Caraway is a biennial plant from the family Apiaceae and is also known as Meridian Fenne or Persian Cumin; it is native to western Asia, Europe and Northern Africa. The plant looks very much like a carrot plant, with finely divided, feathery leaves with thread-like divisions that are growing on 20-30 cm stems. The main flower stem is about 40-60 cm tall and it has small white or pink flowers in umbels. The fruits, which are erroneously called seeds, are crescent shaped achenes and they are 2 mm long, with five pale ridges. The plant prefers sunny locations and the soil where it is cultivated must be well drained. It is grown more for their use as a flavoring in cookery, confectionery and liqueurs than for their use in medicine.
The fruits, which are usually used whole, have a pungent flavor, like the anise, flavor that comes from the essential oils, mostly carvone and limonene. The caraway’s fruits are used as a spice in breads, especially in rye bread. Seeded rye bread is denser and that’s because the limonene from the caraway fruits has yeast-killing properties. Caraway is also used in casseroles, curry, liqueurs and other foods and it is more found in European cuisine. The oil of the fruits is also used as a component for fragrance in soaps, lotions and perfumes. The tea made from the caraway’s fruits is used as a remedy for colic, digestive disorders, loss of appetite and to dispel worms. The roots can be cooked as a root vegetable, like parsnips or carrots. They are thick and tapering, much smaller than a parsnip and are edible. The leaves have similar properties and produce oil identical with that of the fruit. The tender leaves in spring can be boiled in soup, to give it an aromatic flavor.
Both fruit and oil have aromatic, stimulant and carminative properties. Caraway was widely used at one time as a carminative cordial, and was recommended in dyspepsia, symptoms attending hysteria and other disorders. It has tonic properties and makes a pleasant stomachic. Its former extensive use in medicine has much decreased in recent years, and the oil and fruit are now principally used as adjunct to other medicines as corrective or flavoring agents, combined with purgatives.
Distilled caraway water is known as a useful remedy in the flatulent colic of infants, and is an excellent vehicle for children’s medicine. When is sweetened its flavor is agreeable. It is also good for flatulent indigestion; 1-4 drops of the essential oil of caraway, with some sugar or in a teaspoonful of water can be very efficacious.
For internal use caraway is generally safe. Still, the purified volatile oil should not be used by children under two years of age, as oil from caraway can be irritating to the skin and mucous membranes.