Cardamom: growing, plant care & uses

Regina
Regina
Regina
Regina

I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

Cardamom is known for its versatility. Although you can not harvest seeds in this country, we will show you how to grow the exotic ornamental plant yourself to obtain the leaves, which can also be used.

Black cardamom and green cardamom pods in bowls
Black cardamom is significantly larger than green cardamom [Photo: Rostovtsevayu/ Shutterstock.com]

Cardamom is a very special spice that quickly awakens our wanderlust for South Asia. In this article, you will learn everything about the uniquely spicy capsules, their origin, planting and use of cardamom.

Cardamom: origin and properties

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) belongs to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and is thus not only related to ginger (Zingiber officinalis), but is also closely related to turmeric (Curcuma longa) and galangal (Alpinia officinarum). The thick-rooted tropical perennial originates from the Himalayan region of the Indies and is now also grown commercially on a large scale in Tanzania, Thailand, Guatemala and Honduras. The plant reaches heights of up to 3 metres and thrives mostly in the partial shade to full shade of tropical forests.

The lanceolate cardamom leaves are bushy and resemble palm fronds in their arrangement. Similar to ginger, thick rhizomes are formed to persist in the soil. White cardamom flower strongly resembles an orchid, has partial blue stripes and yellow petal edges. This is where the trifoliate capsule fruits, used as a spice, develop, each containing 15 to 20 angular, brown seeds. The seeds contain almost all the seasoning power of the capsules. The seed pods are harvested while unripe and dried directly, sometimes bleached. The spice is one of the most expensive spices in the world after saffron (Crocus sativus), vanilla (Vanilla sp.) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).

Note: The spice is often pronounced “cardamon”. However, since the name (Elettaria cardamomum) comes from Latin, the correct spelling is “cardamom”.

Different types of cardamom

When it comes to cardamom, most people think of bright green capsules. However, there is also a black type. We present the species used as a spice.

Black cardamom

Black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) is a distinct species within the ginger family and has dark brown, almost black seed pods, which are also larger than those of the common cardamom. The taste of black cardamom is smoky and tart; it is popularly used in Sri Lanka for seasoning and making liquor.

Close-up of green cardamom pods
Cardamom plants can only be grown as houseplants in the UK [Photo: AmyLv/ Shutterstock.com]

White or green cardamom

White cardamom is the name given to the bleached seed pods of the conventional cardamom, harvested while still unripe and having a pale beige colour. However, the dried cardamom has the best quality without further processing with the typical pale green capsules. Its flavour is milder than that of black cardamom and does not have a smoky note. The species is divided into the two variants used as spices, Malabar cardamom (Elettaria cadamomum var. cardamomum) and the less sought-after Ceylon cardamom (Elettaria cadamomum var. major).

Planting cardamom: location conditions and more

The heat-loving plant can be kept in our latitudes only as a houseplant. Seeds cannot be harvested here, but the leaves also have the typical cardamom flavour and smell aromatic. This is due to the fact that cardamom requires consistently high temperatures of around 25 °C and a long exposure time, which only exists in the tropics. Therefore, the tropical spice does not bloom at all here. The plant is ideal for keeping indoors as it copes well with partial shade and shadier places. It does not need direct sunlight and poorly tolerates it. Cardamom is one of the edible houseplants.

Cardamom plants do not grow outdoors in our country because they come from the tropics and cannot tolerate temperatures below 15 °C. The plants should therefore be kept in pots and placed outside at most in the summer, but then in partial to full shade. As soon as nighttime temperatures fall below the minimum temperature in autumn, cardamom must be brought indoors and overwintered there in a bright and warm location.

Cardamom plant in bloom
Unfortunately, cardamom will not flower in our parts of the world [Photo: Santhosh Varghese/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagation

You can grow your own houseplant from fresh cardamom capsules. Soak the seeds contained inside in luke-warm water for around 24 hours, then sow them in nutrient-poor compost, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost. Cardamom seeds should be covered with only a little substrate and kept moist. Older seeds from the spice rack germinate very poorly, so you should buy fresh seeds for sowing. The first seedlings will germinate after two to three weeks at 20 to 25 °C, in a bright but not sunny location. After a few weeks, they can be pricked out and transferred to more nutrient-rich soil.

If you already have a cardamom plant, the thick rhizome can be divided in the spring after overwintering. As with ginger, cut the thickened root along with the fine roots into several sections with dormant buds and place them in their own pots. As many of the fine white roots as possible should be retained so that the plant can grow quickly in the pot and form fresh shoots.

Cardamom care: repotting, fertilising and watering

This expensive spice plant should be repotted annually to provide adequate space for its rhizome. This can be done from spring to autumn. For repotting cardamom, a larger planting container is first filled with a drainage layer and then with nutrient-rich potting soil, and the plant is placed in the new pot after being carefully removed. The rhizome is covered with soil, lightly pressed and watered well.
From time to time, it is also necessary to fertilise the plant, especially when young leaves are harvested. When repotting, a slow-release fertiliser can be added directly to the soil or, alternatively, the potted plant can be fertilised regularly with a liquid fertiliser such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food. This is added to the watering water about every two to three weeks, and so fertilised during watering. This ensures a steady but gentle supply of nutrients, which prevents deficiency symptoms such as yellow leaves and supports the growth of the cardamom. At the same time, the liquid fertiliser is provided in sustainable packaging.
When watering, the top layer of soil of the tropical houseplant should be allowed to dry before the next watering.

Tip: Using a liquid fertiliser when watering saves time and is easy to do. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food provides your indoor plants with all the essential nutrients.

Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food
Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food

Liquid fertiliser with an NK ratio of 3-4, for all houseplants, promotes healthy plant growth, child & pet friendly

Overwintering

Cardamom is overwintered exclusively indoors and must be kept at temperatures above 15 °C . Do not fertilise during the cold season from October to March, and water sparingly as the plants absorb very little water and the root ball tends to rot if too much moisture is held for a long time. Just make sure that the root ball does not dry out completely.

Tip: Potted plants often struggle with pests, especially in the winter quarters. In our warm living spaces, many pests can multiply rapidly and also find no natural enemies. Typical pests of indoor cardamom include smear or mealybugs, which form a white, puffy ball of excretions from the dorsal carapace and feed on the plant’s sap.

Cardamom: use, taste and effect

The taste of cardamom can be described as slightly bitter to floral-sweet and sharp-spicy. Even the young leaves taste sweet and spicy, while older leaves become incredibly bitter and no longer tempting to eat.

Cardamom, cinammon and chai tea
Cardamom originates from the Middle East and is a popular spice there, for instance as an ingredient in chai tea [Photo: JulijaDmitrijeva/ Shutterstock.com]

As a spice, cardamom is not only extremely popular in its native countries of South Asia: in Sweden, about a quarter of global production is snacked on in the form of the delicious “Kardemumma Bullar”, a variant of the well-known cinnamon bun. Mixing some freshly ground cardamom in coffee enhances the effect of caffeine. The spice can be enjoyed baked, ground or infused hot as plain cardamom tea or an ingredient in traditional chai tea. You can chew whole capsules of cardamom from time to time to combat bad breath and even counteracts tooth decay. Cardamom powder should be consumed as soon as possible because it quickly loses its flavour. Whole capsules can be stored in an airtight container for about a year without any loss of flavour.

Cardamom is a healthy spice, which has always been used in Ayurvedic medicine. The seeds are said to have cardiotonic, stomachic, antispasmodic and antiseptic effects.

It is not just cardamom that has made its way into our homes outside the tropics. Discover more exciting exotic houseplants such as pineapple and baobab in our special article.

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