Cardamom, the producer of the delicious culinary spice of the same name, is a member of the ginger family. The three-sided green or brown seed pods, known as capsules, and the black seeds they contain are used to flavor beverages, such as coffee and tea, desserts, curries, and breads. Mentioned in Ayurvedic medicine dating back 3000 years ago, essential oils from this plant are used for flavoring as well as in tonics and perfumes. Native to the western area of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan, cardamom is now grown in Central America and southeastern Asia as well, preferring moist, tropical climates with some elevation. Large, green, alternate leaves grow off clumping stalks which can reach up to 10–12 feet tall.
Although there are a lot of imposters on the market with a flavor akin to cardamom, Green cardamom is considered the “true” variety of this spice due to its superior, richer flavor and use in many types of traditional Asian cuisines. In addition to their valuable seed pods, this variety of cardamom will also produce long, pointed leaves and beautiful white and/or lavender flowers, making them an aesthetically pleasing addition to any garden.
Seed: If grown from seed, expect your cardamom to become harvestable in 3 years.
Seed Depth: 1/4–1/2″
Space Between Plants: 3–5′
Space Between Rows: 5–7′
Germination Soil Temperature: 75–86°F
Days for Germination: 14–80 days
Sow Indoors: In late winter. Should be ready to transplant outside in 10–18 months.
Sow Outdoors: Not recommended unless you live in a tropical zone.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by planting rhizomes with at least 3 nodes. You can divide mature plants and transplant their sprouting suckers to new growing areas. Plants grown in this method will begin to be productive a year earlier than plants grown from seed and will exhibit the same qualities and yields as parent plants. However, it’s possible to spread the mosaic virus known as ‘katte’ through this method, so we recommend starting from seed if katte is prevalent in your area.
Grows best in a tropical climate. Species are native to southern India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan and prefer a moist, warm, mountainous, and forested region. Altitudes of 1800–4500 feet above sea level are ideal. If you live in USDA Zones 10 and up, you can plant cardamom outdoors as a perennial. In cooler areas, you can grow this plant in a greenhouse, indoors, or in a container than can be brought inside for the winter.
Natural: Partial to full shade.
Artificial: Will grow indoors in a sunny window but might need additional lighting depending on the location. Grows well under fluorescent lamps but does not need very intense lighting.
Soil: Prefers a loamy soil rich in organic matter. A pH between 5.0 and 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Grow container plants in a mix of perlite and vermiculite. Add composted manure for a source of organic matter and nutrients.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a media-based non-circulating hydroponic system. Use the soilless mix described above, or perlite alone, to support the rhizomes.
Aeroponics: Will grow in an aeroponic system but will do best if the rhizomes are given some support from a soilless medium like perlite. Also prefers being separated from the misting chamber below.
Water: Requires high levels of water and humidity. Regular irrigation is needed during the summer months or dry season. Consistent moisture is necessary during the flowering and fruit set.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients. Take care not to overfertilize, but do amend soils that may be deficient, particularly in nitrogen and potassium. Organic aged manures or worm castings should be applied around the base of plants annually during the early spring or summertime. Neem cake is a commonly recommended source of nutrients. Rock phosphate can be used to boost low phosphorus levels.
Foliar: Will benefit from a foliar spray of liquid seaweed. Foliar applications of micro-nutrients zinc and boron are also helpful.
Mulching: Use mulch to keep soils moist and provide a source of organic matter. Mulching will also improve yields over the long term and suppress weed growth.
Deficiency(s): Zinc and boron deficiencies can be common in cardamom plantations. A nitrogen deficiency may lead to slow or reduced growth and yellowing of leaves.
Rotation: Practice rotation with beans, strawberries, or cucumbers to reduce nematode issues.
Companions: Grows well under the shade of trees, including fast-growing species like cedar. Can also be intercropped with mandarin oranges.
Harvest: Plants will begin to be ready to harvest the third year after planting. Harvest season usually begins in the fall, with up to 6 pickings spaced 30–40 days apart. Flowers will dry out as they mature, producing capsules which are picked when they begin to turn green and just before they are fully ripe. These capsules are cured by drying them on screens, turning frequently. This will take 5–7 days in the sun. Alternately, for commercial growers, a specially constructed furnace is used to alternately heat and cool the capsules and dry them out within 2–3 days, which retains more of the green coloration desirable for sales.
Storage: Dry pods should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place and will last for up to 3 years. Husked seeds should last for about a year, but cardamom loses its flavor quickly when ground into a powder, so use within a month or so if using this technique.
Seed Saving: Once pods have been dried, they can easily be opened to remove the seeds. Gently crush whole pods, then separate the seeds from the plant matter by winnowing, using a small fan, or screening.
Fun Fact: By weight, cardamom is currently the third most expensive spice in the world, only coming after saffron and vanilla.
Preserve: Can be used as a flavoring agent in pickling recipes. You can also make cardamom essential oil via steam distillation.
Prepare: Dried and ground seeds are added to recipes like soups and curries, or incorporated as a flavoring for desserts, breads, herbal teas, and other beverages. Often blended with coffee. Savory dishes will sometimes use the whole pod to provide extra flavor. For best results, grind the seeds just before using. Most well-known in Indian and other Asian cuisines.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C and B vitamins. Contains the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron, sodium, zinc and copper.
Medicinal: Used for tooth health and treating gum infections. Also helpful for digestion and constipation as well as other stomach issues. Cardamom as been used to treat respiratory issues like lung congestion and throat problems. It also contains helpful properties as an antiseptic and topical local anesthetic.
Warnings: Especially with prolonged use or when taken in high quantities, it’s possible to develop an allergic reaction to cardamom. If you have a history of gallstones, you should avoid consuming cardamom as it can exacerbate the problem. It can even lead to development of gallstones when consumed in high amounts. Cardamom may have interactions with a broad range of medicines, so always check with your doctor before consuming large amounts of this plant.
For a meal filled with exotic flavors, try this Vegan Vegetable Curry with cardamom.