Let us now discuss about the ‘queen of spices’, our cardamom. It is imperative for us to know more about cardamom. It belongs to the same family as that of ginger. It belongs to the family of ‘Zingiberaceae’, and its scientific name is Elettaria cardamomum maton.It is cultivated in many parts of India, mostly in Kerala and Assam.It is basically used for its aroma.It grows best in shade, wetlands and cold regions. The seeds of the cardamom plant have aroma and medicinal value. The country that produces cardamom the most is Guatemala followed by India. And in India, Kerala stands first in production. 58.82pc of total cardamom comes from Kerala.
Names in other languages
Sanskrit – ela,dravidi, sooshma, upakunjika, kayasthana
Telungu - elakkaya
Tamil - elakay
Bengali – chota elacha
Hindi – choti elachi
Arabic – hyle
Cardamom can be a good source of income if taken care properly. It has medicinal value which makes it more than just a spice. It is important to be present in the orchard to tend to the plant daily. Only such constant care will ensure regular and good income from cardamom cultivation.
The 3 major varieties that have been in cultivation is Malabar, Mysore and Vazhaka. Among these, Malabar variety can be cultivated between 600 to 1200 metres above sea level while the other two can be cultivated between 900 to 1200 metres.Some of the hybrid varieties born out of crossbreeding are ICRI 1, PV 1, 2, M.C.C 12, M.C.C 16, M.C.C 40 and Njallani Gold etc.
Cardamom is usually cultivated in the mountainous side of Kerala and is a major source of income for the farming population. The preparation for planting begins by May and June.The first step is to remove the weeds surrounding the healthy plants. At the same time, healthy saplings too are carefully taken out. Square holes are dug inlayers, made in sloppy areas and are filled half with soil, sand and compost where they are planted.
A month after weeding, a mixture of lime and neem oil cakes can be applied on top of which mulching should be done with dried leaves. Put mud on top of this. Other organic fertilizers maybe used as well.
In some places, the seeds are sown and grown. Seeds can be collected by carefully pressing the pods gathered from healthy plants. The best time to sow the seeds is in September and they are sown in shallow depths. Ten gms of seed is enough for one square metre. Add a thin layer of mud on top of this and water twice a day. Germination occurs in a month after seed sowing. Mulching helps to retain moisture at this stage. Seedlings must be protected from heat by using shade clothes.
Irrigation is necessary for cardamom planting. It has been noted that the yield has increased up to 50pc when there was proper irrigation during summer season. Summer is the time when branches and twigs grow, hence irrigation is a must.
It is best to give organic fertilizer for cardamom. Neem oil cakes, chicken manure and cow dung are usually given once during May and June.
Harvest season is mainly during October to February and September to November. Usually two types of cardamoms, divided on the basis of ripeness are harvested. The harvested produce is spread on the floor for drying or kept inside greenhouses.
Cardamom is more than just a spice. It is good in the treatment of fever, arthritis, phlegm, and pittam. It is also said to help vomiting and chest pain.
Major pests of cardamom are blanket worms, thrips and whiteflies. They attack cardamom pods, leaves and stem. A major disease affecting cardamom is mosaic disease. This is caused by virus. It is also caused by an insect called banana aphid. They are seen during a period from December to May.Uprooting the affected plants and burning them to ashes is the only solution. Another disease is capsule rot caused by fungus. The solution is to destroy the affected area before monsoon. Also, Bordeaux mixture may be applied same time. Leaf blight, leaf blotch, rhizome rot are other serious diseases affecting cardamom.