Common Names

Caraway Seed
Botanical Name
Carum carvi

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What is it?

The richly aromatic, long and curved seeds of Caraway, a plant that grows half a meter over a two-year life span and has feathery fronds similar in appearance to the carrot plant (it belongs to the same family). 




How has it been used?

Caraway seeds have been found in prehistoric food remains from 3500 B.C. The ancient Egyptians especially loved this herb and it was warmly recommended for digestive upsets in the world's oldest surviving medical text, the Ebers Papyrus.

The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides mentions the use of Caraway to aid digestion and herbals throughout the ages have recommended them for indigestion, gas and infant colic. Culpeper writing 'Caraway helpeth digestion and easeth away the pains of the wind colic' and the eclectic physicians of the 19th century praised Caraway's ability to 'excite the digestive powers'.

Two essential oils in Caraway, (carvone and limonene) give the herb its distinctive taste and smell and these oils are also what cause it to reduce spasm and cramp in the digestive system.

Caraway is a much- loved family herb in many traditional cultures, it is believed to improve the production and flow of breast milk and has been a particularly key remedy in the treatment for the miseries of infant colic.


Personal experiences

Most of my practice in using Caraway has been in the form of herbal teas and here I have found it to be an extremely gentle, warming herb. Anyone reading this who is studying herbal medicine or simply wants to get to know these great plant allies better will do well to take some tea (or tincture) of Caraway with a quiet and attentive mind and then simply listen and feel to how your body responds to it within a matter of minutes. I think that you will soon sense that the way Caraway feels inside the gut is exactly how those feathery fronds feel to your fingers (think of how the green leaves of a carrot top feel by comparison as these plants are closely related) it is a soft and soothing presence that can be a marvellous aid to a tense, tight, sore or distended belly.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

Only small doses of Caraway are needed for its healing and calming effects on digestion. I often use Caraway in combination with Chamomile and Fennel for indigestion, cramping and tension in the belly.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Caraway is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Caraway can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Excerpt on Caraway's culinary use

Add fresh young caraway leaves to soups, stews, and salads. Try cooking the older leaves like spinach, but be prepared for a stronger, spicier flavour, like that of the seeds. Cook the roots and serve them as you would carrots or parsnips.

Caraway seeds are widely used to flavour and season rye breads, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, omelettes, pasta, soups, salad dressing, applesauce, rice, and seafood.

Vegetable dishes using beets, carrots, potatoes, green beans, cauliflower, cucumber, onions, zucchini, and turnips often call for the addition of caraway seeds. Coleslaw and sauerkraut, and indeed all cabbage dishes, are incomplete without caraway seeds. (If you don't like the smell of cooking cabbage, put a 5 ml (1 teaspoon) of caraway seeds in a muslin bag and boil it with the cabbage.)

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd