Cardamom has a long history of culinary, medicinal, mental and spiritual use. Cardamom is a member of the Zingiberacea family, which has over 150 species including ginger and turmeric. It comes originally from mountainous forest regions of India, where its seeds are an important part of Indian cuisine, especially the famous chai, an Indian spicy tea that is drunk everywhere by everyone. Cardamom seeds are also used in Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for digestive system disorders. Today, India remains one of the leading producers of cardamom.
In my research on cardamom, I found a great thesis in French by Christine Poirel for her pharmaceutical studies (1). Inspired by its depth about this little aromatic seed, it in turn inspired me to translate some of the history and wonders of this beautiful aromatic plant before I go on to speak about the way we use in the work of AromaGnosis.
Cardamomum is the Latin word from which cardamom takes its root, the Latin word comes from the Greek word kardamomum. It is not sure where this Greek word comes from and some people, including Gabriel Mojay, believe that it’s from the Arabian word hahmama, which is actually a Sanskrit term meaning hot and pungent. Cardamom’s Latin name Elettaria comes from the colloquial, Indian name for cardamom.
This aromatic seed was very popular and considered a central spice in ancient Greece and Rome. Many famous authors mentioned and wrote about its virtues, including Hippocrates the mythical father of clinical medicine (460BC to 370BC), who mentioned its use for complications in labor. Botanist and naturalist Theophrastus (371BC to 288BC) cited cardamom in his Botanical Atlas in a recipe of myrrh wine along with cinnamon, cassis, iris, rose and mint. Galen and Dioscorides both also mentioned cardamom regularly in their writings.
Romans, with their love of baths and aromatic perfumes, used cardamom seeds in their exuberant banquets to aid digestion.
In Europe, it began to be added to the famous theriacs, which were panaceas used mainly by the wealthy, due to their incredibly long list of ingredients of all sorts and from a huge variety of origins including animal as well as vegetable.
Cardamom was used alongside plants such as ginger, peppermint and cinnamon in elixirs for long-life or well-being. Medicinal wines were also very popular, Hippocrates spoke about their virtues and in the Middle Ages they were a principal source of medicine. Cardamom was one of the main spices in the blends used in these medicinal wines.
Cardamom lasted through the ages and became an important member of the pharmacopeia in Europe. The French military doctor, Henri Leclerc [1870 – 1955], stated:
“One must remember that cardamom owes its essence, composed of limonene, terpineol, and cineol, properties that make it one of the best carminatives. It can be a real help in people with heart problems linked to dyspeptic neuropathy. I saw palpitations with extrasystole, precordium anxiety stop with an infusion of cardamom seeds or with 15-20 drops of the mother tincture in a little water…rarely employed as a condiment, cardamom seeds can be used in cooking in the same way as ginger, although cardamom has the advantage of being less irritating: its particularly good in ginger bread where its aroma is very penetrating and delicate. When its chewed, it’s the best substance we have for hiding or neutralizing the tenacious odor of garlic.”
In India, cardamom was cited in the Vedas as far back as 1600BC. It was used in massage to relieve hemorrhoids and jaundice. It was also apparently smoked by women in harems for its euphoric and stimulating effects (2). It was widely known in India and in other cultures such as Morocco as an aphrodisiac.
In China, cardamom was first written about in 720 as a treatment for intestinal diseases, dysentery and diarrhea.
It is of course the essential oil of cardamom that interests us. We import ours from Moosa Khan in India. Its chemical constituents differ depending on the region it is grown in. The main constituents a-terpineol, 1.8 cineol, linalyl acetate and linalool are responsible for its aroma. According to Christine Poirel’s thesis, the essential oil is used for bloating colitis, diarrhea, dyspepsia, digestion, bad breath, nausea, bronchitis, flu and colds, sinusitis and coughs, as well as tiredness and drowsiness.
As you know our sphere of work involves its psycho/emotional/spiritual actions on the psyche, which is based on our own experience in using this oil with ourselves and our clients.
Some of the oils we use don’t have a pleasant aroma and some even have a challenging odor. However, cardamom’s rich, complex and spicy odor is really pleasing and harmonious. It is no surprise that it has been used in perfumery for thousands of years and is still a precious ingredient in many perfumes and incenses.
I was really happy to find and work with this oil because we do not have many allies for working with the mental body. Memories, thoughts, analytical processing, ideas, beliefs all stem from the mental body. This subtle body is part of the psyche. Cardamom enables us to balance this part of ourselves and let go of some of the rigidity that a dominant mental body can have on us.
This oil helps us to transform outdated, negative self-beliefs. It’s a great ally for digesting past trauma, including ancestral traumas. It puts us in touch with our essence, so we know what is us and helps us to let go of what isn’t ours, including other people’s projections, demands and ideas about us. As it helps physical digestion, it also helps us digest emotions, experiences, thoughts that have remained stuck or stagnant within. Energetically, this oil helps us perceive our authentic self.It is this subtle perception that help us to be able to make this difference between our true self and what is no longer who we are. This releases the conflict between the old, outdated ways of being and the new.
Cardamom also has a positive effect on the heart, bringing a warmth and compassion to our being, which helps us find a middle way between the head and mental body and the heart and emotions.
Gabriel Mojay speaks about cardamom’s ability to strengthen the Qi energy of the spleen/pancreas, which enables us to transform the elements we digest (food and water) into Qi and blood (3). I began to think about this energetically, and I see a correspondence between long term fragility and weakness in the spleen that corresponds to a deep inner wound as well as a tendency to analyze and intellectualize rather than ‘feel’. It seems that cardamom’s action on the spleen supports a stabilizing role between thoughts and emotions and brings a certain amount of optimism and nurturance to our journey of inner healing.
It’s an oil that works steadily and effectively rather than bringing about a huge transformation quickly. I advise you to keep it with you at all times and smell it regularly. You will be amazed at how much of what is holding you back is cleared over time. In fact, it is only through working with an oil, becoming intimate with it, journeying with it, journaling with it over time that you will really get to know and understand its action on the psyche. It is like building a relationship with a human.It takes time and whatever anyone else says about that person, ultimately only you can know how you relate to them.
Cardamom really helps us to resonate with our whole psyche (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies) here in the world of matter. There is a feeling of balance and authenticity when we allow this oil to breath with us.
- Moro-Buronzo A, Schnebelen JC. Grand guide des huiles essentielles. Paris : Hachette Santé ; 2013. 251 p cited originally in https://hal.univ-lorraine.fr/hal-01947060/document
- Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit by Gabriel Mojay
All images from wikipedia.