Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae), Carum carvi L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Caraway, Carum carvi L., is a slender annual or biennial herb native to Asia Minor and Europe and naturalized in North America. The plant, reaching a height of approximately one meter, has long been prized as a flavoring agent or condiment. Caraway seeds are actually the mericarps of ripe fruit borne in compound umbels. Principal production areas are located in Egypt, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Turkey, the USSR, the United States, and Morocco.

The reported life zone for caraway is 6 to 19 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.4 to 1.3 meters and a soil pH of 4.8 to 7.8 (4.1-31 ). The plant can grow in a wide range of soil conditions, but probably does best on upland well-tilled soils (14.1-29). The plant is sensitive to frost, plant competition, and mechanical injury.

Since maturity requires about 15 months, the biennial caraway is usually intercropped with vegetables that are harvested the first year. In the Netherlands, caraway is typically seeded at the end of March and blossoms during the following year, in May. For the annual variety grown in the United States, planting is done in early spring, and the plants mature in late summer. Harvesting begins when the seed color changes to brown, as shattering is a problem with late harvest. Fall planting allows caraway to be grown in regions with shorter growing seasons.

Caraway fruit contains 3 to 6% essential oil on a dry weight basis, with carvone being the main constituent (50 to 60%). Other volatile oil compounds include and to a lessor extent dihydrocarvone, dihydrocarveol, carveol, d-perillyl alcohol, and d-dihydropinol (1.5-118, 14.1-9). The oils of caraway grown in different locations differ from each other in quantity, quality, and composition. An inferior oil, caraway chaff oil, is obtained from husks and stalks and used for scenting soaps (14.1-9) .

The aromatic seeds are used for flavoring breads, cake, fish, meats, sausages, cheeses, soups, sauerkraut, and confectionery products. Leaves can be added to salads, soups and stews. Roots of the plant can be eaten as a winter vegetable. Oils are used in liqueurs, mouthwashes, toothpastes, soaps, and perfumes. The German liqueur kummel gets its flavor from caraway oil.

As a medicinal plant, caraway has been used against indigestion, colic, and nausea. Additionally, it has been employed as an antispasmodic, appetizer, carminitive, emmenagogue, expectorant, stomachic, and stimulant. The oil is sometimes used as a flavoring agent with other medicinal preparations. Most activity of caraway comes from the volatile oil, which is a mucuous-membrane irritant (11.1-136). Oil of caraway has antibacterial properties (1.8-130). The ketone carvone and terpene limonene, ingredients of the essential oil, can cause contact dermatitis (11.1-96) .

Black caraway is actually from Nigella sativa L.

Caraway is generally recognized as safe for human consumption both as a spice/natural flavoring and plant extract/essential oil (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997