Perfume isn’t enough in this situation, we have to remove the bacteria causing the trouble.
A study of cardamom (made from cardamom pods) and common bacteria that cause dental cavities found that extract from the spice could be effective against certain harmful species. They included golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus) and candida (Candida albicans). These are often responsible for infections and in the case of candida, white patches known as thrush. The researchers tested both green cardamom pods, which are more widely available, and black cardamom pods.
- In general, the bacteria used in this study are known causes of tooth decay, so regular cardamom consumption may help you keep your teeth healthy too!
Of course, cardamom is no substitute for brushing your teeth, but could keep harmful bacteria down throughout the day in between brushes.
In human volunteers, cardamom helped to halve the amount of bacteria in their saliva, as part of a blend known as betel quid. This contains betel leaf, betel nut, kattha, lime, cardamom, clove and fennel.
Cardamom has antibacterial properties, which could keep populations of oral bacteria down. Not only does this help to prevent bad breath, but it also greatly reduces the chances of developing dental cavities. It can’t replace regular brushing, but is useful for those times between meals when you may not have access to a toothbrush!
Potentially protect your stomach lining
Stomach ulcers can really ruin a fun night out if they’re large enough to cause pain. Smoking, painkiller use (certain NSAIDs), some infections and stress can all cause ulcers, with stress being particularly hard to avoid.
In a combination of herbs
A lab study set out to see how well cardamom pods and other herbs could work against stomach ulcer formation. Here, aspirin was used to trigger ulcer development and the associated damage to the stomach lining.
Researchers tested a combination of cardamom, turmeric and sembung leaf at different doses, and found that all amounts reduced ulcer formation by at least 60%.
The drug used as a comparison was less effective in preventing ulcers even though it tamed one type of immune cell a little more.
While painkillers such as aspirin are anti-inflammatory, the harm they cause to the stomach lining signals immune cells to move in. Ironically, this results in an inflammatory response! Aspirin reduces mucus secretion in the stomach lining, which we need to protect it against digestive enzymes and acid. The damage from this lack of protection creates an inflammatory response as an attempt to resolve it. If this continues, you get more tissue damage, and more pain to ruin your day.
And cardamom pods alone
- Cardamom pods can be effective on their own if you want to protect your stomach lining.
Another lab study tested different types of cardamom extract against ulcers triggered by aspirin and alcohol. These are commonly seen together in our everyday lives, as we often reach for an aspirin to relieve a hangover.
Fortunately, cardamom extract was effective in reducing the amount of stomach ulcers, with rates comparable to Ranitidine. Does that name ring a bell? In 2019, some preparations of Ranitidine were recalled for being contaminated with a carcinogen during the manufacturing process. Cardamom, fortunately, does not cause cancer.
Cardamom pods and H. pylori infection
Besides smoking, aspirin and alcohol, Helicobacter pylori infection is another major cause of stomach ulcers. H. pylori may affect one-third or more people in developed countries, and up to 100% in poorer regions. Another lab study, this time on H. pylori bacteria in a dish, found a range of herbs and spices to be effective against it. They include cardamom, as well as ginger, turmeric and anise.
Many were at least as effective as conventional antibiotics, which can require repeated prescriptions and may harm friendly species of gut bacteria. Besides ulcers, long-term severe infection could raise the risk of gastric cancer. So, don’t hesitate to use antimicrobial herbs and spices to keep the possibility low.
Everyday items such as alcohol, cigarettes and aspirin may irritate the lining of the stomach and cause ulcers. Cardamom pods could reduce your risk of stomach ulcers by supporting production of protective mucus, reducing inflammation and preventing bacterial growth. Cardamom, along with ginger, turmeric and anise, were found to be at least as effective as store-bought antibiotics.
May relieve nausea
Nausea and vomiting are never welcome, especially when the problem is severe enough to cause dehydration. During pregnancy, most women will suffer from “morning” sickness, which can strike at any time of the day. You want to enjoy your pregnancy, but nausea and vomiting can greatly impact your quality of life.
Cardamom’s digestive benefits may fortunately apply in this case. A trial involving 120 pregnant women, up to 22 weeks, tested capsules with 500mg of cardamom powder against a placebo. All women took either the real treatment or a placebo three times a day, 30 minutes before meals.
- Those taking cardamom enjoyed significant relief from their morning sickness. However, this dose is considered to be a little too high while pregnant, so we suggest sticking to using cardamom in food.
Cardamom could help to relieve nausea, such as that experienced during pregnancy, for example. Pregnant women have enjoyed significant relief from morning sickness after taking cardamom.
Potential antioxidant benefits
Antioxidants, by their definition, protect us against oxidative stress. This is a major cause of tissue damage and disease, from heart disease to dementia to the ageing process itself! Yes, oxidative stress can compromise our DNA, and a build-up of DNA damage leads to biological ageing. Even DNA damage in the immune system can contribute to ageing all around the body, as everything is interconnected.
The most visible example of oxidative stress is sunburn, so you can see how destructive it is. Seemingly harmless rounds of tissue damage over time eventually turn into serious problems. We’re lucky that we know how to stay sun-smart here in Australia. Our native Australian foods, such as Kakadu plum and lemon myrtle, are known for their antioxidant benefits due to acquired knowledge built-up over millennia of living under the harsh sun.
Just as we use sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure, we must take in antioxidant-rich foods and beverages. Thankfully, these generally have rich and interesting flavours, including Kakadu plum, green tea and ginger.
Whole cardamom extracts appear more effective than isolated phytochemicals.
- When researchers tested cardamom and several other popular Indian spices, the whole herbs contained stronger antioxidants than commonly-tested components. They were also less toxic in high amounts.
Each spice had their own profile of benefits, with different measures of antioxidant capacity being stronger or weaker.
What this means for you is that you don’t have to rely on an isolated, manufactured and likely expensive product. Instead, we can have fun in the kitchen with different spice recipes! Whole foods and combinations of them could be more effective than taking supplements of isolated nutrients, which don’t always improve our health. Even vitamins C, E and A show mixed results when taken as supplements.
Antioxidant capacity with a side of heavy metal detoxification
Environmental toxins that damage human health include heavy metals, such as mercury and lead. Even though our exposure to them has fallen in recent years, they are still responsible for a range of health problems including intellectual disability. We shouldn’t wait for them to clear from the environment, but instead proactively remove them from our bodies.
Another study tested cardamom and a few other Indian spices for both their antioxidant and metal-chelating abilities. Chelation is essentially the “capture” of a mineral, so it can be removed from the body without being reabsorbed.
- Cardamom showed a greater ability to bind to iron, the chosen test mineral, than clove, licorice or mace. This may mean that cardamom can bind toxic metals such as lead and mercury.
Cardamom has a diverse profile of antioxidants, so it may guard our bodies against everyday oxidative damage, such as sunburn, and help prevent chronic disease. It could also bind to toxic metals, such as lead, iron and mercury, assisting in their removal from our body and adding another layer of protection.
Cardamom may improve your heart health
Cardiovascular diseases are the world’s top cause of chronic disease and deaths. Two of the most important ways to improve our heart health are avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy weight. However, there are many other dietary changes you can make to boost your cardio health even further.
High blood pressure
One of these dietary changes could be regular use of cardamom. One study involved 20 people with high blood pressure, where they took three grams of cardamom powder every day for three months. Their blood pressure fell and the rate of blood clot breakdown rose significantly, while their antioxidant status rose by 90%. Inappropriate blood clotting inside the vessels constricts blood flow by reducing space. Blood pressure then has to rise so ensure circulation to all areas of the body. This is a problem because not only does it put more strain on the vessel walls, but clots can break off and wedge into smaller branches. When this happens and a clot stops blood flow to an area, heart attack, stroke or embolism is the result.
- Antioxidants really are the gift that keeps on giving; they could even lower blood pressure too! While a substance known as angiotensin II is linked to high blood pressure, and works by raising oxidative stress.
The use of antioxidants prevents it from causing trouble, which could have the added benefit of avoiding the side effects of angiotensin-inhibiting drugs.
Cardamom pods may also be a diuretic, but this was only found in a lab study on rats. It’s more difficult to tell in humans because we often enjoy cardamom as part of tea or coffee. If you add cardamom to tea or coffee, which are already diuretics because of their caffeine content, do you notice an added effect?
Besides high blood pressure, high cholesterol is another major contributor to cardiovascular disease. It increases plaque build-up in the arteries, which as we know restricts blood flow.
A lab study on rats tested the ability of oil and powder from green cardamom pods to reduce cholesterol levels, in order to prevent high cholesterol. Total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, triglycerides, and the cholesterol content of the heart and liver all fell by over 30%. Only the LDL cholesterol levels fell, not the protective HDL type, which is associated with health benefits.
Interestingly, high cholesterol was associated with a lower production of antioxidant enzymes by the liver.
Cardamom solved both this issue and the problem of lower antioxidant enzymes in the heart by restoring their production.
We need to make our own antioxidant enzymes, which work with those in the food we eat and are stronger. They recharge each other and help complete the neutralisation of free radicals. This is another reason why we need a diverse range of nutrients and foods, not just high doses of one supplement.
Cardamom could have benefits for your cardiovascular health thanks to its antioxidant effects, which may keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure down, and enable the break up harmful blood clots. Cardamom works with the antioxidants we produce ourselves to produce stronger effects. This is why eating a variety of antioxidant rich foods is important.
May improve your lung function and fitness
Even just inhaling cardamom’s aroma could have health benefits! Especially if we have mould or dust allergies.
A study involving healthy students found that aromatherapy with cardamom oil improved their cardio performance during exercise. Their VO₂ max measurements rose by 20% after the aromatherapy, and several other measurements of aerobic fitness improved, too.
What’s more, their heart rate variability was better with aromatherapy. This is a measurement of how adaptable the heart is to changing conditions, such as exercise.
- A higher heart rate variability indicates better health, as long as it’s in a healthy range.
A lab study also found that cardamom could relax the airways by toning down excessive cell signalling. As it was tested against a toxin-induced model of asthma, the spice may be useful when you’ve been around irritants.
It also reflects how well our automatic nervous system processes function. When your nervous system is dysregulated and heart rate variability is low, you typically experience fatigue, poor exercise performance and an inability to handle everyday stresses. If you come home after a long day at work and just want a cup of cardamom chai, we say go for it! Re-balance your nervous system to recharge and feel energised.
Inhaling the aromatic compounds in cardamom may boost your cardio fitness by regulating heart rate and breathing. Inhaling cardamom made the heart more adaptable to changes in physical activity, and at the same time relaxed the respiratory system.
May protect against Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver. It has a relationship to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes, as insulin resistance drives its development. The main triggers for insulin resistance in this case? Inflammation and oxidative stress.
A clinical trial of 87 people with NAFLD compared cardamom powder at a dose of two 500mg capsules, three times daily, to a placebo. Taking cardamom led to significant drops in blood insulin levels, insulin resistance, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. On the other hand, insulin sensitivity and HDL cholesterol rose. It also increased activity of an all-round anti-ageing gene, Sirt1, by 40%. The Sirt genes may have a range of anti-inflammatory, metabolism-regulating benefits.
We’re not saying a high-carb, high-fat processed diet is ever a good idea, but cardamom could reduce the damage. A lab study on rats showed that the spice normalised liver enzymes and prevented the liver from forming scar tissue. This is because the antioxidant properties of cardamom may prevent liver cells from making too much collagen in the face of oxidative stress. When allowed to continue, scar tissue builds up and creates more problems.
Why metabolic health is so important
Anything that improves insulin signalling is very much welcome. Globally, one in four people have NAFLD, and this rises to 80% of obese people. Metabolic diseases, especially diabetes, can’t just be forgotten about after taking a few pills or insulin injections.
- Long-term consequences of diabetes relate back to the problem of unabsorbed blood sugar.
When sugar hangs around in the blood, it causes tissue damage. This starts off in the smaller corners of our bodies: the tiny blood vessels, nerve endings and the kidney’s filtration units. If nothing is done to improve insulin signalling and blood sugar control, problems such as neuropathy, or poor circulation, appear.
You don’t just get to pick one consequence. Imagine being in a situation where you not only lose a toe to a persistent infection – the result of poor circulation and an inability to feel there’s a problem – but you can’t get a prosthetic for years because of poor wound healing! These scenarios do happen, so the best thing is to do your best to restore your blood sugar levels as soon as you can.
Fatty build up around the liver can prevent it from doing it’s job properly. It can also trigger metabolic syndrome, diabetes and insulin resistance. Cardamom could help save your life – and its quality – by improving insulin sensitivity and protecting your liver.
Cardamom pods could protect the brain
Perhaps the most frightening age-related disease is Alzheimer’s disease. Here, an accumulation of toxic plaque disrupts and eventually kills off brain cells, leading to a loss of function. Like cancer, prevention is much better than any attempt at slowing or reversing the condition.
- A study on a range of herbal remedies found that cardamom is one significant inhibitor of an enzyme that helps to build those toxic plaques. A 5% solution inhibited it by just over 20%, but the more unattainable in real-life 70% solution reduced plaques by over 70%.
However, if we combine cardamom with other herbs that are effective, such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves, they may have a synergistic effect. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger are all ingredients in the chai recipe below!
Cardamom’s ability to reduce activity of our pro-inflammatory genes, while increasing anti-inflammatory gene activity, could help protect against dementia. The pro-inflammatory genes it turns down are very much upstream, meaning their activity turns up that of others that sustain inflammation. The anti-inflammatory gene it acts on not only encourages multiple anti-inflammatory pathways, but also antioxidant ones and detoxification.
Prevention is the best treatment
Our brains are the seats of who we are as people; our memories and higher cognitive functions are where our identity comes from. If you have read the book The End of Alzheimer’s, you have seen both how devastating cognitive decline is and how amazing it feels to have your abilities restored. Successful professional women have lost and then restored their abilities to speak several languages and run businesses. They gained their lives back after following a comprehensive protocol that includes reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, some in spite of a family history.
Even if you don’t have a family history of dementia, age-related cognitive and memory problems are best prevented. This is why a diverse range of plant antioxidants, that soothe inflammation and keep our innate repair and defence abilities switched on, must be part of our everyday diets.
Other simple ways to protect your brain now include developing healthy sleep habits, such as avoiding blue light exposure at night.
There are plenty of built-in or downloadable blue light filters you can use if you need or want to use screens at night. Avoiding sugary, processed foods; regular physical activity (both strength training and cardio); and limiting alcohol are important, too.
Alzheimer’s disease is a traumatic degenerative disease of the brain, whereby toxic plaque builds up on the brain. Cardamom could protect our brains from cognitive decline later in life as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. It appears to work by preventing the build-up of these harmful plaques, relieving inflammation and boosting antioxidant status.
Cardamom pods might help prevent cancer
Cancer is one of the most common and feared categories of chronic illness in the world, with around 40% of us statistically expected to develop it. Regardless of how effective or safe treatment becomes, at the end of the day, we want to avoid the disease. So how may cardamom lend a helping hand?
Under normal circumstances, our immune systems are able to detect cancer cells and destroy them before they can grow into a tumour. Cancer is therefore not just about DNA damage, but whether our immune systems are functioning well enough to remove dangerous cells in time. This is a big reason why most cancers are seen in older adults and very young children, as their immune systems are weaker.
We want to remove these cells before they become established and set up ways of hiding from the immune system, which require specialised drugs to get around.
Fortunately, a lab study on cardamom and black pepper showed that both were able to increase function of the spleen and our natural killer cells.
- The spleen helps the immune system to clear out unwanted things like old, dead red blood cells. Our natural killer cells are responsible for removing cancer cells, among other things.
What’s more, cardamom had an anti-inflammatory effect, while black pepper actually increased inflammation! Black pepper does have overall health-promoting benefits, and this is likely just a short-term effect. It’s still something to keep in mind if you have an inflammatory disorder that is actively flaring up.
At its core, cancer is the result of DNA damage in ways that trigger cells to grow out of control. This also turns off the self-destruct mechanism cells have for when they become too broken down to function in a healthy way. What causes DNA damage? Often, the issue is oxidative stress, which is one reason why smoking causes so many cancers.
Another part of how cancer-causing toxins put us at risk of the disease is through increasing inflammation.
- Certain inflammatory pathways encourage the development of new blood vessels, something tumours need to sustain themselves. Others could boost the ability of dangerous cells to move around the body.
How do cardamom’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities measure up? A lab study pitting cardamom against a toxin known to cause cancer found that its effect on our inflammation-related genes helped to reduce tumour formation. Instead of tumours forming in 22 out of 24 cases, the rate fell to 7 out of 24 with cardamom extract treatment.
Most of this effect came from cardamom’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. For example, measurements of oxidative stress were almost normal with cardamom treatment. The inflammatory marker chosen also remained at a normal level. However, levels of glutathione were much higher with cardamom treatment than normal. Carcinogen exposure lowered glutathione even further. Glutathione is known as the “master” antioxidant; our bodies produce it as an easily-rechargeable way to protect us from oxidative stress. Additionally, it’s used up in one of our detoxification pathways.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your risk of cancer, it may be best for you to enjoy a diet rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods. More studies, especially on humans, are needed, but the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in cardamom could help out in significant ways. They do this by lowering oxidative damage, killing cancer cells, and preventing tumours from forming.
Cooking with cardamom pods: Chai
Chai literally means “tea”, but in Australia it generally refers to an Indian sweet blend of spices mixed with black tea. They generally include cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom. As chai mixes use bark, seed and root spices, it takes longer to prepare than leaf-only teas and must be simmered. The addition of milk, a fat source, could also help to bring out the oil- and fat-based phytochemicals.
- In the study where cardamom reduced cholesterol and restored the heart and liver’s antioxidant status, cardamom oil was often more effective. It is therefore best to make sure you extract both the water-compatible and oil-based components.
For four servings of a rich chai with both sweet and savory notes, use:
- Two bags or teaspoons of black tea
- 2 ½ cups of water
- 2 ½ cups of milk, dairy or plant based
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom pods
- A pinch of ground cloves
- A pinch of black pepper
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- Optional: dried orange peel or rose petals for garnish
- First, bring water to the boil and add the black tea (either in bags or a strainer), cinnamon stick and ground spices.
- Reduce water to a simmer, and keep it there for at least 5 minutes depending on how strong you want your chai, stirring constantly.
- Remove the black tea and cinnamon stick, but add the milk and honey, stirring until the chai has heated through again.
- Pour your chai, then garnish with orange peel or rose petals if you choose.
Cooking with cardamom pods: Fish Curry with Basmati Rice
Cardamom is so versatile, as it can be included in both food and drink. Here’s a warming fish curry with low-GI basmati rice to help you get through the cold months!
- 1 whole snapper fish, or the equivalent size of another fish
- 2 cups of chicken bone or vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- Chopped dark kale
- ¾ can crushed tomatoes
- 12 minced cloves of garlic
- 12 green slightly crushed cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons of ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of turmeric
- Chopped coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cup of basmati rice
- Place fish in an oiled pan then put in the oven on a relatively low heat.
- Take the fish out just as it begins to brown. As it cools, heat more of your oil in a pan and cook the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, mustard, cardamom, cumin, cayenne, paprika and turmeric.
- After another five minutes, add in the fish and broth, simmering for 15 minutes.
- Simmer for another 15 minutes after adding in the cream, kale and coriander.
- Cook your basmati rice while the curry is simmering, and combine together to serve!
Cardamom pods are the Queen of Spices for a good reason. You can freshen your breath, settle your stomach and improve your long-term cardiovascular, metabolic and brain health all with the one spice.
Do you enjoy using cardamom pods in cooking or warm drinks? Let us know in the comments below how you like to cook with cardamom pods, and what benefits you may get from it.
What do cardamom pods taste like?
Cardamom pods could be described as a warm, mild spice with a hint of mint.
Can cardamom delay periods?
Cardamom should not delay your period. In fact, one of its traditional uses in Vietnam is to trigger periods after they’ve been late!
Is cardamom safe during pregnancy?
There have been concerns that cardamom could cause miscarriage or otherwise be unsafe in pregnancy. However, the US FDA states that pregnant women can enjoy cardamom in amounts typically found in food. Avoid high doses or concentrated remedies, such as essential oils.
Additionally, research on pregnant mice found that cardamom improved the ability of their babies to learn and remember. It seemed to slow their physical growth, but this study did use high doses relative to their size.
Can cardamom pods cause constipation?
Actually, cardamom has been traditionally used to relieve constipation, as it can regulate muscle contractions in the digestive system. It does soothe overactive contractions, so it has been a traditional remedy for diarrhoea.
Should I take cardamom pods to lose weight?
Evidence regarding cardamom pods as a weight loss aid is unfortunately mixed. While studies on mice have found that they could reduce body fat, human clinical trials do not seem to show any effect. However, one study on obese, pre-diabetic women found a decreased waist circumference with cardamom supplementation.
A few other herbal teas, such as oolong tea or green tea, may be of use instead, alongside the right diet and physical activity.
Are cardamom pods poisonous to dogs?
Dogs can have cardamom pods in tiny amounts, according to Dog Care Life. As it can be a laxative in larger amounts and dogs do have a strong sense of smell, you don’t want to go past giving them a couple of pods.