VARIED are the uses to which spices have been put from time immemorial. They are used as additives and for the propitiation of the gods. They also stimulate digestion on account of their carminative properties. Most of the spices find place in various medicines.
There are about 35 spices and condiments which can be broadly classified into 6 groups, based upon the parts of the plants which they are obtained, namely (i) rhizomes and root spices, (ii) bark spices, (iii) leaf spices, (iv) flower spices, (v) fruit spices, and (vi) seed spices.
Inspite of the importance of spices in dietary, medicinal and other uses, and their commercial importance, the research inputs on these crops have not been adequate. The important spices and condiments under commercial or large-scale cultivation are cardamom, pepper, chillies, turmeric and ginger. The total area under these spices and condiments in India is over one million hectares, and they account for an annual export earning of over 40 crores of rupees.
Cardamom. Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton) is considered to be the ‘Queen of Spices’. India is the largest producer and exporter of this spice, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the total world production and 60 per cent of the total world trade. our annual production has ranged from 2,300 to 2,800 tonnes in recent years. It is also grown in Guatemala, Tanzania, Srilanka, El Salvador, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It is cultivated in the hilly forest regions of the entire Western Ghats in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu on about 86,000 hectares. It is grown either as a pure plantation crops or as a crops subsidiary to coffee and arecanut at higher elevations. Under favourable conditions, it is found as a natural undergrowth in forest tracts and is supplemented in varying degrees with actual cultivation.
GENERAL BOTANICAL ASPECTS. Cardamom for commercial use is the dried fruit of Elattaria cardamom (L.) Maton, a perrenial herbaceous plant belonging to the family Zingiberaceae. The plant is a native of India. It has a tall pseudostem formed by the encircling of the leaf-sheaths, wrapped one over another. Depending on the variety, a normal full-grown plant may attain a height of 2 to 4 metres. The real stem of the shallow-rooted plant is a rhizome which is subterranean. Leaves are distichous, linear and lanceolate, with short petioles.
Flowers are borne on panicles and they arise directly from the base of the pseudostem. The panicles are erect in the ‘Mysore’ variety, prostrate in the ‘Malabar’ variety and semi-erect or flexious in ‘Vashuka’. Panicles emerge from January onwards, and flowering continues from April to August or even later. Fruits mature in about 3 to 4 months after flowering. They are small trilocular capsules, each containing about 15 to 20 seeds. On maturity, fruits turn into pale green. Under favourable conditions of the environment, a healthy adult plant would annually produce about 200 capsules, with a green weight of about 900 g, which on processing yeilds about 200 g, of dry capsules.