Befriending Cardamom

Befriending Cardamom

Of all the amazing herbs celebrated in the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia, there is one in particular that I never leave my house without. Not only is it helpful in moments of indigestion, but it's also said to balance the effects of caffeine, thanks in part to its sweet and slightly pungent taste. 

The herb I am referring to is cardamom. This delicious spice comes in a small pod which can be used whole in soups and porridges, or as a seed ground into powder which can be sprinkled over just about anything. 

You may know cardamom best for its wonderfully intoxicating fragrance.

Cardamom's unique aroma makes it a common ingredient in chai tea, or you may know it as the small green pod that sometimes makes its way onto your spoon when eating Indian food. 

Whatever your relationship is to this edible botanical, here are a few more reasons to love it.

How Cardamom Affects Your Body

Most herbs have either a heating or cooling effect on the body, although some are neutral. Generally, a heating action is useful for stimulating the body, while a cooling action helps to soothe the body. 

Cardamom is an interesting case, because you may see it classified as heating or cooling, depending on the source. The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia by Sada Shiva Tirtha addresses this by clarifying that the small green pods (commonly available in the U.S.) are typically cooling, while the large black pods tend to be heating. 

Regardless, cardamom is one of the few herbs that is stimulating enough to awaken digestion yet soothing enough to do so without aggravating pitta dosha. 

In the yogic world, cardamom is considered to be a sattvic plant, meaning it does not agitate or dull the senses in a way that could hinder spiritual pursuits. In fact, sattvic herbs and foods may actually be supportive in meditation. 

With its pure nature, cardamom stimulates the mind just enough to bring clarity and joy. 

It is also known to reduce kapha dosha in the stomach and lungs, which can aid in comfortable, balanced digestion and support the healthy function of the respiratory tract. 

Generally speaking, cardamom supports the downward flow of energy in the gastrointestinal tract. This comes in handy when uncomfortable digestive challenges arise and offers soothing relief. Similarly, it expels excess vata dosha down and out from the colon. 

Cardamom is also a wonderful aid in absorption and is often used in a classical takram recipe (an Ayurvedic probiotic yogurt drink) to support this purpose. For the same reason, it can be helpful to ingest cardamom in correlation with vitamins and other herbal supplements.

How to Use Cardamom In Your Kitchen

Cardamom is a prized companion for ice cream, milk, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and bananas, as it helps these items metabolize in your body. This may be why we often see cardamom as a featured flavor in desserts and caffeinated or dairy-based beverages such as chai. 

Its prevalence in these delicacies could also be explained by the fact that cardamom is known to enhance the flavor of other foods and spices that it is paired with. It may even be of service to those who are experiencing loss of taste! 

Even when cardamom isn't the star ingredient, we often find it playing a subtle and supporting role in traditional Ayurvedic dishes like kitchari, kheer, and golden milk.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy cardamom:

  • Add it to a simple breakfast porridge
  • Blend it into chutneys and sauces
  • Mix it into your cacao, coffee, or matcha
  • Sprinkle it on fresh fruit or toast
  • Fold it into a rejuvenating treat of dates and almonds
  • Steep it into a cozy digestive tea
  • Add a whole cardamom pod to your water bottle for freshness
  • Add a pod or two to soup (then remove like a bay leaf)
  • Infuse it into a spiced ghee
  • Support your oral health with a tasty, cleansing tooth powder

Sourcing Cardamom with Intention and Reverence

There is currently a global shortage of cardamom due to harsh weather conditions related to climate change, which may be reflected in a higher price point. To limit waste of this precious resource, commit to the practice of buying only as much cardamom as you will use. 

Start with a small quantity and use it intentionally, with reverence for the hands that it lovingly moved through to get to yours.

“Take what you need and leave the rest.”— From Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

This mindset of intention is not mutually exclusive to cardamom. What if every time you used an herb or spice, you brought into your awareness the time and care that went into its creation and its journey to you? How would it feel to silently express gratitude for the extraordinary chain of events that made it possible for each unique plant to be in your presence?

Always buy cardamom that is sustainably sourced and fairly traded. This ensures the social and economic well-being of small farmers, while committing to responsible practices that prioritize the longevity of healthy plants and ecosystems. 

Harvesting cardamom can be laborious due to the plant's fragile nature. It's important to understand that this extra effort will also be reflected in the cost of a cardamom powder that is ethically sourced.

Ayurveda is an art of living in relationship to the world around us. We have evolved with plants over thousands of years and as such we are deeply intertwined. 

In working with herbs, we have the opportunity to reflect our love and gratitude not only back to the plant itself, but back to the sun, soil, water, and farming communities that make it all possible.

About the Author

Molly McConnell, CAP, ERYT

Molly is the co-founder of Cultivate Balance, an Ayurvedic practice and educational platform that specializes in resilience and intentional lifestyle design for purpose-oriented...

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