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Healing Herbs: Caraway

Updated on April 26, 2012

What is Caraway?

Sometimes referred to as Persian cumin or meridian fennel, caraway is a strongly scented plant that belongs to the Carum genus and the Apiaceae, or carrot, family. Native to Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, this plant can be either annual, biennial, or perennial depending on the climate in which it is grown.

Often mistakenly labeled as seeds, the most recognizable part of the caraway plant is the fruit, which is small, slightly horny and curved, brown though mildly translucent in parts. These plants, which can grow between 1 and 1/2 to 2 feet in height, bear finely divided, feather-like leaves, and pink or white umbels of flowers. The roots of the caraway plant are tapering and thick, while the stems are relatively slender, smooth and furrowed.

The origins of caraway are not wholly understood. The English usage of the modern name dates back as far as 1440, and this usage is said to have its origins in the ancient Arabian name, "karawya." However, the naturalist and natural philosopher Pliny contended that the species name, Carvi, has its roots in Asia Minor, where he believed the plant was first discovered. Regardless of where it was originally found, it is pretty safe to say that the usage of caraway is not a new thing. Made into bread that was consumed by the soldiers of Valerius, mentioned in the texts of Dioscorides and Shakespeare, and placed into love potions during the days when wives' tales were accepted as the golden rule, caraway has long been a very useful and popular herb.

Although the flavor and scent of this plant are what draw most people in, there is another, far more compelling, reason why it has long been a favorite among cooking enthusiasts and those who take part in herbalism. Containing a plethora of nutrients, the health benefits of caraway are numerous. For instance, this plant bears a high content of volatile oils such as cumuninic aldehyd, limonene, and thujone, which have carminative and antioxidant properties. This delicious herb is also a superb source of fiber, minerals like copper, iron and zinc, and vitamins like A, C, E, and B-complex.

What Are the Benefits of Caraway?

Best known as a carminative herb, caraway does more than just relieve gastric ailments. For instance this plant can be used for:

Mouth, Throat and Lung Complaints:

Because of its high antioxidant content and antimicrobial properties, caraway is often used to create healing gargles that can be used to treat laryngitis and other throat-related ailments. Teas and supplements made with this medicinal herb may also be useful in treating bronchitis and asthma symptoms, as it is said to also contain antispasmodic properties, which may help open up the airways. This healing herb may also be beneficial for those suffering from tooth pain and chronic halitosis, or bad breath.

Menstrual and Breastfeeding Issues:

The antispasmodic effect of this wonderfully healing herb is thought to aid in relieving uncommonly painful or strong cramps, and may be helpful to those experiencing delayed menstruation. Additionally, this plant is thought to help encourage the creation and flow of breast milk in breastfeeding mothers.

Gastric Conditions:

Although this plant is thought to help a myriad of conditions, you simply cannot leave out its uses in this particular area. As a potent carminative plant, caraway has long been used to treat gas, bloating, indigestion, and flatulent colic in small children. Additionally, it is often paired with herbal laxatives, such as senna, to help prevent stomach cramps.

Other Potential Uses:

In addition to its carminative properties, the caraway plant is also thought to be a useful parasiticide and stimulant, which may help you to flush away worms or other internal parasites. Decoctions of this herb are also thought to relieve earaches and cure eye infections, as well as skin problems such as acne, boils and bruises.

Side Effects and Warnings:

Although caraway is generally considered safe in medicinal quantities, those with diabetes, those who are taking any form of diabetes medication, and those who are about to undergo surgery should avoid the use of this plant, as it is thought to potentially lower blood sugar levels. Women who are pregnant should also avoid this herb as the oils are said to have abortifacient properties, so use of this plant can result in miscarriage. This plant should not be taken in medicinal quantities for more than eight weeks at a time, as some believe it has a narcotic effect, which may make it mildly addictive. Additionally, prolonged use may result in liver or kidney damage. Milder side effects often include belching, heartburn, and skin rash.


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    • mrslagibb profile image

      Mrs L A Gibb 5 years ago

      I am quite sure I will. thank you for the answer.

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 5 years ago

      mrslagibb: Although they're in the same family, caraway and cumin are two separate genera. However, caraway is occasionally called Persian cumin, which can lead to a lot of confusion. Thank you so much for your comment, and I hope you can find some useful things in this series. :-)

    • mrslagibb profile image

      Mrs L A Gibb 5 years ago

      Am I right in thinking Caraway is Cumin? Very Useful, Informative hubs. I will be back for more, when I get stuck. Thank you. Voted Useful, Interesting.