Historical and Origin of Cardamom

Cardamom is a large perennial, rhizomatous monocot, belonging to the family Zigniberaceae. It is native to the forests of Western Ghats of southern India. Cardamom is often referred as the “Queen of Spices” because of its pleasant aroma and taste. It is considered to be the third most expensive spice in the world. This spice was highly valued from ancient times. It is grown in the hilly regions of South India at 800 to 1,300 yards. Large fields of cardamom plants can be found in Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, and Guatemala.

Cardamom belongs to the genus Elettaria and species cardamomum. The genus name is derived from the Tamil root Elettari, meaning “cardamom seeds.” Cardamom is known to have been in use in India from antiquity. It is known as Ela in Sanskrit texts; however, the ancient Indian Ayuvervidic texts, Charaka Samhita and Susrutha Samhita (1400-600 BC), mentioned cardamom on many occasions without clarifying if Ela is cardamom or large (Nepal) cardamom. The earliest attested form of the word kardamon is the Mycenaean Greek ka-da-mi-ja, written in Linear B syllabic script. In the New Testament, which was largely written in Greek, amooman appears in reference to the aromatic plant cardamom.

Babylonians and Assyrians used many herbs for medicinal purposes. Plants known to be used by Assyrian doctors and chemists included cardamom, cumin, dell, origanum, thyme, saffron, and sesame. Cardamom spread along land routes and was known in ancient Greece and Rome. Wrecks of luxury cargos revealed that spices were an exotic and rather rare material in ancient times. In antiquity, spices were symbols of luxury and had an important role in ceremonies and cultural events. Dioscorides (40-90 CE), a Greek physician and author of Materia Medica, mentioned cardamom among many herbs as useful medicine. Greek physician Hippocrates appreciated the therapeutic effect of Kardamomom. Kardamono is a Greek verb derived from cardamom that means “to become strong.” Cardamom was suggested as an important remedy for digestion after heavy meals. Cardamom was listed among the Indian spices liable to duty in Alexandria in 176 CE.

After the fall of Rome, Venice became an important trade city and harbor connecting East and West. Spices such as cardamom, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon were imported to Constantinople and Venice in exchange for salt and salted meat exported to Levantine countries. Dutch merchant Jan Huygen van Linschoten in his Journal of Indian Travels gave a description of the two forms of cardamoms used in South India. It is known that Arabs, trying to keep secret the sources of the spices, were the major traders of Indian spices. Cardamom was an exceptional spice that Arabs sold to the West. Valerius Cordus (1515-1544), a German physicist and herbologist, was the first to describe cardamom as an essential oil. With the discovery of the sea route to the west coast of India, the Portuguese started collecting and exporting cardamom to Europe. European colonizers did not care much about cardamom cultivation and production until the 19th century. Officers working for the British East India Company described cardamom and its cultivation in South India.

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