Origin

This is the fruit of Elellaria Gardamomum, a perennial plant, with clustered stems, from six to twelve feet high, and bearing its fruit upon a flower-stalk, which springs from the base of the stem, and lies along the ground. It is a native of the mountains of the Malabar coast of Hindostan, where also it has been cultivated from time immemorial.

Sensible Properties. The fruit is a coriaceous capsule, about half an inch in average length, and seldom more than three lines thick, three-sided, with rounded angles, somewhat wrinkled longitudinally, of a dirty-whitish or yellowish-white colour, and containing small, angular, irregular seeds, of a deep-brown colour, and appearing as if embossed on the surface. The odour of cardamom is highly fragrant, the taste warm, grateful, pungent, and purely aromatic. The capsular covering has little of the aromatic property, which resides mainly in the seeds. In making, therefore, the preparations of cardamom, the former should be rejected; although, as the seeds keep better in the capsule than when exposed, they should not be separated until wanted for use.

Active Principle. The virtues of cardamom reside exclusively in a volatile oil, which is lighter than water, colourless, and highly pungent and aromatic; but it is so liable to deterioration by time, that it is seldom kept separate for use. Water dissolves the oil from the seeds in small proportion; but alcohol is a much better solvent.

Medical Properties and Uses

Cardamom was probably known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and has been employed in India, as a condiment, from the earliest times. It is among the most agreeable and purest of the aromatics, less stimulating than many others, whether locally or generally, and therefore highly useful, as an adjuvant, under circumstances which might forbid the use of a less mild article of the class. Though seldom given alone, it is very much employed to aid or correct the action of other remedies, and enters into a large number of officinal preparations, particularly tinctures. Perhaps no aromatic, on the whole, answers better than this as an addition to tonic and purgative mixtures and infusions, where the object is merely to cover the taste, obviate nausea, and produce a slight cordial impression on the stomach; and it is considerably used for this purpose in various officinal preparations, as the aromatic powder, the compound extract of colocynth, compound tincture of gentian, tincture of rhubarb, and urine of aloes.

When used alone, it is most conveniently given in infusion, which may be made with one or two drachms of the bruised capsules to a pint of boiling water; and in the same proportion they may be added to compound infusions. The dose is two fluidounces, or more. There are two officinal Tinctures of this aromatic specially, one simple (Tinctura Cardamomi, U. S.), and the other compound (Tinctura Cardamomi Composita, U. S., Br.); the latter containing, in addition, cinnamon, caraway, and honey, and coloured red with cochineal. The honey was substituted, in the U. S. preparation, for raisins, which are directed in the British Pharmacopoeia; and it is very doubtful, in my estimation, in reference to the sensible properties of the tincture, whether the change was an improvement. These are agreeable preparations, especially the compound tincture, which is much used as an extemporaneous addition to stimulant, tonic, and purgative mixtures and infusions, in the quantity of one or two fluidrachms for each dose of the preparation.