Although it’s native to temperate and warm areas like Southern Europe (Portugal, France), Asia (China, Caucasian mountain range, Turkey, Irak, Afghanistan…) and North Africa, caraway is grown in all temperate climates across the globe. Abandoned lots are its favorite location.
Recommended to be included in royal gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries, caraway is a plant that grows to a height of about 10 to 24 inches (25 to 60 cm) tall.
This plant bears tender leaves, small white flowers grouped together in umbels, yellow arching seeds. It was already used in ancient Egypt 1500 years before Jesus Christ for its health benefits.
But which are its health properties? Which disorders or ailments is this plant good for curing? How and why should it be prepared? What are the other situations for which caraway can be used?
Here, in a couple lines, is a short presentation of the key points to know about this beneficial plant.
Caraway, a short story
The name of this plant belonging to the Apiaceae family (umbelliferae) comes from the original word “Carum”, which relates to the ancient Greek colony of Caria in Asia Minor. This plant was grown there as a substantial crop.
The root word of the plant comes from arabic “karâwiyâ” which means “sugar root”.
Traces of this plant have been found on archeological digging sites that date back to prehistory, and the plant goes by many different names today.
However, its seeds and essential oil are what made it famous for their amazing properties as regards herbal medicine and gastronomy.
Various caraway names and species
Its many names are a bit confusing, since it is sometimes called “cumin”, “field cumin”, “mountain aniseed” and other such herb-like names. Caraway can distinctly be recognized thanks to its linear lobular leaves.
Indeed, two more caraway species are also used in Indian gastronomy. These are
– “Carum copticum” (or “ajowan” in Hindi), from which the seed is used to prepare marinades, currys, chutneys, drinks and sweets.
– “Carum roxburgianum” (or “ajmud” in Hindi), which has uses that are almost identical to those above, i.e. curry, marinades and chutneys.
Health benefits and therapeutic properties of caraway
Generally speaking and as mentioned above, seeds are the part of the caraway plant that boast properties known to medicine.
Caraway seeds are clearly antispasmodic for the entire range of intestinal muscles. They’re also stimulating for digestion, with the capacity to favor expelling of intestinal gases and reducing their volume. Caraway seeds are used to treat gastric spasms, anorexia, bloating, intestinal parasites and nervous dyspepsia.
Quite sweet, caraway seeds can be used to treat infants when they suffer from painful diarrhea.
Note that among the caraway seeds that have medicinal properties, those from Carum roxburgianum favor expelling of intestinal gases and those collected from Carum copticum tend to be used to treat cough, bronchitis and sore throat.
Caraway also has positive effects on biliary, gastric and saliva-gland production.
It also acts as an expectorant and a diuretic with emmenagogue and galactagogue properties. In short, caraway seeds stimulate blood flow around the uterus and in the pelvic area, and also enhance lactation even when exhausted.
Apart from these health benefits, caraway seeds also enhance digestion and are recommended in case of amenorrhea.
Very popular in German cooking and in other Northern and Eastern European countries, caraway is labeled as a condiment plant. It is a great asset in the kitchen for its many different uses. Indeed, it is very appealing since it increases the taste of different kinds of food and makes them more digestible.
Better yet, caraway seeds are used in the production of alcohol (kummel, Brennivin, gin, aquavit, schnaps…) and cheese (Munster), and they also impart flavor to black bread or “pumpernickel”.
In other traditions, use of caraway seeds is part of cooking practices where they season cabbage, red beet, carrots, mushrooms, gulash, sauerkraut, tunisian harissa hot sauce, certain sweets and pastries and potatoes.
When preparing meat delicacies, caraway seeds spice up goose, duck, lamb and pork, and are a prime flavoring for sausage.
Additionally, when young and fresh, caraway leaves can be eaten, as well as its roots.
To flavor soup, mixed salad, stew, tomatoes or hotpot, it is a good idea to snip them to small bits or chop them up before eating them.
The roots can be eaten much like vegetables would.
Healing diseases with caraway seeds
To treat diarrhea for an infant, a caraway infusion is a good idea.
To to so, you can either prepare it pure, or mix it with peppermint leaves, chamomile flowers and fennel seeds.
Measure out 1 oz (25 g) for each plant, then steep 1 teaspoonful of this blend per cup of water.
In a bottle, have your baby drink this infusion.
Caraway essential oil is a hepatic detoxifier. It also has antibacterial activity. It reduces bruises and, when inhaled, stimulates the appetite.
To produce home-made caraway essential oil, chop the seeds in a spice mill or crush them with a mortar and pestle, and steep the pulp in water for about ten minutes.
A single teaspoon of crushed seeds per cup is enough for one dose.
Note that you can also add caraway seeds directly to the meal. It’s also possible to chew on a few seeds after meals.
In the form of infusion, base tincture, herbal tea, fluid extract or essential oil, the therapeutic properties and health benefits of caraway seeds have proven their worth.
Good to know about caraway
Caraway seeds are often called cumin. However, both plants are very distinct species.
Although caraway seeds are commonly used for their medicinal and herb or seasoning properties, note that, if ingested in excessive doses, the plant can be poisonous.
It’s a good idea to always have a few caraway seeds in a glass jar or tin can.
You can thus use them whenever needed.