Name: Caraway (Carum carvi)
Otherwise known as: Apium, Carum
Habitat: A biennial member of the Umbelliferae family growing to about 60cm in waste-ground in Europe and Western Asia. Caraway has finely-cut, feathery leaves supporting umbels of white aromatic flowers in mid-summer. The seed capsules contain two curved narrow seeds.
What does it do: This herb is one of the earliest known medicinal plants. There are references to it in the Eberus Papyrus of Ancient Egypt and the seeds were discovered in early British burial barrows. Culpeper states ‘caraway hath a moderate sharp quality, whereby it breaketh wind, and provoketh urine, which also the herb doth. The root is better food than the parsnip; it is pleasant and comfortable to the stomach and helpeth the digestion’. The Eclectics, a group of early American physicians, recommended the herb for child colic.
Caraway contains carvone, limonene, pinene, phellandrene; the minerals, iron, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, calcium and magnesium. Vitamin A and the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, as well as an essential oil. Twenty five kilos of seed will yield one kilo of oil.
The plant is antihistaminic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, larvicidal, stomachic and digestive, among other things. It is used to treat digestive and gastric ailments; chewing a few seeds will immediately give relief from indigestion, it is given in tea form to improve the appetite of those recovering from illness: Caraway will give sufferers that take the herb in combination with peppermint instant relief. Aromatherapists use the oil to treat bronchitis, colds and coughs. Recent research indicates that it may improve vision in the elderly.
Caraway is an ingredient of many pharmaceuticals, particularly laxatives. It is used to mask the flavour of unpleasant tasting medicines, and its essence is found in toothpastes, mouthwashes and perfumes. The German liqueur Kummel is made from caraway seeds.