Caraway – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

caraway blossom
caraway blossom - by H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The common caraway (Carum carvi) is a true all-rounder among the herbs. The umbellifer, which is often referred to as wild caraway, is an important spice and medicinal herb all at once. In the kitchen, it fruits have been used for more than 3000 years for baking bread or for many cabbage dishes. Caraway tea and caraway oil are recommended in naturopathy, especially for indigestion and for lighter stomach and intestinal diseases.

Profile of Caraway:

Scientific name: Carum carvi

Plant family: umbellifer

English name: Caraway

Other names: meridian fennel, annual caraway, wild caraway, cumin

Sowing time / Planting time: End of March – end of April

Flowering period: May – July

Harvest time: July

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-rich, loamy and rather heavy soils

Use as a medicinal herb: gastrointestinal discomfort, flatulence, stomach cramps, increases breastmilk, rheumatism

Use as aromatic herb: bread and other baked goods, for legumes, spice mixtures

Plant characteristics and classification of Caraway

Origin and distribution of the caraway

The plant is native to the Mediterranean and its neighbouring countries in southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. By cultivating caraway, the spice and medicinal herb is now native to many regions of the earth and found in the lowlands as well as in the mountains. Its occurrence is usually limited to dry meadows, roadsides, forest edges and roadsides.

Systematics of Carum carvi

The common caraway (Carum carvi) or wild caraway is a typical member of the umbellifer family (Apiaceae). The plant is related to other known herbs such as dill, anise, coriander or wild carrot. The genus of caraway plants (Carum) includes about 30 other types, where the common caraway is also probably the most important type of this herb. In addition to these occasionally the Greek caraway (Carum graecum) and the multi-leaved caraway (Carum multiflorum) is mentioned.

It should be noted, however, that the common caraway and the cummin are not part of the same genus. Although cummin is also a member of the umbellifer family, it has completely different taste and effect. Also black cummin (Nigella sativa) has in principle nothing in common with the type described here.

Characteristics of the caraway

The caraway is a biennial plant, which is shown by the expression of the leaves and flowers. While in the first year of sowing only a ground-level rosette of leaves is recognizable, in the second year of growth, the stems on which the umbels-flowers are sitting and the leaves are formed. The plant sometimes reaches a stature height of up to 100 cm (40 inches), on average, the plant is significantly smaller at 30 to 50 cm (12 – 20 inches). In the soil, the common caraway develops a carrot-like and deep-rooted taproot, which usually has a yellow-brown to light-brown color.

The scent of the plant itself is very weak. Only with the emergence of the infructescence and when the seeds ripen, one can perceive the unmistakable caraway fragrance. Even more intense is the scent when the caraway seeds are crushed or pounded with a mortar. Thus, the essential oil is released, which differs significantly from other optically similar umbellifer, also with white flowers. At this point, especially the hemlock, the wild carrot and the wild chervil should be mentioned. While the two latter plants are non-toxic to humans, the hemlock is a poisonous plant that can be identified by connoisseurs by their unpleasant fragrance.

The leaves of the caraway are light green, have a pinnate leaf form and grow opposite to a stalk with visible furrow. Below the visible part of the common caraway grows in the ground the taproot, whose shape resembles a turnip.

Usually, the flower color of caraway is white and appears in the second year after sowing in the flowering period between May and July. In some cases, the flowers can also take on a light pink to red color. Typical of the 1 to 4 mm (0.04 to 0.16 inches) small flowers of the common caraway are five petals, which are accompanied by yellow-colored stamens. Overall, the number of umbels ranges between eight and 16, which in turn consist of many small flowers.

From the flowers respectively from the infructescence develop after wind- or insect pollination later the typical fruits from which come two partial fruits. These schizocarps are brown, slightly woody, crescent-shaped and have a fragrant aroma of caraway.

caraway plant
caraway plant – by H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Common caraway – cultivation, care and harvest

Like many umbellifer, caraway is a fairly undemanding plant that needs very little care. It grows as a cultivated plant in gardens as well as in many places in the wild. It is especially common to find it on meadows, which has given the caraway the alternative name meadow (wild) caraway. The popular spice and medicinal plant can be easily cultivated either in your own herb garden or in herb spirals.


Caraway loves sunny locations, but also tolerates partial shade quite well. In partial shade, however, he is usually not very big. The cultivation is best on nutrient-rich, heavy or rather loamy soils. Light, sandy soils should be mixed with soil additives such as bentonite or high-quality compost before cultivation. For relatively acidic soils, some lime should also be added to the soil.

Sowing and cultivation

The propagation or cultivation of caraway takes place through seeds. The seeds can be put directly into the ground from the end of April or the seeds are germinated in a planter on the windowsill starting in March. For the seed to rise, ambient temperatures of 5 to 15 ° C (41 to 59 ° F) are optimal. In addition, the seeds should only be slightly covered with soil, as caraway needs light to germinate. Compared to other herbal seeds, you should be patient with the germination of the plant. Quite often, the first cotyledons only appear after three weeks.


As a Mediterranean plant, caraway is adapted to certain drying cycles and does not need to be constantly watered. They survive short dry phases usually without any problems. In the field, it is sufficient to water normally two to three times. Waterlogging should be avoided at all costs.


Intensive fertilization can usually be dispensed with in outdoor cultivation. It is usually sufficient in the spring to add some compost or a simple organic fertilizer and mix well with the soil. In potted cultures, however, more often a simple complete fertilizer must be added, since with the irrigation water and due to the limited pot capacity many nutrients are washed out. Simple herbal fertilizers should be avoided as they often do not contain enough phosphorus, which is important for flowering.


The best harvest times for the fruits are between mid-June and mid-July, depending on weather and site conditions. Once the fruits of the caraway have a brown color and are already slightly hard, they can be harvested. The leaves can be harvested regularly until flowering, but never more than 10 percent should be picked from the leaf volume.

Diseases and pests

In rainy summers, it may happen that a white coating is deposited on the leaves of the caraway. Mostly it is a fungus in the form of mildew. With some expertise, however, the mildew can be fight against. Another pest occasionally found on plants is the caterpillar of the carrot moth. This pest can be very annoying in large numbers, as it spins fresh inflorescences to a cocoon and can significantly reduce the seed yield. A few caterpillars can be collected by hand and pose no danger. If many caterpillars are found on site, the location should be changed or the cultivation paused for at least 1 year.


The caraway is a frost-tolerant plant that is almost immune to winter frosts. The usual preparations to hardy the herb will last.

Caraway and its use

Caraway is a plant that, due to its specific aroma, is not used as often in dishes as other culinary herbs. But there are dishes that can not do without the spice-herb and get the special something with its spicy power. However, you do not only benefit from the soothing, flatulence-relieving effect when eating, also teas and brandy are given especially for this reason.

Caraway as a spice plant

Many recipes of traditional dishes rely on caraway as an ingredient. For the preparation of sauerkraut, caraway is used as well as greasy meat dishes (eg pork knuckle or ham hock), fried potatoes/chips and some cheeses. Especially in strong tasting cheese caraway is processed. The reason: the essential oil of the caraway makes hearty, greasy food and cabbage more digestible. The same applies to legumes, for example in Indian or Oriental dishes, which do not manage without caraway.

In addition, caraway is a spicy ingredient of some breads and rolls, which give these baked goods a very characteristic taste. The English seem to have a special liking for caraway. It is processed both in caraway seed cake and caraway pudding.Caraway v Cummi

In addition to the seeds that emerge in the second year of growth of the caraway plant, the roots are also edible. These are harvested in autumn. The taste of the caraway seeds is reminiscent of a mixture of carrots and parsley root. However, the yellowish taproot is usually eaten as a vegetable only cooked. Edible as well are the fresh, delicate leaves whose taste has a certain similarity to the dill.

But it also plays a major role in some alcoholic drinks. Above all, caraway-containing spirits, which once came from Scandinavia, rely on the caraway’s digestive and flatulence-relieving effect. Caraway alcohols are known for example under the name Aquavit, Maltese Cross Aquavit, Bommerlunder, Köm or Kaiser-Kümmel (Germany). Sometimes the mixtures are additionally mixed with other beneficial herbs. These spirits are usually drunk as cordial or as digestif.

Storage Advice

Whole caraway can be stored in the home for up to five years. Make sure that it is kept in a dark and cool place away from light. Ground caraway, however, should be used after 6 to 8 months at the latest, because it gradually loses its aroma.

caraway seeds
caraway seeds

Caraway v Cummin

Not to be mixed up is caraway with the spice cumin; botanically Cuminum cymnium. In supermarkets you can find cumin in the herbal rack under the name Cumin or Kumin. Due to the similar-looking shape of the seeds of both plants, the mix-up with the common caraway is close. At the latest at tasting the difference between caraway and cumin is obvious. The taste of cumin is much stronger and more acrimonious. There is also a botanical difference: caraway belongs to the genus caraway, while cumin belongs to the genus Cumin.

Caraway as a medicinal plant

Caraway has been known as a medicinal plant since ancient times. Sometimes it is even considered the oldest known medicinal herb in Europe. Known is among others that the Romans used the seeds for seasoning greasy foods and as a medicinal plant.

Also in many old herbal books are recipes and treatment recommendations for the common caraway. Interestingly, the common caraway (Carum) was formerly referred to as wild caraway and the cumin (Cuminum) as caraway. In addition to the seeds, the roots also had a great importance. For example, the caraway roots called yellow turnip were used to warm the stomach and stimulate urine flow. Externally, the herb was also used in the treatment of toe pain.

But not only then was the caraway a coveted medicinal plant. Even today, the medicinal plant is used in various naturopathic treatments. The main field of applications today are particularly stomach and intestinal diseases and indigestion. The curative effect is based on the containing drug spectrum, which are contained in concentrated form, especially in the fruits. The essential oils of the caraway, in particular carvone, carvacrol, myrcene and limonene as well as some flavonoids are responsible for the following healing effects:

  • antiseptic
  • analgesic
  • antibacterial
  • digestive
  • flatulence adverse
  • antispasmodic
  • calming (carminative)

In the naturopathy as well as in the folk medicine the caraway fruits among others used in the following complaints and illnesses:

  • easier indigestion
  • bloating
  • flatulence
  • diarrhea
  • stomach cramps
  • nervous restlessness / trepidation
  • stress
  • menstrual cramps
  • disturbance of milk flow in breastfeeding/nursing mothers
  • joint pain
  • Muscle aches

The most common dosage forms of the herb are an infusion (caraway tea) and the use of the essential oil (caraway oil). Although pure caraway tea is already very effective for flatulence, colic, cramps in the intestine and feeling of fullness, the effect of the caraway develops best in combination with fennel and anise. Finished mixtures of these three herbs are easy to obtain. Because of these uses, its tea is one of the most common home remedies in infants suffering from painful flatulence. It should be noted, however, that the caraway tea in infants should be diluted with up to a third of water. Incidentally, it is also found in many breastfeeding teas, as it stimulates the production of breast milk.

In addition to the internal application, usually in the form of caraway tea, caraway oil is used in massages of babies or in people who suffer from convulsive stomach problems. The oil relieves colic, but should not be applied to the skin purely because of the stimulating effect. Instead, it is recommended to mix a few drops of the oil with a neutral vegetable oil or baby oil. It can also be used externally for muscle and joint complaints, since it is able to gently alleviate pain through the circulation-promoting properties.

Note: Caraway oil should not be used during pregnancy.

Buy caraway – What to pay attention to

Caraway is an everyday spice and therefore also found in almost all supermarkets as well as herbalists. Usually you will find the grains packed in cans or small plastic bags. In addition to whole seeds, there are also ground grains. The latter are often used for baking bread or for cabbage and potato dishes, especially for consumers who want to have the caraway flavor already distributed without having to chew the grains. However, ground caraway should be consumed faster than the whole grains, as the flavors volatilize relatively quickly.

Between the individual providers there are sometimes larger differences in quality. For a good quality speak a clear brown color as well as the semicircle shape. Caraway from the Netherlands is referred to as the highest quality product. This is often to be recognized by a quality mark with the inscription Amsterdamer quality.

Some plant centers and hardware stores also offer grown caraway plants, which can then be further cultivated on the balcony or in the garden. When buying such plants should be paid attention to mildew and on feeding tracks or scars. If you value special or cultivated varieties, you can buy certain types of seeds in the hardware store or online.

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