Caraway (botanical name, Carum carvi) is also known as meridian fennel. It is a biennially growing herb having an upright, grooved and branching stem that grows up to a height of 1.5 feet to 2 feet. The leaves of caraway are feathery and emerge from the stem in threes or opposite pairs. The stems of caraway terminate in clusters of minute white flowers that bloom during June and July. In effect, the flower heads of this herb have resemblance to those of carrots in bloom. The herb yields elongated, ridged seeds which are brownish in color.
Caraway is one of the most well accepted herbs in the contemporary times and has been valued for the brilliance of the plant's fragrant dried seeds for long. In effect, the aromatic seeds of caraway are the fruits of the plant which have always been valued for their flavour as well as their role in facilitating digestion. Caraway is added to rye bread as well as a variety of cheese for their typical essence and forms the base for a renowned digestive liqueur, called Kummel (the German term for caraway).
In effect, bakers often scatter caraway seeds on top of cakes and cooks include caraway seeds while cooking cabbage and sauerkraut not only for enhancing their flavour, but also for their quality to provide relief from stomach and intestinal gas. Oil extracted from the seeds of caraway was employed in minimal quantities to alleviate indigestion or colic owing to stomach gas. Caraway oil is extremely helpful in this manner, but some sources are of the view that large doses of the oil may result in damaging the liver.
Similar to several other popular herbs, caraway also gained its individual folklore. People in England popularly believe that caraway has the ability to avoid the theft of any article in which it is contained. Interestingly, this particular belief or property of caraway provided it with the power of being a love potion - it means that if you make your lover consume caraway, he or she will not be stolen from you. Keeping this virtue of the herb in view, rural folks fed caraway to their chickens, pigeons and geese to prevent them from wandering away. In effect, even to this day there are pigeon keepers who still put caraway dough in their lofts with a view to keep their flock together.
Seeds, essential oil.
The action of caraway is somewhat akin to that of fennel and anise. Since caraway is antispasmodic and possesses carminative (any medication that helps to expel gas from the stomach or bowels) attributes, caraway seeds alleviate the digestive tract. In fact, caraway seeds act expressly on the muscles of the intestines to provide relief from cramps, colic and every kind of flatulence and bloating. In addition, ingestion of caraway seeds helps to improve the breathing, enhance appetite, combat cramps in the heart owing to too much stomach gas and, at the same time, alleviate menstrual cramps. Caraway seeds also possess diuretic, tonic and expectorant properties and are often used as active ingredients in medications for treating bronchitis and cough, particularly those meant for use by children. Additionally, caraway is also reputed for augmenting production of breast milk, while the watered down essential oil extracted from the caraway seeds is effective for treating scabies.
Both caraway seeds as well as the essential oil possess attributes that are related to curing flatulence, gastric disorders, as well as indigestion. If you are enduring mild stomach aches or experiencing digestive disorders, prepare an herbal tea using caraway seeds and drink as many as four cups every day to alleviate your problems.
Caraway is considered to be a safe and effectual herb for alleviating colic, especially among young children. Crush an ounce of caraway seeds and allow it to settle in cold water for approximately six hours. If you wish, you may add sugar or honey to the mixture to sweeten it. Give one to two teaspoons of this herbal formulation to your child who is enduring colic four times every day. In order to treat ear ache, pound caraway seeds and put them in a hot cloth and hold the cloth against the affected ear(s) for relief. In addition, caraway seeds may also be pulverized and made into a paste for external application to heal bruises.
As mentioned earlier, apart from its therapeutic use, caraway is also used in culinary. For instance, you may add tender leaves of caraway to stews, soups and salads. You may also cook older caraway leaves like spinach, but be ready for a more potent and spicy flavor, akin to that of the caraway seeds. If you are using caraway seeds in cooking, you should add them during the concluding 15 minutes of cooking to avoid any excessive astringent flavor.
You may also cook the roots of caraway herb and serve them like you would do with cooked parsnip and carrots.
Caraway seeds, which are actually fruits of the herb, are extensively used to add essence as well as season rye breads, biscuits, cakes - in this care they are excellent substitute for poppy seeds in old reserves like seed cake, cheese, pasta, omelettes, applesauce, salad dressings, rice as well as seafood. Caraway seeds often make vegetable dishes where carrots, beets, potatoes, cauliflower, green beans, onions, cucumber, zucchini and turnips are used more spicy and tasty. In fact, if you are cooking sauerkraut, coleslaw and any cabbage dishes, they would remain incomplete if you do not add caraway seeds to them. In case you detest the smell of cooking cabbage, you may add 5 ml or one teaspoon of caraway seed in a muslin bag and boil the cabbage along with it.
The essential oil extracted from caraway seeds is employed commercially to add essence to marinades, pickles, confectionery, preserved meats, condiments, ice cream, candy as well as alcoholic drinks, for instance Kümmel and Aquavit.
Habitat and cultivation
The biennially growing herb caraway is found growing naturally in Europe, Asia and North Africa. In addition, this herb is also cultivated in Europe, the United States, Russia and North Africa and the seeds of the herb are collected in late summer when they are ripe.
Properly tilled, reasonably light clay (loam) soil containing high amounts of humus is best for the growth of caraway. This plant has the aptitude to endure pH ranging from 4.8 to 7.8. Plants of this species require total sunlight and some extra watering when the soil becomes arid.
Caraway is propagated by its seeds, which are sown directly in their permanent positions in the garden during the early part of spring, soon after the soil has been tilled and prepared. The seeds of this species germinate very sluggishly. If you store the seeds in a freezer for a few days prior to planting, they might germinate better. The seeds need to be sown approximately 6 mm (0.25 inch) deep into the soil and the seedlings normally come to view in about 8 to 12 days' time. It is important to plant the seedlings at a distance of 20 cm (8 inches) from each other, as you would be requiring only a few caraway plants for an excellent supply of seeds.
While caraway has the ability to self-seed, the plants growing out of such seeds may somewhat be like weeds. The plants are vulnerable to crown rot as well as swarming of carrot weevils and aphids.
Caraway, which is of the annual type, can adjust well if grown in a container, provided the container is placed in a bright and sunny location. If you plan to grow the species in containers, you need to sow the seeds into the container directly in a regular potting soil. It is advisable that you opt for a large container, about 12 inches to 14 inches (30 cm to 35 cm) in width and 10 inches (25 cm) in depth, which can house as many as six to seven plants. Water the plants properly and also supply them with fertilizer once in every three weeks. In addition, it is also possible to grow caraway indoors provided it is grown in a cool and brightly illuminated location, for instance a cool enclosed veranda/ terrace or an unheated sunroom. However, when grown indoors, the plants are not likely to produce seeds. Nevertheless, you can snip the aromatic foliage and use it for several purposes in the kitchen.
Several scientific researches have corroborated the beneficial effect of caraway in treating flatulence and intestinal spasms.
When used for therapeutic purpose, caraway may be taken in a number of forms, for instance infusion and tincture.
Infusion: To prepare an infusion with this herb, add a teaspoonful of newly pounded seeds to a cup of boiling water and allow the seeds to infuse for about 10 to 15 minutes and subsequently, strain the liquid. For best results, this infusion ought to be taken thrice every day.
Side effects and cautions
It is important to note that commercially available caraway oil should only be handled by qualified practitioners of herbal medicine. It is possible that some people might endure dermatitis when they are exposed to the caraway essential oil.
Collection and harvesting
The umbels or flowering heads of caraway are harvested in July and are allowed to ripen. Doing this actually helps to collect the seeds without any difficulty - just by shaking off the flowering heads. On the other hand, the leaves can be harvested any time when the plants have attained a height of about 15 cm or six inches.
The seeds of caraway should be harvested when they have matured, but prior to the period when they drop on the ground. It is advisable that you should cut the leaf stem, containing the seed heads, at their base. Put the seed heads in a paper bag with a view to collect the ripened seeds when they fall. Subsequently, suspend the stems upturned in a warm and dry place. When the seeds become dehydrated, shake the heads forcefully so that you may collect them in a bag. Additionally, ensure that they are completely dry prior to storing them in sealed jars.
The roots of caraway are dug up during the fall.
To treat colic and flatulence caraway may be used in combination with calamus and chamomile for better results. When treating diarrhea, this herb may be used in combination with bayberry and agrimony, while it is used in conjugation with white horehound for treating bronchitis.
Vinegar with caraway
To prepare a formulation of caraway with vinegar, take two tablespoonfuls of caraway seeds and one pint of white vinegar. Crush the caraway seeds in a glass mixing bowl and, at the same time, heat the vinegar till it reaches its boiling point. Subsequently, add the crushed seeds into the vinegar and keep stirring and mashing using a wooden spoon. Then pour the mixture into a pint jar, cover the jar and allow the formulation to settle in a warm room for about 10 days. Meanwhile, shake the jar at least once every day.
After 10 days, taste the preparation and if you find that it is not sufficiently flavoured, filter the seeds and substitute them with fresh, mashed seeds. Cover the container again and allow it to settle for an additional five days. Subsequently, filter the liquid using a fine sieve and store it in a clean pint jar for use when necessary.