History

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Cardamom

This aromatic regal spice has been enriching delicacies, medicines and perfumes since ages. Its immemorial contribution to the legacy of delighting taste and senses has found mention even in the ancient Sanskrit scripts of India, bearing the name “Ela” and has gradually evolved into a symbol of glorious tradition and culture. Cardamom is also repeatedly mentioned in the Ayurvedic texts of Charaka, Samhita and Sushruta Samhita during 1400 – 1600 BC. In the early stages of Christian era as well as in the middle ages, the existence of cardamom can be traced. Its ubiquitous presence in the legendary Arabic Ghawa-Coffee, Scandinavian confectionary and delicious Biryani recipe of the Mughals, refreshing Egyptian drink, Russian liqueurs, Greek and Roman perfumes only proves its invaluable contribution towards enriching life and living. The widely and eternally prevalent cardamom plant is available in two forms which are namely leaves and flower/fruit shoots. The shoots spread out near the base of the plants bearing pods. The fruits are globular and elongated in shape and prosper at high altitudes above 100 meters. This shrub hails from the ginger family with the scientific name of Zingiberaceae and commonly thrives in conducive environment of tropical rain forests of Southern India. Indian cardamoms suffice the need of both food and health since its fragrance enchants our gout and its piercing odour serves as an anti-allergic or antiseptic. The famous author Jeannine Auboyer in his classical work makes passing references of cardamom on its application in daily life during ancient India from 200 BC – 700 AD. Arabs were big scale traders of spices and successfully hid the origin of cardamom from Mediterranean merchants so much so that historians like Pliny assumed that cardamom was cultivated in Arabia. This myth continued till sea-route to India was discovered by Portuguese.

This discovery earmarked the onset of Arabian decline of monopoly in spice trade. The European colonisers preferred production and procurement of black pepper and ginger in sixteenth-eighteenth century period when cardamom was deemed as a minor spice produce. In the dawn of the nineteenth century plantations were established for cardamom cropping that too as a secondary crop in coffee plantations. But gradually cardamom cultivation gained phenomenal force and popularity in the hilly terrains of Western Ghats to an extent that the area south to the Palghat gap is known as Cardamom Hills. The British officers like Ludlow, working as Assistant Conservator of Forest for British East India Company wrote about cardamom plantations. The other sources tracing cardamom cultivation were Pharmacographia, Madras Manual and Rices Manual. Slowly, the demand of this spice exceeded and in the successive years subsequent to 1803, large scale cultivation was initiated in India and Ceylon to meet the rising requirement of the queen of spices.