748 Elettaria cardamomumCommon Names: cardamom, Malabar cardamom, Ceylon cardamom Family: Zingiberaceae (ginger Family)
Cardamom is a rather typical looking ginger plant except that it is huge, standing as much as 12 ft ( 3.7 m) tall. Thick, fleshy rhizomes give rise to erect shoots that bear two rows of linear-lance-shaped leaves each about 2 ft (0.6 m) long. The leaves are smooth and dark green above, silky and paler beneath. They taper to an acute point. The inflorescences develop on separate, horizontal stems that spread along the ground. They are loose panicles about 2 ft (0.6 m) long, consisting of many small blossoms that have white or yellowish petals with lilac veins and pink or yellow margins. The fruits are thin-walled, smooth-skinned, oblong, greenish capsules about 3/4 in (1.9 cm) long. Each contains 15-20 aromatic reddish brown seeds.
Cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum, grows wild in the Ghat Mountains on the Malabar Coast of SW India, in an area known as the Cardamom Hills. It occurs in the understory of tropical rain forests at elevations of 2500 - 5000 ft (762-1524 m), where it rains about 150 in (381 cm) per year. It also grows in similar habitats in Sri Lanka. Cardamom is cultivated commercially in India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala and Tanzania.
CultureLight: Cardamom grows in filtered shade. Moisture: Cardamom grows with its roots continually wet. It needs constant moisture. It does okay if the rain stops for a short period, once in a while! Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. A constant temperature around 72ºF (22ºC) is best. Cardamom suffers at temperatures below 50ºF (10ºC). Propagation: Cardamom usually is propagated by division of rhizomes.
Cardamom will flower and fruit only under tropical conditions. In sub-tropical or temperate regions it makes an attractive foliage plant in a warm green house. In areas that are frost-free, grow cardamom in a shady and moist border or bed. Cardamom is a principal ingredient in curry powders, and is used to flavor confectioneries, liqueurs and chewing gums. In some parts of the world, especially the Near East and Saudi Arabia, cardamom is ground and mixed with coffee. In southeast Asia cardamom is mixed with betel leaves for chewing. In the West it is used in perfumes. In Mexico and Guatemala you can buy cardamom chewing gum - it is delicious! Scandinavians use more cardamom than anyone else in the Western Hemisphere. They use it to flavor breads, cakes, candies, sausages and other meats. Add some ground cardamom to your next sweet pastry or apple pie.
Cardamom is grown commercially in plantations under the shade of tall forest trees. It is a very labor-intensive crop to produce. The fruits are picked individually by hand before they are fully ripe, over a period of several months. Only saffron and vanilla are more expensive spices.
False cardamom, from other kinds of gingers in the genera Amomum and Aframomum, is produced in Thailand and Cambodia, and sold as a substitute for (or counterfeit of) the real thing.
Steve Christman 3/4/00; updated 1/25/04