Cardamom, consisting of the seeds of a plant in the ginger family, is one of the oldest known spices. Ancient Egyptians used it in medicine and as a breath freshener, and employed cardamom oil to mummify their dead. It has a rich aroma and flavour, and is the third most expensive spice in the world after saffron and vanilla. Sometimes called ela , cardamom is known as the “queen of spices” because it – along with black pepper, the “king of spices” – was a vital part of the early spice trade. Cardamom has been used extensively in India for centuries, in food and in brewing tea. It is also used in Ayurveda – traditional Indian medicine . Dixa Bhavsar, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Gujarat in India, says spices generally “heat” the body and help to stimulate digestion. Cardamom, however, “helps in balancing thirst and hunger”. “Most of the times when I consult patients with [an] hormonal imbalance and [a] compromised gut, they have excessive thirst. Cardamom is my go-to spice for [treating] this,” she says. Cardamom is an important ingredient in chyawanprash , a jam-like health supplement made primarily with gooseberries and spices, and a staple in Indian households. It has been known to improve digestion, strengthen the respiratory system and boost immunity . 5 immune system superfoods used in Ayurvedic medicine In India, cardamom tea is drunk to ward off coughs and colds . Cardamom is a rich source of minerals including iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and manganese, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Its other nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin B and vitamin C, small amounts of protein and fatty acids. “ Ela is used in very small quantities but has far-reaching benefits,” says Madhumitha Krishnan, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Chennai, India. “It is one of a few spices that has a ‘cooling’ effect, and is ‘tridoshic’ and balances all three doshas [energy types in Ayurveda] – vatta , pitta and kapha – in our body.” The spice is also good for skincare. “Cardamom powder can be used as an exfoliant [to] reduce itching, pigmentation and improve skin texture,” says Abhishek Lulla, an Ayurvedic practitioner also in Chennai. You can buy cardamom as whole pods with the seeds inside, as powder, as an essential oil or as an herbal supplement – usually in the form of a capsule. Three easy ways to have cardamom are to put some seeds into your tea; stir some powdered cardamom with honey into hot water; or to chew a whole pod. Researchers are studying cardamom to find evidence to support Ayurvedic beliefs about its properties and to understand its potential in modern medicine. Want to live longer? 10 diet secrets of people living longest and healthiest Here are nine of cardamom’s potential health benefits: 1. Good gut health Cardamom is an appetite stimulant and most commonly used for digestive issues. It can also be used to treat nausea, vomiting, bloating, heartburn – even stomach ulcers. According to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, it was found to offer protection against Helicobacter pylori – a type of bacteria linked to stomach ulcers. 2. Improved oral health Cardamom has been used since ancient times to improve oral health and to treat bad breath. Research shows that the spice has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, with one study finding that cardamom is effective in fighting five types of bacteria that can cause dental cavities, bad breath and gum disease. Cineole, the major active component of cardamom oil, is also a strong antiseptic. The big risks of leaving high blood pressure untreated – doctors explain 3. Improved lung function Cardamom may help to improve lung function by relaxing the air passage to the lungs, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Allied Sciences. Participants of the study who inhaled cardamom oil before a workout had higher oxygen uptake levels after exercise than the participants who had not. 4. Lower inflammation and blood pressure Cardamom, which is rich in antioxidants, can help fight inflammation and can also regulate high blood pressure – the spice helps expel excess water from the body by encouraging more frequent urination. In one study, researchers gave three grams of cardamom powder a day to 20 adults with high blood pressure. After 12 weeks, their blood pressure levels had fallen to within the normal range. 5. Body detox Cardamom may help to clear toxins from the body. In one study, overweight or obese people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease who were given cardamom saw improvements in their liver function markers. Another study, published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, suggests that cardamom helps reduce liver congestion. 6. Weight-loss aid Since cardamom is high in melatonin , which boosts the metabolism, it may help in the fat burning and weight loss process. 7. Heart health safeguard The use of cardamom may also help to prevent heart diseases. Studies in rats found it helped protect against heart attacks, improved heart function and lowered cholesterol levels. More research is needed to determine if these effects would be found in humans. How to prevent heart disease: health checks, stay active and don’t smoke 8. Relaxation aid Cardamom oil is used in aromatherapy and, according to a 2011 study, can help patients to relax. 9. Improved sexual performance Ancient medical texts list cardamom as an aphrodisiac that can help with erectile dysfunction and impotence by improving blood circulation. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .