It is a tall, herbaceous perennial herb with branching subterranean rootstock, from which arise a number of upright leafy shoots, bearing alternate, elliptical or lanceolate sheathing leaves. The flowers are borne in panicles, arising from the base of vegetative shoots. The flowers are bisexual but self-sterile, and open in succession from the base towards the tip. Fruits are trilocular capsules, fusifrom to oviod, pale green to yellow in colour, containing 15-20 hard, brownish black, angled and rugose seeds, covered by a thin mucilaginous membrane.
Cardamom owes its aroma and therapeutic properties to the volatile oil present in the seeds (2 to 8%). The important constituent of cardamom is the volatile oil (6-10%) for which it is valued as a spice and flavouring material. Cardamom oil is rich in oxygenated compounds and poor in terpene hydrocarbons. The oil contains about 70 compounds mostly mono-terpenoids. The major components are 1,8-cineole and terpinyl acetate. 1,8-cineole gives a harsh `eucalyptol' smell to the oil if present in high proportion. On the other hand, the oil rich in esters like terpinyl acetate and linalyl acetate are known to give `flowery' smell.
Volatile components of cardamom exhibit antimicrobial activity. Oil has anti-aflatoxin substances. It has inhibitory properties against aflatoxins synthesis and caused 90% drop in aflatoxin elaboration. Thus, oil can be successfully utilized against the danger of aflatoxin on food commodities [Kubo et al, J Agric Food Chem, 1991, 39, 1984; Ranjan et al, Geobios, 1992, 19(1), 39]. Terpineol and acetyl terpineol, the active principles of cardamom seeds showed greater penetration enhancing capacities than Azone which was used as a comparative penetration enhancer for the diffusion of prednisolone through mouse skin in vitro (Yamahara et al, Chem Pharm Bull, 1989, 37, 855). Water and methanol extracts of cardamom caused a significant decrease in gastric secretion after hours of treatment. The effect of water extract on gastric secretion is very similar to that of cimetidine, with a significant decrease in acid output. The effect of methanol extract is primarily observed as decreased pepsin output (Sakai et al, Chem Pharm ull, 1989, 37, 215). Cardamom prevents bad breath. It is used as an additive in iron-enriched foods to mask the unpleasant taste of heme. It is also used in the preparation of deodorizing oral compositions containing copper compounds. The oral composition does not give unpleasant astringent feeling (Chem Abstr, 1989, 111, 160021, 213625; 1990, 112, 11809).
No adverse effect was reported on use of the volatile as medicine.
Cardamom is used as a spice and masticatory, and in medicine. Cardamom seeds have a pleasant aroma and characteristic, warm, slightly pungent taste. It is used for flavouring curries, cakes, bread and for other culinary purposes. It is also used for flavouring liquors. In the Middle East countries, cardamom is used for flavouring coffee. In medicine, it is used as an adjuvant to carminative drugs. It is official in the British and U.S. pharmacopoeias and used as an aromatic stimulant, carminative and flavouring agent. Powdered cardamom mixed with ginger, cloves and caraway is a good stomachic useful in atonic dyspepsia. In herbal medicine, cardamoms are chewed slowly to sweeten the breath, as aphrodisiac, to sooth digestion, stimulate appetite, used against flatulance, colics and disorders of body, often combined with purgatives to offset griping. They are used sometimes in perfumery and for fumigating purposes. They are also used to flavour liqueurs and bitters.