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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Volatile Oils

Cardamom consists of the dried ripe seeds of Elettaria car-damomum Maton., belonging to family Zingiberaceae.






Cardamom fruit, Cardamom seed, Cardamomi semina, Malabar cardamums, Capalaga, Gujatatti elachi, Ilachi, Ailum.


Biological Source


Cardamom consists of the dried ripe seeds of Elettaria car-damomum Maton., belonging to family Zingiberaceae.


Geographical Source


It is cultivated in South India and Ceylon. Like Mysore, Kerala, etc.




According to the ancient literature, cardamom grew in the gardens of the King of Babylon in 720 B.C. The ancient Egyptians chewed cardamoms to whiten their teeth and at the same time to sweeten their breath. The Indian Ayurvedic medicine during 4 B.C. used the spice to remove fat and to treat urinary and skin complaints. Ancient Greeks and Romans used cardamom in perfumes and a famous Roman epicure Apicius also recommended it to counteract over-indulgence.


Cultivation and Collection


It is a large perennial herb, largely cultivated in forests 2,500 to 5,000 feet above sea-level in North Canara, Coorgi, and Wynaad. It grows to a height of 6 to 10 feet from a thumb-thick, creeping rootstock. The seeds are first sown in nurseries and then transplanted into rich moist soil, when the seedlings are a year old or about 30 cm. Small crops are obtained after the third year till six to seven years.


It flowers in April and May and the fruit gathering lasts in dry weather for three months, starting in October when the colour turns from green to yellow. (The methods of cultivating and preparing vary in different districts) The collected fruits are washed to remove the impurities like sand, and the fruits are dried quickly by putting them on trays in thin layers, exposed to sunlight, with occasional sprinkling of water and dried.




Cardamom has simple, erect stems, the leaves are lanceolate, upper surface is dark green and glabrous, whereas it is light green and silky below. The small, yellowish flowers grow in loose racemes on prostrate flower stems. The fruit is a three-celled capsule holding up to 18 seeds. The fruit is an inferior trilocular three-angled capsule, 1 to 2 cm long, greenish to pale buff or yellow in colour. They have an ovoid or oblong shape, rounded at the base; the base has the remains of stalk or the perianth. Seeds are derived from anatropous ovules and the seeds are attached in double rows with axile placentation and the membraneous septa. The seeds are about 1/5 of an inch long, angular, wrinkled and whitish inside. They should be powdered only when wanted for use, as they lose their aromatic properties.


            Cardamom seeds covered by arrilus



There is a very thin membraneous arillus, enveloping the seed and composed of several layers of collapsed cells, yellow in colour, and containing oil. The brownish testa is composed of an outer epidermis consisting of a single layer of cells rectangular in transverse section, longitudinally elongated and with parenchymatous end walls in surface view; light yellow in colour and having slightly thick end walls; a single layer of large parenchymatous cells containing volatile oil. In the region of the raphe there are two layers of oil cells separated by the raphe meristele; several layers of small flattened parenchymatous cells, and an inner epidermis of sclerenchymatous cells, radially elongated, with anticlinal and inner walls very strongly thickened and reddish-brown in colour. The operculum or embryonic cap is composed of two or three layers of these sclerenchymatous cells. The micropyle is a narrow canal passing through the operculum. Within the testa is a well-developed perisperm composed of parenchymatous cells packed with minute globular starch grains, and containing in the centre of each cell a small prismatic crystal of calcium oxaiate. The perisperm encircles the endosperm and embryo, both composed of thin-walled cells rich in protein.


Cardamom pericarps or husks is identified in the form of powder by the pitted fibres and spiral vessels of the fibrovascular bundles and by the abundant, empty parenchymatous cells.


           T.S. (schematic) of Cardamom seed

       Transverse section of Cardamom seed

Chemical Constituents


The seeds contain 3 to 6% of volatile oil along with fixed oil, salts of potassium, a colouring principle, nitrogenous mucilage, an acrid resin, starch, ligneous fibre, and ash. The active constituent of the volatile oil is cineole. Other aromatic compounds present are terpinyl acetate, terpineol, borneol, terpinene, etc. The oil is colourless when fresh, but becomes thicker, more yellow and less aromatic on storage. It is soluble in alcohol and readily in four volumes of 70% alcohol, producing a clear solution. Its specific gravity at 25°C is 0.924 to 0.927.





Cardamom is used as an aromatic, carminative, stimulant, stomachic, expectorant, diaphoretic, digestive, appetizer, and flavouring agent. It is used in the treatment of respiratory disorders like asthma, bronchitis, cough, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, headache, diarrhea, colds, for flatulence, also used as a spice in cooking.


Allied Drug

1. Elettaria cardamomum var. major: This species is the source of the long wild native Cardamom of Sri Lanka. They are 4 cm long, pericarp is dark brown and coarsely striated. Its volatile oil is used in liquors.


2. Amomum aromaticum and A. subulatum: A. aromaticum is obtained from Bengal and Assam and is known as Bengal Cardamom. A. subulatum is obtained from Nepal, Bengal, Sikkim, and Assam and known as Nepal or Greater Cardamom. A. subutalum contains petunidin-3,5-diglucoside, leucocyanidin-3-glucoside, cardamonin, alpinetin, and aurone glucoside subulin.


3.     Malabar Cardamom is characterized by a short leafy shoot, 3 m in height, the fruit shape is roundish or elongated, smaller than the Mysore Cardamom.


4.     Mysore Cardamom is a robust with leafy stem, up to 5 m high. Mysore Cardamom fruits are elongated, 2–5 cm long, yellowish green when ripe, slightly arched, and darkish brown when dry; seeds are numerous, large, and less aromatic.


5.     Mangalore cardamom resembles the Malabar but is more globular and has a rougher pericarp.




Cardamom fruits are often adulterated with orange seeds and unroasted coffee grains. The adulterants of seeds are small pebbles and seeds of Amomum spp. Powdered seeds are adulterated with the powder of husks.


Marketed Products


It is one of the ingredients of the preparations known as Koflet, Renalka syrup, Mentat and Anxocare (Himalaya Drug Company).


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