One of popular aromatic herbs native to Southeast Asian countries, cardamom seeds, or Bai Dou Kou in Pinyin, have many culinary and medicinal benefits. As a raw material of curry powder and a spice in common use, it is widely used for getting rid of unpleasant smells while adding flavors, such as preparing a variety of assorted spiced meat and crispy duck etc.
What are cardamon seeds?
They refer to the seed of cardamon fruit, which is also known as Amomi Kravanh. Based on what they appear, they are also called round white cardamom seeds. The plant, Zingiberaceae cardamom or Java cardamom, grows in tropics. The former one is native to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia and later was introduced to Hainan and Yunnan provinces in China. The latter is native to Indonesia. This plant is similar to ginger herb in nature but with bigger trunk and sturdy tuber in dark aubum color. It looks like banana tree, stems erect, up to 3 meters high. Java cardamom is slightly shorter but up to one meter too.
The plant has long, narrow and lanceolate Leaves, up to half meter sometimes. It grows directly from the stem. Flowers are clustered apically. Spikes are covered with arranged tightly yellow bracts, within which there are white flowers. When autumn comes, spikes produce a bunch of quasi-spherical fruits, hanging on the top just like a cluster of grapes. Immature fruit is green and mature one turns into white or light yellow. Ripe fruit is 1.5cm in diameter. Dried pods are thin and crisp, within which gaps between seeds are rather big. So it can be smashed easily. Dried fruit is light in weight. Inside the pods, spheroid-like seeds clustering very closely. The clusters are divided into three sections, each with about 10 pieces. All of them grows tightly and is hard to separate from them. In addition, the irregularly shaped seeds are dark brownish red in color.
What are cardamom seeds used for?
It is warm and pungent in nature and associated with spleen and stomach channels.
Main indications include transforming dampness to promote the circulation of Qi and warming middle burner to arresting vomiting. To be specific, it warms stomach, helps digestion, alleviates middle energizer, and releases Qi stagnation, indigestion, stifling sensation in the chest, abdominal distention, belching, nausea, vomiting, and malaria.
Regular dosage is from 3 to 10 grams in decoction and 2 to 5 grams in powder.
In addition, it is worth noting that if crushed it evaporates easily and rapidly, which requires to put it in the decoction 5 minutes before it is ready.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
Bai Dou Kou San, from Bo Ji Fang (Extensive Relieving Prescriptions), is mainly used for disharmony of spleen and stomach, which presents diarrhea or loose bowels. Other herbs in this recipe Zhi Ke (Zhi Qiao, Citrus aurantium fruit), Rou Gui (Dried Cinnamon Bark), Ju Pi (Tangerine Peel), Ke Zi (Myrobalan Fruit), and Dang Gui (Dong Quai).
Bai Dou Kou Tang, from Shen Shi Zun Sheng Shu (Shen’s Work on the Importance of Life Preservation), is formulated for vomit and hiccup. Other herbal ingredients include Huo Xiang (Hyssop), Ban Xia (Pinellia), Chen Pi (Citrus peel), and Sheng Jiang (Ginger).
Image in TCM
Ancient Chinese believe that man is an integral part of the nature and tend to learn how the body works from the analogy of the phenomenon of nature. As for cardamom seeds, it is being apprehended the following way. Firstly, it is fully enclosed in the pods, which infers that it seals well its unique flavor inside. As one of undergrowth, it loves warm, humid and humus-rich soil, which means it is born with the capability of transforming dampness. Else, cardamom plant is straight so that nourishment and water can be supplied to the entire tree smoothly, which reflects that it is good at promoting Qi and transforming dampness with such an awesome drainage.
This methodology may not be advanced and scientific but it is the way how Traditional Chinese people viewed the world and human body. They sorted out the proven recipes and explained it in a theory that was thought to be the best then.
Here are some tips to bring out the best of this herb as follows.
Ginger is the perfect partner for those who are with heavy dampness in middle burner. One descends and the other ascends. They join forces to transform dampness in a more efficient way.
It is very similar with Sha Ren (Fructus Amomi) in functions. Both of them are aromatic herbs for transforming dampness. Compared to Sha Ren, its flavor is more crystal clear so that it works also to dampness full of upper warmer. For example, in San Ren Tang it is to drive dampness in upper warmer all the way down to Lower Jiao and then Yi Yi Ren (Coix Seed) takes over and guides them out of the body along with urine.
The essence of this herb lies in the acrid flavor. So it need to be crushed before using and applied as soon as possible. Given the same reason, it should avoid frying to prevent from evaporation.
Since it is an aromatic herb, pill or powder is better than decoction. If decoction is required for some reason, it is a good idea to place it later than others.
Side effects and contraindications
Typically cardamom seeds are believed as harmless if used properly. But according to theories of TCM practice, it should be avoided for those are suffering from blood dryness due to deficient Yin and without obvious presentations of cold-dampness.