Caraway (Carum carvi) is also known as Meridian Fennel or Persian Cumin. It belongs to the family Apiaceae and it is a biennial plant native to western Asia, Europe and Northern Africa. The plant looks like a carrot plant. Its fruits are mistakenly called caraway seeds. The seed is a crescent-shaped achene, approximately 2 mm long, which has five pale ridges. These plants grow well in warm sunny climate and in well drained soil.
Caraway is an invariable element of European cuisine. It is a part of typical Indian spicy food. In Hindi it is called Shah Jeera. The seeds of this plant are usually used whole. The essential oils, namely carvone and limonene present in the seeds offer them a pungent, anise-like flavor and aroma. The seeds are known for their pleasant odor, aromatic flavor and somewhat sharp taste. They leave a warm feeling in the mouth. Even ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans knew qualities of caraway seeds. Caraway is a carminative. The seeds of caraway were recommended for bringing bloom to the cheeks of pale-faced young maidens.
The seeds are commonly used as a spice in various types of breads, especially in rye bread. The rye bread spiced with these seeds might be denser partly as the limonene present in the seeds has yeast-killing properties. Caraway is being used for centuries in breads and cakes and with baked fruit, especially roasted apples. The seeds make liquors, casseroles, curries and other foods tasty, spicy and healthy. For example, presence of these seeds make sauerkraut tangy. They add flavor to cheeses. Different types of liqueurs such as akvavit, are made with caraway. Cakes that contain caraway seeds instead of lemon and orange are quite popular. The seeds are used to make a carminative or a tea which is considered as one of the best colic remedies. The tea is also used to treat loss of appetite and digestive disorders and to get rid of worms. The oil that is extracted from these seeds is used to offer a fragrance to various soaps, lotions, and perfumes. Roots of caraway plants are cooked and consumed as a root vegetable (like parsnips or carrots).
The seeds are used to treat
- Appetite loss
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Liver and gallbladder problems
- Sore throat
- Tendency to infection
- Flatulence and other stomach disorders
- Nauseating and griping effects of some medicines.
The seeds or caraway seed oil in combination with other oils or other herbs like sage oils, peppermint oil, menthol, chamomile tincture, Echinacea, myrrh tincture, clove oil can be used to make a mouthwash to treat gingivitis. Similarly, the seeds along with peppermint, fennel, and wormwood can be used to treat IBS as the mixture has soothing effect on the gastrointestinal system.
Caraway thyme can offer almost the same scent as caraway seeds and is therefore used as a substitute for the seeds in recipes. The members of the family Apiaceae such as anise, fennel, cumin, licorice-root (Ligusticum) and coriander, are generally used as caraway seed substitutes.
Caraway seeds are usually consumed in the form of a tea. To make caraway tea, take 1-2 tsp. of pressed seeds and add them to 150 ml. of boiling water. Let the water boil for 5-10 minutes and then let it cool down for another 10 minutes. Then drain it and the tea is ready to drink! You can have the tea 1 to 3 times per day. If you wish to take caraway in the form of an essential oil, 2 to 3 drops should be administered daily.
Normal dosage and administration of caraway supplements do not result in any kind of side effects or health hazards. But, large doses of the volatile oil, taken for long periods, may lead to potential kidney and liver damage.
The nutritional analysis of caraway seeds shows that they contain appreciable moisture, protein, fat, and substantial amount of carbohydrates. They are also rich in ash, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. They are packed with vitamins C and A. The seeds work as an excellent 'house cleaner' for the body. There is no doubt that these seeds should be incorporated in everyday diet.