The health benefits of caraway seeds have been known since antiquity. In fact, caraway (carum carvi) remains one of the oldest herbs and medicinal plants still in use in Europe. In addition to healing, caraway seeds have a long culinary and medicinal history.
Take a look at the end of this post for caraway seed remedies inspired by Hildegard.
Let’s take a closer look at this healthy and healing, caraway plant.
What is Caraway?
Caraway, sometimes referred to as Meridian Fennel of Persian Cumin, is a biennial flowering plant in the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. The Apiaceae family includes celery, carrot, fennel, and parsley varieties, notable for their hollow stems and aromatic qualities.
Caraway is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It grows wild in damp meadows, pastures, and roadsides. The caraway plant has also been widely cultivated, so it can be easily grown in your Hildegarden at home.
As a biennial plant, caraway won’t mature (produce fruit) until the second growing season, though its leaves in the first year can be a nice addition to a soup or salad. The caraway plant can grow up to three feet tall, with delicate, feathery leaves. Caraway will bloom white or pink flowers from May to July before producing its fruit.
What are Caraway Seeds?
Caraway seeds are not seeds at all. The caraway plant produces its seeds in achenes. Achenes are a type of fruit defined by its simple, dried form – and that they contain only one seed. So technically, the “seeds” we use from the caraway plant are actually an achene, or fruit. The fruit (and leaves) of the caraway plant are very similar to other plants in the celery family, which is why caraway is sometimes confused with fennel or cumin.
Caraway, however, is a distinct plant. Caraway seeds are also distinct, though only upon close inspection. The crescent shaped caraway seed is darker in color and smoother than the cumin seed. Caraway seeds are also more bitter than cumin. The aroma of caraway seeds can be described as slightly minty or peppery.
What do caraway seeds taste like?
Caraway seeds have an anise-like (mild licorice) flavor, though it is more complex and less pronounced than the anise flavor in fennel seeds. Like fennel seeds, caraway can be used as an anise seed substitute, but they do have a distinct flavor of their own.
Caraway seeds also have an herbal bitterness with pronounced aromatic qualities. This is why caraway seeds are a common savory spice in traditional European cooking and baking.
The unique flavor profile of caraway seeds is due to the high concentration of natural essential oils. Together with the dense supply of antioxidants, these volatile oils are behind many of the medicinal and health benefits of caraway.
How are Caraway Seeds Used?
People have been using caraway as both a culinary and medicinal plant for a very long time. In fact, humans began harvesting caraway in the Neolithic period. During the Middle Ages, people consumed caraway as a digestive aid after a big feast to prevent bloating and other digestive issues.
You may be familiar with caraway as a spice in breads or ethnic deserts. European, African, and Asian cultures have widely used caraway as a flavoring spice. Typically, caraway seeds are harvested and dried. The seeds are either used whole or ground into a powder.
In addition to the many culinary uses, caraway is scientifically recognized for its healing properties. The small crescent-shaped fruits of the caraway plant promote healthy digestion, relieve gas, prevent bloating, and ease heartburn.
Serving Caraway in Meals
Caraway is popular in traditional German cooking as a seasoning for cabbage dishes, sauerkraut, breads, onion tart, fried potatoes, and much more. The early uses of caraway remain consistent with its use in Germany today. Germans believe that all dishes are easier on the stomach when accompanied by caraway.
You can use the whole caraway fruit in dishes to add spice, flavor, and texture. Alternatively, to moderate the flavor, you can cook dishes with caraway fruit and then remove the fruit before serving. Caraway roots harvested (like carrots) in the first year of vegetation can add a special touch to a spring soup.
How to Harvest Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds health benefits are greatest when the fruit is ripe and ready for harvest, appearing brownish in color, like a seed. At that point, trim the flower clusters or umbels and hang them to dry in a breezy, shady place.
Once the fruits are dry, pinch them from the flower clusters, or umbels and store the fruit in bags or jars in a cool, dark, dry place. Once ripe and dried, the caraway fruit has two primary features, its curved sickle shape, and its five ribs.
History of Medicinal Uses of Caraway Seeds
“For those who are short of breath, and suffering in the lungs, caraway is good and useful, whenever it’s eaten. But, those with heart-pain or otherwise sickly should avoid it.” – Hildegard of Bingen
Every year since 1999, the Institute for the History of Medicine at the University of Wurzberg in Germany has named a medicinal plant of the year. In 2016, the University recognized caraway for its long history as a medicinal plant.
Caraway has been a valued spice throughout history. Hosts would lavish caraway seeds on their guests to show appreciation and generosity. Hildegard of Bingen valued caraway as both a healing culinary spice and a medicinal plant. Hildegard also believed caraway promoted overall balance and clear thinking. She believed that those who included caraway in their diet would experience improved health, a greater sense of well-being, and renewed vitality.
Caraway seeds health benefits continues to gather interest in scientific research. Many of the traditional medicinal uses of caraway seeds have demonstrated efficacy in modern studies, particularly relating to healthy digestion.
Caraway Seeds Health Benefits for Digestive Issues
In Germany, caraway has a long tradition as the best herbal remedy for stomach bloating and intestinal cramps. It calms an irritated or nervous stomach, promotes complete digestion of the food we eat, and prevents bloating and flatulence.
Caraway Seeds for Digestive Health
For conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, caraway helps rebuild intestinal flora and yeast. Caraway also has some antimicrobial properties that may support the development of beneficial intestinal bacteria, such as bifidobacteria, a common ingredient in probiotics, while fighting off bacteria like streptococcus.
In Germany, caraway’s primary medicinal uses are for the relief of cramps and for probiotic and antimicrobial benefits within the digestive system. Caraway improves digestion by stimulating the secretion of gastric juices and improving circulation of blood and intestinal mucus through the stomach.
Caraway improves overall digestion, which tends to reduce bloating and flatulence, and help stimulate a healthy appetite. The natural probiotic effect also helps rebuild healthy intestinal flora.
Medicinal uses of Caraway Seeds
The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (“ESCOP”) has also officially recognized caraway for use in resolving stomach difficulties and flatulence in colicky children.
Caraway has also received official recognition in treating Roemhild syndrome, a condition involving anxiety and panic attacks arising from chest pains derived from large accumulations of gas in the stomach and intestines.
More Caraway Seeds Health Benefits
Among caraway seeds health benefits, caraway has also been shown to resolve mild lung conditions. Hildegard and her successors recommend using caraway seasoning regularly in foods for people with asthma. In addition, whether used with a warm towel on the forehead, or in tea, caraway is an effective home remedy for headaches and migraines.
In infants, caraway helps facilitate the digestion of breast mild and simultaneously promotes lactation for the mother during breast-feeding. For infants, add one tablespoon to the bottle.
Hildegard’s Caraway Remedies
Through Hildegard of Bingen’s medicine, we have found a few caraway recipes that you can use for the health benefits of caraway.
Caraway Seed Blend for Gas or Bloating
Hildegard specifically designed this to address the sort of “heart pains” associated with Roemheld syndrome. But it is great to relieve common bouts of gas, bloating, or indigestion.
- 6 parts caraway
- 2 parts pepper
- 1 part fenugreek
Preparation: Pulverize and mix the powder of all three. After meals, consume a teaspoon of the blend, chew well and swallow. Follow with a glass of water.
Hildegard suggested preventative care for those inclined to heart or chest discomfort related to gas or bloating, “chew it calmly after breakfast, before you realize any weakness of the heart or experience any discomfort.”
Essential Caraway Oil for Stomach Pain
You can apply essential caraway oil topically to relieve stomach pain and eliminate flatulence. This caraway seed remedy works for infants and young children as well as for adults. Simply massage the essential caraway oil mixture, applied with a base oil, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil.
- 1 teaspoon of essential caraway oil
- 3 teaspoons of olive oil
Preparation: Combine essential oils in a small medicine bottle with a dropper. Gently shake the bottle around until the two oils appear combined. Use 20-40 drops for a belly massage. If the abdominal skin appears dry, add a bit more olive oil.
Spare the belly button (which is often very sensitive) and massage gently in a clockwise manner around the belly button, marking the pattern of the colon. Essential caraway oil is effective for relieving adults with digestive disorders as well as infants and small children with flatulence.
The key ingredient of caraway fruits is the essential oil, 60% of which is composed of the terpenoid, carvone. Carvone is responsible for caraway’s characteristic smell, its unmistakable taste, and many of its health benefits. Caraway essential oil also contains flavonoids, fatty acids, and protein.
How to Make Caraway Tea
Caraway seeds health benefits also include a proven home remedy for women with painful menstruation. This caraway tea recipe is easy – and tastes great!
- 1 Tsp. of crushed caraway seeds (per cup of hot water)
- (Optional) 1 Tsp Raw unfiltered organic honey
Preparation: The first step in preparing caraway tea involves crushing the caraway fruit with a mortar and pestle, or alternatively, using a peppermill to grind the dried fruit. Crushing or grinding the caraway helps release the essential oils and rich flavors.
Use 1 teaspoon of crushed caraway per cup of hot water. Allow 10 minutes to steep. Do not boil the tea, or use boiling water to avoid damaging the essential oils.
This caraway seed tea recipe also supports healthy digestion, particularly when consumed after a meal.
For a more comprehensive digestive aid mix equal parts caraway, peppermint, and chamomile. This blend represents the ideal combination for the entire digestive tract. Caraway extract dampens flatulence and soothes the intestines, peppermint resolves cramps and relieves stomach pain, and chamomile has antibacterial and mild relaxing effects.