Synonyms: Wild cumin, Carvies
Scientific Name: Carum carvi L.
Family: Apiaceae (parsley family)
Northern and central Europe, Asia, Morocco.
Essential oil, consisting among other things of limonene, carveol, dihydrocarvone, carvone.
Everyone knows caraway. As soon as we hear the name we think of cabbage salad, onion tart and tasty types of bread that are spiced with caraway. The small, long, black caraway seeds that appear before our eyes are the fruit of a plant whose appearance we do not generally think about. In the first year of its two-year life the caraway develops a fleshy taproot smelling of carrot and an unprepossessing rosette of leaves. It is not until the following year that a stem grows out of it, growing to a height of about 1 m, that branches in the upper area and is crowned with white to reddish flowers from May to June that are arranged loosely in compounds the size of the palm of one’s hand like an umbrella, the so-called umbels. Umbel plants also include, for example, the carrot and dill, plants that many have seen perhaps. The grassy-green leaves of the caraway become ever finer from the lower area of the stem upwards. The caraway is not particularly selective in where it grows. It grows well in fields, meadows and grassy areas as well as at the side of paths, on banks and embankments.
As might be expected from its use in cooking, caraway is the agent of choice for flatulence. Other uses are for a feeling of bloatedness, mild cramp-like gastro-intestinal disorders and nervous gastric disorders. Caraway is also used to great effect for digestive disorders in infants.
In folk medicine caraway is used as a gastric sedative against colic, and bilious and liver disorders, and also as a cure for coughing. Its use as a sedative for young children is due to its action in alleviating flatulence. Caraway seeds, packed in bags and carefully heated on a hotplate, are widely used as a base for rheumatic toothache and headache. Caraway has its place in veterinary medicine as well, and is used in the form of an infusion against colic in horses and cattle.
The scientific name Carum is derived from the Arabic karwija, which in Old German became karvey. The name Kümmel is said to be derived from the Assyrian kamunu or the Hebrew kammon, which in Latin became cuminum. All the etymologies show in any event that the healing powers of caraway were already known long ago.
In ancient times it was said that caraway grew particularly well if the person sowing it cursed or blasphemed when it was being sown, as this would take evil spirits’ power away. There are different views as to whether the strongly aromatic caraway drove away the good or the bad spirits. In a widely known legend it was said that dwarfs (wood nymphs) are driven away by caraway bread. They cry out Caraway bread brings fear and distress, Caraway bread is death to us, They have baked caraway bread for me, that just brings distress to this house, or ...don’t bake caraway in the bread, then God will help you in your distress.
Caraway is said to act against demons if it is put in a dead person’s coffin (together with salt), spread in the pig sties to ward off all illnesses, or if caraway biscuits are eaten on Maundy Thursday, so as to be protected against fleas all year long. The Romanians in the Bukowina smoke with caraway the nappy of a child who has been outside overnight.
A pot containing cooked caraway placed under the bed is also said to help children who can’t sleep.
The roots and young leaves of the caraway can be enjoyed as a vegetable, salad or spring herb soup.
The plant from another perspective
Caraway breathes in a special way. In the first year of its two-year life it draws in the strength of the sun, concentrates it in its carrot-like root and prepares itself for the great exhalation in the second year. Already at the start of the summer it has spread its umbels to collect the sunlight with them once again, to concentrate it in its fruit. Caraway is a plant of the light that warms us, stimulates a metabolism that has waned and invigorates.