Elettaria cardamomum
Common Name: cardamom 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Zingiberaceae
Native Range: India
Zone: 10 to 12
Height: 6.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 4.00 to 10.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: High
Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Fragrant, Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Wet Soil

Culture

Cardamom will thrive when grown under the shade of tall trees in hot, humid, consistently moist, tropical rainforest conditions where daily temperatures infrequently dip below 72 degrees F. Flowers and fruits will appear only when plants are grown under tropical conditions. Plant growth in general will suffer significant injury if temperatures dip below 50 degrees F. Plants appreciate rainforest-type conditions with frequent misting of rainwater. Direct sun must be avoided. Best performance is achieved in situations where stable conditions prevail year round without sudden changes occurring in temperature, rain volume, soil moisture levels or sun exposure. Plants produce a crop of fruits that are labor-intensive to harvest (typically hand-picked).

In semi-tropical or temperate climates, this plant should be grown indoors in a heated greenhouse or in a warm shady humid place (hot steamy bathrooms are excellent). Plants will not flower or fruit when grown outdoors in semi-tropical or temperate conditions or indoors in pots. When grown indoors as a foliage plant, place the pot on a big saucer of constantly moist pebbles. Plants may be propagated by rhizome division.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Elettaria cardamomum, commonly known as cardamom, is a pungent, aromatic, herbaceous, evergreen perennial of the ginger family. This plant is native to tropical areas of India, Burma and Sri Lanka. It is commonly found growing in tropical monsoon forests in the Western Ghat Mountains in the Malabar region of SW India where rainfall typically reaches about 150 inches per year. It has been cultivated in a variety of different tropical areas around the world, with naturalization occurring in Tanzania, Vietnam and Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala).

Cardamom is internationally traded in the form of whole fruits and to a lesser extent as seeds. Cardamom seeds (whole or ground) are frequently used in Indian and Asian cuisines. Fruits have been traded in India for at least 1000 years. Although cardamom is used around the world, its main consumers outside of its native territories are Middle Eastern countries (flavoring added to tea and coffee) and Scandinavia countries (flavoring added to baked goods). German coffee planter Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced cardamom to cultivation in Guatemala in the early 1900s. India was the world’s largest producer of cardamom from ancient times until about 1980 when Guatemala surpassed India as the largest producer and exporter.

Outdoors in tropical climates, cardamom typically grows on somewhat cane-like stems to 6-15’ tall and features (1) fleshy knobby rhizomes; (2) leafy shoots bearing linear-lanceolate sword-shaped leaves (to 24” long); (3) leafless flowering stems which, depending on variety, are either horizontal, upright or in between; (4) loose panicles to 1-2’ long of spring flowers featuring white or yellowish petals with lilac-purple veins and pink or yellow margins; (5) oblong, thin-walled, smooth-skinned, yellowish green fruit pods (to 3/4” long), each containing 15-20 aromatic black to reddish-brown seeds.

Indoors in temperate climates, cardamom typically grows as a much smaller plant to 2-4’ tall without producing flowers or seed.

Cardamom has a variety of uses today including: (a) food flavoring (e.g., rice, meat, vegetables, coffee, tea, liquors, ice cream and baked goods); (b) medicinal uses (many of which are historical with limited validation by recognized medical researchers) to treat a large number of disorders including stomach/urinary tract problems, asthma, bronchitis, heart problems, indigestion, nausea, sore throats, depression, skin conditions, and bad breath); (c) cosmetics; (d) perfumery; (d) breath freshener; (e) flavors a popular chewing gum in Mexico and Guatemala; (f) principal ingredient in curry powder.

Cardamom is the third most expensive spice by weight behind saffron and vanilla.

Genus name comes from elettari which is the vernacular name for this plant in Malabar, India.

Specific epithet is a Latinization of the Greek word kardamomom which describes an Indian spice.

Problems

No known serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Spice for tropical areas. Otherwise primarily grown ornamentally (fragrant and attractive leaves) in homes or greenhouses where flowers/fruits are unlikely to appear.