Black Cardamom (Sha Ren)

Amomum FruitBlack cardamom, also known as cardamon or Sha Ren in Pinyin, is an aromatic herb commonly used in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. More than just a drug, it is widely used in daily life as one of essential spices and seasonings. As a matter of fact, the earliest records of the use of black cardamom seeds for healing and medicinal purposes comes from Yao Xing Lun (A book on pharmacological nature of drugs), which was compiled by Zhen Quan in The Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). From the point of view of TCM, it has amazing medicinal properties on human spleen, kidney and stomach. And modern pharmacological studies have also shown that this herb has a good curative effect for disorders of the spleen and stomach. So, what is cardamom used for and how to use black cardamom to make the best use of it? And here are the details for your reference.

What is black cardamom?

When it comes to cardamom spices, it often means two different spices – black cardamom and green cardamom. They have similar flavors, in particular the uplifting menthol element, since they are actually relatives in the same ginger family (Zingiberaceae). However, the black one belongs to genus Amomum while the green one is of genus Elettaria (true cardamom). The main difference between these two spices’ look, as their names implies, is their pods’ colors – light green or dark brown. What’s more, green cardamom is with no bold, smoky, and brash in flavor since it doesn’t go through the process of drying over open flames just like black cardamom does. So, don’t get them mixed up in culinary uses and medicinal uses because they have their own distinct features respectively.

Medicinally it mainly refers to the dried ripe fruits or seeds of Amomum villosum Lour., Amomum villosum Lour. var. xanthioides (Wall. ex Bak.) T. L. Wu & Senjen, and Amomum longiligulare T.L. Wu. Hence other names of this herb also include Nepal cardamom, brown cardamom, Fructus Amomi, kravan, Grains of Paradise Fruit, red cardamom, Java cardamom, Cardamon, Indian cardamom, Bengal cardamom, Amomum Fruit, Siamese cardamom, cardamom seed, white cardamom, hill cardamom, greater cardamom, winged cardamom, and more. The first species is mainly produced in Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Fujian; the second species is mainly produced in Guangdong and Yunnan; the third species is mainly produced in Hainan and the Leizhou Peninsula. Among them, Amomum villosum Lour. enjoys a relatively high reputation in the international herbal medicine market, thanks to its high quality and good curative effect. It is usually harvested during summer and autumn when the fruits are ripe, dried in the sun or at a relatively low temperature, and used raw broken.

Amomum villosum Lour. is a perennial, 1.2 to 2 meters in height. Rhizome is cylindrical, prostrate on the ground, and with membranous sheath-like scales on nodes. Bright red bud is in the shape of cone. Stems are erect and cylindrical. Leaves are sessile or subsessile; ligule is semicircular, 3 to 5mm long, brownish red or sometimes green; leaves are arranged in 2 rows; blades are narrowly elliptic or lanceolate, 15 to 40cm long, 2 to 5cm wide, and with pointed apex, attenuate or nearly circular base, entire margin, and both glabrous or sometimes slightly hairy sides. Scape grows out from the roots and 7 to 15cm long; peduncle is 3 to 10cm and softly hairy; scales are membranous, oval, brown or green, 0.8 to 2.5cm long, and with obtuse apex and tubular base; spica is oval; membranous bracts are oblong, about 1.8cm, and 0.6cm wide; tubular bracts are white, about 1.1cm long, membranous and with 2-lobed apex; tubular calyx is white, about 1.7cm long, and with 3 shallow-tooth apex; slender corolla tube is white and 1.8 to 2.0cm long; round spoon-shaped labellum is white and 1.6 to 2.0cm long; lateral papillae-shaped staminodes are 2 and located at the base of the lip; stamens is 1, about 1cm long, and with about 6mm anther; filaments are flat and slightly shorter than the anthers; ovary is covered with white pubescence. Capsule is elliptic, 1.5 to 2cm, 1.5cm in diameter, and with brownish red unbranched soft spines. Many seeds gather into a ball, with a rich aroma. Bloom time is from March to May and fruiting time is from July to September.

Black cardamom seed contains volatile oil, which was identified with more than 30 ingredients, such as bornyl acetate, camphor, limonene, camphene, α-pinene,β-pinene, borneol, β-elemene, β-caryophyllene, β-bergamotene, α-thujene, myrcene, α-phellandrene, linalool, α-farnesene, β-farnesene, humulene, β-bisabolene, γ-cadinene, palmitic acid, and more. Fruit contains many trace elements (ug/g): zinc 64.2, copper 8.8, iron 44.0, manganese 138.0, cobalt 0.10, chromium 1.2, molybdenum 1.15, Ni 6.69, titanium 0.95, vanadium 0.09, etc. And main chemical constituents of the volatile oil contained in leaves and seeds are basically the same although the content may be different.

Black cardamom benefits

As previously mentioned, in China cardamon has been used as cooking spices and medicine for more than 1,300 years because of its intense aroma. Traditionally it is viewed as a warm tonic that is ideal for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, stomach is an organ like warm and moist environment while disliking cold and dampness. And stomach and spleen play a role of transportation and transformation of the essence of water and grain. Once the damp-stagnation is formed in intestines and stomach, food will fail to be digested and transferred to the small intestine and the large intestine, which therefore will produce cause foul air and discomforts, such as abdominal pain, burp, or a cold and painful sensation in the abdomen. And its modern pharmacology can add more evidence as follows.

Modern pharmacological actions of black cardamoms

1) Its decoction can enhance the function of the stomach, promote the secretion of digestive juices;
2) It can promote bowel movements and discharge gas accumulated in the digestive tract;
3) It can help digestion and eliminate flatulence symptoms;
4) It can inhibit platelet aggregation induced by ADP;
5) It has protective effects on arachidonic acid-induced acute death in mice;
6) At the same time it has a significant role in fighting against collagen and adrenaline-induced death in mice.

Sample black cardamon formulas on herbal remedies

According to “The Chinese Materia Medica”, it is spicy in flavor and warm in nature and goes to meridians of spleen, stomach, and kidney. Essential functions are resolving dampness, promoting appetite, activating qi to resolve stagnation in middle burner, warming spleen and stopping diarrhea, and preventing miscarriage. Main black cardamom uses and indications include retention of dampness and stagnation of qi, abdominal fullness and distention, no desire to eat, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, morning sickness, and fetal irritability. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 6 grams in decoction, pills, or powder. And it needs to be decocted later. Besides, it can be used in other forms, such as black cardamom tea, essential oil, extract, and so on.

1) Suo Sha Yin from Huo You Xin Shu (The Heart Book of Pediatrics). It is formulated with Chen Xiang (agilawood), Wu Yao (Lindera), Xiang Fu (Cyperus), and Gan Cao (Licorice Root) to harmonize stomach qi, eliminate the indigestion, stop stomachache, relieve hiccup, and regulate spleen.

2) Suo Sha Jiu from Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica). It is fried, ground, bagged, and soaked in wine to help digestion, regulate the middle warmer, descend qi, and non-cardiac chest pain,

3) Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang from Gu Jin Ming Yi Fang Lun (Discussion of Ancient and Contemporary Famous Doctor’s Prescriptions). It matched with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes), Fu Ling (Poria), Licorice, Chen Pi (citrus peel), Ban Xia (Pinellia), Mu Xiang (Costus), and Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger) to cure symptoms due to turgidity caused by qi deficiency, phlegm and retained fluid, and disharmony between spleen and stomach.

4) Suo Sha San from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). Its powder is coupled with fresh ginger juice to heal nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.

5) Suo Sha San from Xiao Er Wei Sheng Zhong Wei Fang Lun (Treatise on Formulas for Infantile Health Care). It is cooked with pig kidney and rice-rinsing water to treat rectal procidentia in children due to diarrhea.

Simple black cardamom recipes

1) Amomum carp soup
Ingredients: amomum 3g, fresh carp 200, and appropriate amount of ginger, onion and salt.
Directions: gut the fish, wash, put amomum into the fish, add it and defined water in a pot, boil it over a low flame, add in ginger, green onions and salt after it is boiled, and it will be ready to serve after 5 minutes.
Benefits: whet the appetite, promote diuresis, and arrest vomiting.

2) Ginger Amomum porridge
Ingredients: amomum 5g, rice 100g, and fresh ginger juice 10ml.
Directions: ground amomum into powder, wash rice, cook porridge, add in the powder and ginger juice, turn off the heat after it is boiled again, and it is ready now
Benefits: warm the middle Jiao, invigorate the spleen, harmony the stomach to stop vomiting.

3) Black cardamom beef stew

Ingredients: amomum 5g, beef 1.5 kilograms, cinnamon 10g, dried tangerine peel 5g, and appropriate amount of onion and ginger
Directions: clean and dice the beef, get rid of the blood with boiling water, wash and tear dried tangerine peel and cinnamon into small pieces, crack Amomum, wrap the mentioned 3 herbs into the gauze bag, add in all the ingredients to a pot, pour in appropriate amount of water, boil with high heat, simmer it with low fire until the beef turns soft, and finally season with salt.
Benefits: warm the middle burner to stop pain and replenish spleen and stomach.

Black cardamom side effects and contraindications

Is black cardamom edible? Yes, it is one of major Indian food spices. Can I eat black cardamom during pregnancy? Yes, pregnant women can eat it since it prevents miscarriage. But every coin has two sides, so does the cardamom. Although it is edible, it really depends on the individual’s constitution since this is a drug. And overdose is definitely a big no no.

In addition, it is generally considered safe and some individuals may be allergic to it because it contains volatile oils, which may cause allergic reactions. The main adverse reactions include some clumps, reddish rash, and wheal of varying size on the abdomen and genitalia. Once the above mentioned allergic reactions occur, stop it immediately and then receive with anti-allergy treatment by orally taking prednisone, chlorpheniramine, etc. if necessary. TCM wise, it shouldn’t be used in the case of heat formation from Yin deficiency.

2 thoughts on “Black Cardamom (Sha Ren)

  1. Rosie Sim

    I am suffering from gastrointestinal problem. Can Tsaoko Seeds be used to heal my problem? If yes, how do I go about using it?


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