Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) owes its healthfulness to the antioxidants in the volatile oils in its seeds, which boost immunity by fighting against reactive molecules called free radicals. An antispasmodic, cardamom can improve both digestion and respiration by controlling abnormal muscle contractions (which could cause cramps and wheezing, for instance). It also keeps inflammation in check by reducing the production and activity of molecules transmitting signals for inflammation.
The credit for cardamom’s health benefits can largely be given to the volatile oils in its seeds – the very oils that make it intensely aromatic and flavorful. The oils terpinene, cineol, and limonene play a big part.
Why It’s So Great
1. Boosts Immunity
What do your immune cells do when they see something they recognize as foreign, like bacteria? They “eat” them and shoot them with ammo we know as free radicals. The problem with this defense strategy is that the free radicals can turn around and destroy the walls of the immune cells themselves – if produced in quantities the body cannot handle. Generally, internal fail-safes called antioxidants take care of that. Foods, especially veggies, fruits, and herbs (not supplements containing isolated ingredients), also add a wide variety to your natural antioxidant store.
- Cardamom can give you an extra supply of antioxidants to stop the free radicals on their tracks. The antioxidants mostly belong to the polyphenol, flavonoid, and terpenoid groups of compounds present in the volatile oils.
2. Helps with Respiration
Continuous waves of calcium flowing in and out of cells are what causes muscles to contract and relax, respectively, including those in your respiratory tract. Cardamom can step in and hinder the inflow of calcium into cells, stopping spontaneous waves of spasms – like when you have a breathing difficulty because of, say, an allergy – and helping your airways relax.
- Moreover, the oil 1,8-cineole can help clear your breathing passages of mucus, allowing you to breathe more freely when you’re down with a cold or the flu. You have probably already used 1,8-cineole if you ever used eucalyptus oil or its products to treat cough.
3. Manages Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure fluctuates slightly in the course of the day in response to your activities and emotions. The body has a system in place to bring it back to normal. Cardamom weaves itself into this system.
- It opposes the nerve cells that stimulate blood vessels and obstruct muscle contractions of the vessel walls. As a result, the diameter of blood vessels widens and fluid pressure is relieved.
4. Supports the Digestive System
Cardamom can help make digestion a smooth process.
- The spice targets your intestinal walls, puppeteers the nerves and muscles there, and helps keep contractions of the intestinal muscles regular. Rapid involuntary contractions cause spasms and pain.
Cardamom can also protect the lining of your stomach from excess stomach acid. So, if you are used to spicy foods, adding cardamom to them would be wise.
5. Limits Inflammation
Inflammation is your immune system’s way of coping with threat from the outside or inside. Usually, the natural anti-inflammatory agents in your body make inflammation subside when the threat is removed. But with age, or poor lifestyle choices, your innate anti-inflammatory system does not work well on its own. It needs help to keep inflammation in check. This is why you are asked to increase plant produce in your diet – these are rich in antioxidants and other chemicals that help reduce inflammation.
Cardamom can prove useful here, too, by minimizing the chemical crosstalk of the immune system and, hence, reducing inflammation.
In scientific parlance, we can say it
- Suppresses cytokine release by T helper cells
- Down-regulates cytokines such as COX-2, IL-6, and TNF-α
- Reduces nitric oxide production by macrophages, possibly by inhibiting the enzyme i-NOS
Have 2–3 cardamom pods a day. Chew them as is or add them to your curries and desserts. Alternatively, have a maximum of 2 tablespoons of cardamom powder a day.