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Cardamom oil is an oil extracted from cardamom, a perennial herb that is native to Ceylon and India, and has been used since the 16th century in Portugal. Frequent uses for cardamom oil include for common health ailments such as a stomach cramp remedy, for flatulence, and to improve digestion. Medicinally, it is used as an antiseptic, and it supposedly has aphrodisiac qualities. Other parts of the cardamom plant are also used for a variety of purposes — the fruit is used in Asian and Indian cuisine, the flower is often used for ornamental purposes, and the seed pods are sold as a spice.
Cardamom oil also contains over 19 essential volatile oils that are used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical products, and the seed pods contain vitamins necessary for human health such as riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C. Other health benefits include its rich source of vitamins, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The many uses for cardamom oil throughout history include in Egyptian perfumes and teeth whiteners, as a Roman cure for stomach ailments, and for Arab uses in coffee. It is also considered an important part of ayurveda, the ancient art of Hindu medicine, as primarily as a digestive tonic, but also as a muscle relaxant and with many other health benefits as well.
If the fruit of the cardamom plant is not going to be eaten, it is harvested before it ripens and produces about 1% to 5% of cardamom oil by weight through a steam distillation process. Cardamom seed pods known as elettari are also picked green, known as choti elaichi, which in India is a widely-used spice and a mint-like treatment for bad breath. Another version of the plant is known as black cardamom or Nepal cardamom, and produces amomum pods, which are larger seed pods with a camphor flavor used in spicy foods common to Pakistan, Nepal, and China. Seed pods are sold in open air markets year round, and come in usually two varieties. Cardamom is also sold and exported as a ground powder, which can lose its flavor more quickly than the seed pods and has to be stored in an airtight container.
India has been the largest exporter of cardamom oil to the UK and lists it on its commodities exchange. The major national producer, however, is Costa Rica, and global exports combined are estimated at 35,000 tons annually as of 2011. Much of this export goes into the production of Arabian blends of coffee as a sweetener.