Caraway has been in medicinal use since ancient times: Dioscorides, Greek physician of the first century AD, wrote that caraway oil was a good tonic for girls pale of face. —
Caraway, carum carvi, is a highly aromatic biennial herb with feathery leaves and a long thick root like a parsnip. The slender stalks grow to a medium height and the tiny white flowers are clustered in loose umbels at the top. They bloom in May and June of the second year. The flowers, which have very little scent, are followed by the brown fruits, each one of which contains two caraway seeds. It is the seeds which have the distinctive, warm, spicy caraway flavour, which is especially noticeable when the seeds are bruised.
In the kitchen, caraway is used in a wide variety of both sweet and savoury dishes, helping in the digestion of rich foods. It is a popular spice for breads and rolls and is good with rich poultry such as goose. A pinch of caraway seed added to cabbage when cooking gives a pleasant flavour and removes the harsh smell of the cabbage; it is always added when cabbage is salted down to make sauerkraut. The roots provide an unusual but wholesome vegetable. Caraway seed is perhaps most often used in cakes and buns, and particularly in apple pie; old-fashioned seed cake, which used to be a familiar sight on the tea table, is made with caraway — hence its name. Along with other flavourings, caraway is used in the making of liqueurs — especially Kummel.
Caraway is an easy plant to grow, but the seed must be absolutely fresh and ripe to germinate successfully. Sow in the autumn and choose a sunny spot in light well-drained soil. Thin the seedlings when large enough to handle to a handspan apart and protect them through the winter with a good mulch. They will flower the following August. Seed sown in March will grow about 12 in (30 cm) high in the first year and to its full height in the second, flowering year. Caraway readily self-sows if some of the flower- heads are left to mature on the plants.
As soon as the seed has set and the fruits containing the seed have turned brown they are ready to be harvested. The seed should be gathered while the plants are still wet with the early morning dew for, when they are dry, the seeds fall from the plant and are lost. The whole seedhead should be cut off and placed upside down in a paper bag, where they will soon dry out and fall into the bag. The seeds are then dried and stored in the usual way. After flowering the whole plant dies and the roots can be dug up.
Caraway provides a pleasant remedy for indigestion and flatulence — for quick relief, chew caraway seeds as soon as discomfort is felt.
Caraway seeds are an important ingredient of seed tea and for this are mixed with equal quantities of aniseed and fennel seeds. It is a good remedy for flatulence.
* To make the tea: Crush the seeds finely to release the flavour. Put 1 teaspoonful of the seeds into an enamel pan and pour / cup of boiling water over them. Simmer gently over a low heat for 10 minutes. Strain quickly and take a small glassful after the meal until the discomfort has passed.
Caraway is a strong spicy herb with a pleasant taste and it is used to disguise unpleasant medicines — especially for children. Caraway water can be made as a mild remedy for children with upset tummies.
* To make caraway water: Soak a handful of well- crushed caraway seed in 1 cupful of mineral water for 6 hours. Strain through a piece of muslin or cheesecloth into stoppered bottles and store in the refrigerator. Use within a few days. Give the child 1—2 teaspoonfuls as needed.
A decoction of caraway seed makes an effective mouthwash to sweeten the breath. It can also be used as a gargle to soothe a sore throat.
* To make a decoction: Add 2 teaspoons of crushed seed to ½ cup of water in an enamel pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3—4 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for a further 10 minutes. Strain and use warm or cold.
A caraway poultice is a soothing remedy for earache.
* To make a caraway poultice: Bruise and crush a handful of caraway seed and put in a pan with a very little water. Heat the seeds until they have absorbed the water and become a pulpy mush. Spread the pulp between 2 pieces of warm cloth and gently hold the poultice over the ear until relief is obtained. Reheat the poultice if necessary. The same poultice can be used on a painful bruise.
Caraway is a disinfectant herb and is used in the making of soaps. It makes a good skin cleanser for those who prefer using soap and water on their faces.
* WeII-dried caraway seed ground to a powder in a pestle and mortar gives a spicy fragrance to potpourri and herb pillows and helps to fix the scents.
SWEET AND SOOTHING
Since early times, caraway has been used as a flavouring in cooking and in medicines. Caraway cordial was a popular drink for soothing the stomach and calming those with hysterics. It later became the custom to serve caraway comfits’ with fruit at the end of the meal to help the digestion. Caraway comfits’ are seeds dipped in white of egg, rolled in icing or confectioner’s sugar mixed with a little lemon juice and left to harden. They are still made today in the United States of America and used to sweeten the breath.