History of Cardamom - The queen of spices

History of Cardamom - The queen of spices

Cardamom is known to be one of the oldest spice known in the history of Mankind. A wild plant initially found in the Western Ghats of South West India. It comes under the family of ginger and process numerous medicinal values. It was a native produce of the forest and was considered as a natural wild plant, which was harvested by the tribal community during their commute through the jungle for food. It was sun-dried and traded villagers for cloth and salt. The villagers near to the forests bought it to merchants who took it to the port and traded to a maritime sailor who arrived at different ports on the Malabar coast. It was from here that it reached numerous civilization that that existed during different eras in the history of humankind. Some of the known trade routes from the hills to the ports were,

Munnar (hills) - Kothamangalam (foothills) - Kodungallur (Port town)

Kumily (Cardamom hills) - Pullumedu (foot hills) - Alleppey (backwaters) - Kodungallur (Port Town)

Many believe that cardamom was a crop that arrived the Indian mainland from other parts of the world, just like how rubber and vanilla arrived in the subcontinent. However, the fact remains that cardamom is very much native to the high ranges of the Western Ghats which is one of the top biospheres hot spots in the world. Many historical books have mentioned about cardamom from the upper ranges of the modern day South India. Chanakya wrote Arthashatra, the counselor of Chandragupta Maurya written in 4th century BC has discussed explicitly cardamom as "A green pearl found in the banks of the river Periyar in the South West mountains" they used to call is "Chaurnayam." Amarakosha - a vocabulary of Sanskrit roots written by "Amarasimha," a Buddhist who lived during the 8th century AD, has mentioned different names of cardamom. There has been mention of cardamom used as a medicinal ingredient in many Ayurveda books since 1000 BC. Cardamom is locally known as "Elam" or "Ellakka," it dates back to the Dravidian roots where it was called "El" later due to the influence of the Sanskrit language, over the years it became "Ela" (Ae-la). The word Ela was absorbed into other South Indian languages as "Yela Kulu" in Telugu, "Ellaki" in Kanada and "Ellakkai" in Tamil. The scientific name of green cardamom - "Elettaria Cardamom" was derived with a combination of "Ela" and "Kardamum" - the Greek word.

The uses of cardamom have been recorded since the Pyramid age of Egypt and have mentioned in many historical books. The Egyptians used it as a medicinal ingredient, a mouth freshener and even as a prime ingredient for the preparation of oils that were applied to the mummification process. Some accounts state the mentioning of aromatic oils in the Bible is considered to be prepared with the base as cardamom. Cardamom reached the Romans and the Greek via Arabia. Amomum and Kardamum refer to the cardamom that came from the southern Hills of the modern day India. Kardamum has been mentioned in the works of Plutarch and Hippocrates - who is considered to be the father of modern medicine. Pedanius Dioscorides, the Greek physician who lived during AD 40 to 90, wrote a series of books named materia medica, in which the medicinal qualities of cardamom are very well elaborated. Traders from Babylonians, Mesopotamians, and Assyrian had great maritime trade relations with the Malabar coast where cardamom trade was very prominent during different phases of ancient business. Babylonians used cardamom for their spiritual ceremonies. Cardamom tea and coffee were exotic preparations during great Arab feasts. Cardamom was a product that many kings used as an offering to other kings during their political visits.

Cardamom was considered to be a precious green gem for many civilizations, primarily due to its scarcity and its original medicinal and aromatic values which were found since ancient times. The difficulties to reach it far and vast lands made it more precious.

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