(Carum carvi – Umbelliferae / Apiaceae)
Caraway uses include culinary, medicinal, perfume, and cosmetic. The seeds, leaves, roots, and oil are used. The scent and taste of caraway is attributed to the carvone content.
“Grown primarily for its pleasing taste, caraway is also a minor medicinal herb. The ancient Sumerians mentioned it. Dioscorides, in first-century Greece, recommended it as a tonic for pale girls, and the Romans ate it to relieve indigestion. Twelfth-century German medical texts noted its usefulness, and both Culpeper and Parkinson recommended caraway as an antiflatulent — Parkinson thinking it would also warm the stomach and serve as a diuretic. Folklore credits caraway with stimulating the memory, and thus giving rise to its use in love potions and the feed of homing pigeons.” –The Helix Herbal Album with Secrets Revealed by Rick Roen and R. Kim Finley
“No herb as ancient goes without magical properties, of course, and caraway was reputed to ward off witches and also to prevent lovers from straying, a propensity with a wide application — it kept a man’s doves, pigeons, and poultry steadfast, too!” –Herbs for the Home: A Definitive Sourcebook to Growing and Using Herbs by Jekka McVicar
Caraway is considered a hardy biennial. It reaches a height of 8″ the first summer, and a height of one to three feet the following year, with a spread of 12″. Seeds are sown in situ (in position) in early spring or fall. Autumn planting is usually best, when the seeds are fresh. Plant seeds 1/4″ deep in rows 12″ apart. Caraway will self-seed in suitable conditions and germinates easily. Thin to 6″ to 8″ apart when seedling plants reach 2″ in height. Pinch to thin — caraway does not transplant well.
Location chosen for planting caraway should allow full sun as it prefers lots of light. Plants will thrive in almost all regions except where extremely humid and warm.
The tiny umbellate flowers are white to pinkish and show up in early summer. The leaves are feathery and light green, similar to carrot in appearance.
Soil should be heavy and dry and allow for adequate draining. Mulch regularly.
Flowers are attractive to parasitic wasps which control aphids.
Caraway is a good companion plant to peas and beans, but it is advised not to plant it near fennel.
Caraway is not bothered by many pests or diseases, but occasionally is attacked by carrot root fly, otherwise known as carrot rust fly (Psila rosae).
“Caraway, one of a large family of umbellifers, is at its most effective when grown in a large clump.” –The Complete Books of Herbs by Emma Callery
Harvest seeds in second year after they darken. Seeds ripen in August. Unripe seeds will ripen as they dry. Cut heads and place upside down in paper bag. Place bag in a warm dry area for a few days and seeds will fall loose. Store in airtight container.
Leaves can be gathered anytime and harvested throughout the season.
Roots should be harvested in the second year if you wish to use them. The root resembles parsnip, but is smaller.
Caraway seeds, referred to by some as “fruits”, are notably used with apples: baked apples, applesauce, apple pies. They are also used in breads and biscuits, sauerkraut and cooked cabbage (also helps to reduce cooking smells when added to the water), flavored vinegars, dumplings, cream cheese, meat dishes such as goulash and pork casseroles, potato and beet salads, confections, sweet pastries and desserts such as cakes and puddings.
Caraway seeds are also used in infusions and tinctures. Caraway seed along with cumin and fennel are used to flavor kümmel liqueur.
“…the widespread use of caraway is partly due to the seeds’ digestive properties. They improve the appetite and prevent flatulence.” –New Age Herbalist
The leaves are used in goulashes, soups, stews, salads, potatoes, beets, and cooked cabbage. Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook: A Book of Light Meals and Small Feasts notes: “Fresh caraway leaves have a mild, dill taste and can be minced and sprinkled over soups, salads, and vegetables.”
The roots are eaten as one would eat carrots or parsnips (raw, boiled, or baked).
The essential oil of caraway is used commercially as a flavoring in prepared sausages and other meats, baked goods, sweets, mouthwashes, and pharmaceutical products. It can also be found in perfumes and cosmetics. See also Caraway Essential Oil.
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