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The Daily Dose: Caraway

Scientific Name: (Carum carvi,  Apiaceae Family)

Common Name: Caraway,  meridian fennel, and Persian cumin (but it is not cumin)

Medicinal Part:  The seed

Description: This is a hardy biennial herb with a hollow stem, growing 1 to 3 feet high.  Leaves bi- and tripinnate (pinnate = having leaflets arranged on either side of the stem), deeply incised.  Flowers are small and white blooming May to June.  Fruit two seeded cremocarp (a dry dehiscent fruit characteristic of plants of the family Umbelliferae that consists of two indehiscent oneseeded mericarps which split apart at maturity and remain pendent from the summit of the carpophore), oblong, flattened about 1/6 inch long.  The plant is similar in appearance to other members of the carrot family, with finely divided, feathery leaves with thread-like divisions, growing on 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) stems. The main flower stem is 40–60 cm (16–24 in) tall, with small white or pink flowers in umbels. Caraway fruits, commonly (erroneously) called seeds, are crescent-shaped achenes, around 2 mm (0.08 in) long, with five pale ridges.  It is native to various parts of Europe and western Asia, where it favors damp grassland and disturbed ground.

Caraway was an important spice in Arab cooking before it became popular in Europe during the thirteenth century.  Comfits or “sugar plums,” made from the seeds were a favorite snack in Elizabethan England.  Confusingly, in several European languages, words for caraway and cumin are the same, though the two species differ in flavor and uses.

Properties and Uses: The seeds are carminative and stomachic.  The seeds are an excellent remedy for indigestion and wind and may simply be chewed to give relief.  As they relax spasm in the digestive tract, caraway extracts are added to various products for digestive problems and to laxatives to reduce griping.  The seeds have expectorant effects and may help bronchitis and pleurisy.  They are useful in flatulent colic, especially in infants (but have seen contra-indicated notes in modern time for infants) and as a corrective to nauseous purgatives, and as a spice in cakes, etc.  The essential oil is used in soap and dental hygiene products.  Caraway leaves give a pleasant parsley-dill flavor to soups and salads and the parsnip-like roots make an interesting vegetable.  The pungent seeds are popular in Jewish cuisine and are an essential flavoring of rye bread, goulash, and seed cake.  Other well known uses are with cabbage (especially sauerkraut), cooked apples, cheese and as a basis for alcoholic drinks such a kummel and schnapps.

Caraway is virtually identical to Fennel seed, Frustus foeniculi, in its nature, functions and uses.  Note the following differences however:

1. Caraway seed is more effective than Fennel seed for treating GI disorders.  It is spasmolytic (able to relieve spasm of smooth muscle), cholagogue (inducing a flow of bile), choleretic (stimulates the production of bile by the liver), antifermentative (addresses chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat) and carminative (relieving flatulence) actions address conditions marked by biliary and gastric dyspepsia (indigestion), epigastric and abdominal diress, pain and bloating.

2. Caraway seed’s stimulant expectorant and mucolytic (tending to break down or lower the viscosity of mucin-containing body secretions or components) actions address catarrhal (excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat, associated with inflammation of the mucous membrane) respiratory conditions with cough and abundant sputum, including bronchitis.

3. Caraway seed is less effective than Fennel seed in treating  the various urinary disorders.

4. The essential oil of Caraway is used topically as antiparasitic in parasitic skin conditions such as tinea (ringworm), scabies, and pediculosis (lice).  Its analgesic and detumescent (the process of subsiding from a state of tension, swelling) actions treat tissues injuries such as sprains, strains, and wounds showing swelling and pain.

Dose and Preparation: A teaspoonful of the seed, cut small or granulated, to a cup of boiling water.  Drink cold, one cupful during the day, a large mouthful at a time; of the tincture (1:5 40%), 1-4 ml 3x/day.

Resources: The Herbalist, Joseph Meyer; Herbal, Deni Brown; The Energetics of Western Herbs, Peter Holmes; various online dictionaries

Daily Dose is intended as an informational guide. The remedies, approaches and techniques described herein are meant to supplement, and not be a substitute for professional medical care or treatment. They should not be used to treat a serious ailment without prior consultation with a qualified health care professional.

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