Caraway is a widely used and incredibly useful plant. The seeds are used for culinary purposes and medicinally, while the leaves can be eaten in salads and the roots cooked as a root vegetable like parsnips or carrots.
The fruits, erroneously called seeds are crescent-shaped achenes. They are usually used whole and have a pungent, liquorice-anise like flavour and aroma They are used as a spice in cakes and breads, especially rye bread and are delicious cooked with vegetables. They add flavour to cheeses and are used for seasoning sausages and beef.
Medicinally, the seeds are valued as a gentle medicine to relieve stomach ailments.
The caraway plant looks a little like cow parsley but prettier and less brutish and the white flowers are occasionally tinged with delicate pink. With feathery, delicate foliage the plant is easy to work into a garden border and when in flower it gives a lovely appearance of a meadow.
Growing 20 to 30cm (8 to 12in) tall with the main flower stem around 40 to 60cm (16 to 24in) tall, the plant is highly attractive to pollinators, the Caraway plant is also a very useful companion plant in the vegetable garden.
The caraway plant is a biannual. This means it takes two years for the plant to mature, produce seeds, then die. In practical terms, you start the plants two years in a row from seed. You won't get seeds until the second year so starting them two years in a row will give you an ongoing crop.
During the winter you may not see any evidence of the plant even though the roots are preparing for spring. Mark your spot carefully so you don’t accidentally dig them up in the spring. Caraway will grow about 20cm (8in) the first year and up to 60cm (24in) in the second.
Seeds can be started early indoors in spring or autumn, or can be sown directly where they are to grow.
The plant prefers warm, sunny locations and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. In warmer regions it is planted in the winter months as an annual.
Grow in light, fertile, well drained soil. Plant 30cm (18in) apart in a position that receives plenty of sunlight. Caraway prefers a sandy soil with good drainage, clays or wet soils are not going to grow a good plant and they may die over the winter.
Sow under cover indoors in Spring, March to April or in Autumn, September to October
Sow the seeds into small pots containing good quality seed starting compost. The plant has a long taproot which, once grown is difficult to transplant, so if sown early, transplant to the garden as soon as you are able while the seedlings are still small. If sowing in autumn, place the pots in a cold greenhouse or coldframe, they may not germinate until spring but will have a head start and produce stronger plants, ready to transplant in the garden once temperatures begin to warm.
Sowing Direct: Sow directly outdoors in May to June.
Start plants from seeds as soon as the ground warms up in spring. Direct sow 12mm (1/8in) deep. Space 30cm (12in) apart. The seed should be barely covered and kept moist until they germinate. Once the seedlings appear, thin out if necessary leaving a strong plant every 30cm (12in) and keep them clean from weeds.
Caraway, like many umbellifers, is a useful companion plant. It can hide the scent of neighbouring crops from pest insects, as well as attracting beneficial insects like predatory wasps and predatory flies to its flowers.
Especially good planted with strawberries. Do not plant near dill or fennel.
With deep roots the Caraways plant is also good for loosening compacted soil.
Harvesting: May to December
Harvest the seeds when they have ripened but before they fall to the ground. Cut the flower heads and gently shake over a plate to catch the seeds. Put your seeds in a jar and try gently dry roasting them before using to enhance their flavour.
The leaves can be used in spring salads and soups, imparting a slightly bitter but pleasant flavour. The roots are sweet like a parsnip. A little smaller, they should be eaten towards the end of their first year, in autumn. Once the plant has flowered although still edible the root becomes a little woody.
Caraway fruits are crescent-shaped achenes, around 2mm long, with five pale ridges. Usually used whole, they have a pungent, anise-like flavour and aroma that comes from essential oils, mostly carvone and limonene. They are delicious cooked with vegetables and are often used with green beans, potatoes, cabbage, onions, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, and apples. They add flavour to cheeses and are used for seasoning sausages, beef, sauerkraut and casseroles. They are also used in liquors and as a spice in breads, especially rye bread. The leaves and roots are also edible.
Medicinally the seeds are useful in strengthening the functions of stomach. They relieve flatulence and are useful in colic, countering any possible adverse effects of medicines. For flatulence, a cup of tea made from caraway seeds taken three times a day, after meals, will give relief.
Caraway, Carum carvi, also known as meridian fennel or Persian cumin is a biennial plant in the family Apiaceae, native to western Asia, Europe and Northern Africa.
The plant is similar in appearance to other members of the carrot family, and resembles Queen Anne's Lace with finely divided, feathery leaves with thread-like divisions. To distinguish the two, the trick, at least in the first year, is that the caraway will seldom grow taller than 30cm (12in) while Queen Anne's lace will shoot up under the fertility in a vegetable patch.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 350 Seeds Common Name Meridian Fennel or Persian Cumin Family Apiaceae Genus Carum Species carvi Hardiness Hardy Biennial Fruit Seeds ripen in autumn. Height The main flower stem grows 40 to 60cm (16 to 24in) tall Spread 30cm (12in). Position Prefers a sheltered sunny position Soil Light, fertile, well drained soil. Time to Sow Sow March to June Time to Harvest Harvest seeds in autumn.