(Carum carvi L.) Apart from its common name, caraway is also known in Poland by other names: ‘hanyż’ or ‘karolek’, ‘kminek lekarski’ meaning medical caraway, or ‘kmin polny’ meaning field cumin. It is a biennial plant of the family Apiaceae, found in Europe, Asia and northern Africa. In Poland, caraway is grown in plantations and home gardens, but it can also be found in the wild form in meadows or pastures and at field boundaries and roadsides.
Common caraway is one of the oldest useful plants known to mankind.
During the first year of growth, caraway forms a rosette of leaves growing directly on the ground and develops a thick root, whereas during the second year, it grows a naked, hollow stem around 80cm tall. Common caraway leaves are pinnatelid and petiolate, and its small flowers are often white, although some caraway flowers might be pink. It flowers in May and June, and its fruit is an elongated mericarp.
Caraway is one of widely grown herbal plants.
The healing raw material of caraway is its fruit. Caraway fruits are harvested during the second year of plant growth. Caraway is classified as an oil-producing raw material, and as such, it is very often used in herbal medicine. Apart from essential oil, it also contains flavonoids, protein, fats, fiber, tannins and vitamins and minerals.
Caraway fruits are used for today’s therapeutic purposes primarily due to their spasmolytic and carminative properties.
Caraway fruits have useful properties primarily for the gastrointestinal tract, biliary tract, liver and kidneys. They relax the smooth muscles of the stomach and intestines, regulate the output of bile into the duodenum and promote the secretion of gastric juice. Caraway is excellent for stimulating appetite and better digestion, facilitating the absorption of nutrients and relieving spasms in the gastrointestinal tract. It also inhibits the fermentation processes in the gut. Therefore, caraway is used to treat many digestion problems, including: flatulence, belching, intestinal colic, stomach pain or lack of appetite.
What other problems can be relieved by caraway infusions and how is caraway applied in aromatherapy?
Caraway infusions can also be used externally to treat skin inflammation. In aromatherapy, caraway oil is successfully used. Mainly, it is used for massage, added to baths and applied as a compress. Moreover, inhalations of caraway oil alleviate nose and throat problems associated with common cold or allergy.
These inconspicuous seeds are characterised by an unusual taste and aroma.
Caraway seeds have a slightly burning taste and strong aroma that is due to the essential oil containing carvone and limonene. They are commonly used as a spice. Seeds are used in whole in various types of baked and confectionery products, or they are ground and added to salad dressings, spreads and cheeses. Young caraway leaves can also be used as a spice. Although not everyone likes caraway because of its characteristic taste and aroma, it is known to almost everyone as an ingredient of many dishes that grace our tables. Caraway is often added to potatoes, cabbage, beets, meat, fish, different types of cheese, soups and sauces. Furthermore, caraway oil is widely used in the food industry to add flavour to canned food or sauces.
Caraway fruits were found already in Neolithic settlements in present-day Germany and Switzerland, while in Poland, the first signs of caraway appeared in the Middle Ages.
Caraway fruits were found in northern Germany during excavations of stilt-house settlements from the Neolithic period, which proves that caraway has long been known as a useful plant. In Poland, caraway was used during the ruling of the Piast dynasty, and we know that because it was mentioned in Louis the Pious’s capitularies and quoted in the price lists of spices of the city of Gdańsk of 1410.