Cardamom : the Queen of Peace
My fools for senses,
Who didn’t drool over Remember Me, the newest fragrance of Jovoy, created by the most talented Cécile Zarokian –the Review is still here ? For, if this perfume smells of the sultry nights of Dubai and their silence embalmed in jasmine and frangipani, it also smells like cardamom and milk and skin. And this is exactly what inspired us to write this Overview – this full-cardamom opening.
Forgetting its camphor and peppery facets, perfumers have discovered its utter warmth and spicy freshness, its hot-and-cold effect which ruffles up hair and soul. Anyone who has drunk a coffee down by the dunes of the Arabian desert knows this smell. Anyone who has received from a sheikh’s leathery hands, down the coruscant towers of Sharjah, a serving of sago – knows this scent. Anyone who has drunk a karak tea under the spicy vaults of the Incense Souq – knows this scent. Anyone who was lived in the deserts and cities ; who strode along miles of asphalt, climbed up the Hajar Mountains ; anyone who has lived amongst workers or princes ; anyone, at last, who has lived in the Middle-East – knows this scent.
Besides oud and amber and rose, cardamom is the best symbol of this extravagant Orient. Of course, we’ve asked ourself : why ? Why this fascinating attraction towards this spice ? Why do we call cardamom the Queen of Spices ? What secrets lie under her shell ?
From karak tea to dark coffee, from souqs to palaces, let us discover how cardamom earned the name of Malkazedek : the Queen of Peace.
Before being the Queen of Peace, cardamom was the Queen of Spices – and pepper was her king. The Romans vowed a terrible love to it, despite its « obnoxious pungency » as Pliny the Elder puts it in his Historia Naturalis. The King-Pepper will find himself a suitable Queen when the Arabs will discover the Malabar coast – cardamom’s crib.
Although it seems obvious why cardamom was called the « Queen of Spices » the reader could legitimately wonder why we took the liberty to call it the « Queen of Peace ». In order to understand this, we must go back to its origins, far before the Romans and Arabs knew of it. Cardamom was already mentioned in the Vedas. She would be thrown into the sacrificial fires as an offering to the gods and to Agni. This practice never disappeared and even today, hindus use cardamom as they take life-binding oaths before the gods. Indeed, the yajnas –the sacrificial fires- are a very important part of hindu weddings and even today, Sindhis still throw some cardamom pods into it as they promise each other love and protection, the Queen of Spices seals their promise before the gods.
For cardamom indeed has always been a symbol of alliance. Since the days of Zarathustra, it plays a very symbolic role in Persian weddings, the groom offering his future bride some cardamom pods wrapped in a silk cloth before the wedding. It doesn’t thus come as a surprise to know that cardamom is nowadays a symbol of hospitality in the Arab world.
At the turn of the 13th century, cardamom leaves the spiritual spheres to enter the medical ones, under the influence of muslim scholars and physicians. They deemed it useful to ease indigestions, fortifying a man with fever and energising one struck with apathy. However, as strangely as it sounds, no one really mentioned its fragrant smell until the 16th century, where cardamom reappears, , now mixed with coffee, in sufi monasteries in Yemen to later spread out to the entire Ottoman Empire.
It is important to note that this clever association of coffee and cardamom’s bitternesses did not sprout in Yemen but in the neighbouring realm of Ethiopia, for up in the lush Ethiopian highlands, coffee was –and still is- as highly considered as tea in Japan. There, it played a very significant role in the daily life of Ethiopians. As a way to honour guests, the lady of the house would perform a lengthy ritual which could last up to four hours. At some point, she would throw in cardamom pods amongst the pan of roasting coffee beans, so as to impart them with a rich, uplifting flavour. This taste and traditions would later cross the Red Sea and land in the sufi cells of the Yemeni mountains.
But what did these ascets like so much about coffee and cardamom ?
To put it simply : they relished the symbolism of the ritual itself, for the lady of the house had to focus and give the best of herself to obtain a proper coffee to serve to her guests. Three to four hours of an intense labour requiring patience and precision – to serve it to her guests. This ritual was analoguous to the sufi way of living, to their quest for absolute knowledge, to the wringing of their souls and bodies to be soaked in God.
We immediately remember the passages in the Ayurveda mentioning the many properties of cardamom, especially of opening the mind, so as to centre it and help men abandon all earthly cares.
It is probably why it is now served whenever one would receive a guest in the Arabic world : so as to soothe minds, and lift up burdened hearts. So as to forsake earthly cares and move on with a friendship renewed.
O marvellous spice which assumed its vocation unbeknowst to mankind ! For it crept up in all oriental cultures, either a symbol of love or hospitality ; of peace and soul-searching ; of God-searching.
Malkazedek, the Queen of Peace, for its perfume is both sign and source of concordia between them who drink it with their coffee. Its scent reminds me of my aunts’ laughing, of my grandmother joking, of my grandfather peacefully lording over an assembly of friends and siblings. It reminds me of these family gatherings, of their endless rounds of hugging and kissing. To me as well as to all others born in this land infused with the fragrant scent, the powerful secret ; to all of us who have been serving our Queen. Our Queen of Peace.
Malkazedek, the Queen of Peace, for she sums up all the cultures she has known : she is hindu and aryan ; Arabic and Ethiopian. She is the beacon of an union and concordia long unseen between people, for even today everyone gathers around a cup of karak : the sheikh as much as the worker drink and enjoy their one dirham cup of tea. The immigrant and the spoilt youth ; the expatriate and the jeweller – around this cardamom-scented cup of tea, there are classes no longer ; money no longer ; time and differences no longer. Immaculate silk and overalls are come together ; and to each other they smile, with each other they laugh. Until the cup is ended.
Malkazedek, the Queen of Peace for like Melkizedek, cardamom has nor father nor mother ; she belongs to no one or no time ; to no nation in time. It is ironic to consider that it is common to countries and peoples warring with each other.
Cardamom, the Queen of Peace. Could it be the key, my friends, to bringing peace into these countries ?
Could it be as simple as sharing a cup of coffee,
Or karak tea ?