A perennial tropical herb, with tall leafy stalks, the cardomom plant spreads mainly by rhizomes. About five species of the genus are native to the Indo-Malayan region. It prefers peat soil and is unusual in that it grows well in the shade. It rarely flowers outside the tropics.
The seeds and oil of cardamom have been traded to Europe from India since ancient times. The seeds contain terpenes which were originally valued for use in perfumes, and then as a major ingredient in curry. Surprisingly, cardomom is also an important spice in northern European pastries. In the middle east it is used to flavor coffee. Medicinally, it has been used frequently as an anti-nauseant, to freshen breath, and to aid in digestion. Like other spices containing terpenes, cardomom seeds lose their best qualities rather quickly and should be stored carefully.
History and Lore
The genus name Elletaria is based on the Indian name for the plant, eletari.