Range: Native to Europe and Asia, now naturalized in North America
Caraway shares family membership with other umbelliferous plants with carminative qualities, such as anise, dill, cumin and fennel. Like its cousins, caraway is cultivated more for its flavoring potential than for its medicinal virtue.
History: The use of caraway seems to date to the ancient Arabs, who referred to the seeds as "Karawya," a name given preference in the region today. The seeds are used in brewing certain beverages; Russians and Germans employ caraway seed in a liquor called Kummel. Caraway seed is also a popular addition to German cheeses, soups and vegetable dishes and in Norway caraway bread is standard fare. In Scotland, it is traditional to offer guests a small dish of caraway known as "salt water jelly" to roll buttered bread and sandwiches in while serving tea. At Trinity College in Cambridge, a long-standing tradition of serving roasted apples with caraway is still upheld.
Caraway was said to make the heart grow fonder and keep it from straying, hence it was once given to keep a lover's heart true. Caraway seed is also given to homing pigeons (their favorite snack) to keep them from flying away.
Medicinally, caraway has been used to treat nervous disorders, such as dyspepsia and hysteria. It is also helpful in aiding digestion. Caraway water is still recommended for colicky infants. At one time, it was thought that the seeds, bruised by a moist and hot-from-the-oven loaf of bread, would stall an earache. It was also given to stimulate lactation in nursing mothers. Recent studies show that caraway has a spasmolytic effect and anti-microbial properties. For the most part, caraway is only used today to flavor other medicines.
No side effects are known with ingestion of this herb, but large doses of the volatile oil can cause kidney and liver damage.
Constituents: Berries - polysaccharides, proteins, volatile oil, furocoumarins