Caraway seeds health benefits have been known since antiquity. In fact, caraway (carum carvi) remains one of the oldest herbs and medicinal plants still in use in Europe. Caraway, sometimes referred to as Persian Cumin, is a biennial (two-year maturation cycle) flowering plant in the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. The Apiaceae family includes celery, carrot, and parsley varieties, notable for their hollow stems and aromatic qualities.
Caraway Seeds Health Benefits for Digestive Issues and Roemheld Syndrome
Caraway is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It grows wild in damp meadows, pastures, and roadsides, and can be easily grown in your Hildegarden at home – though it does compete with fennel, so make sure you have adequate spacing. As a biennial plant, caraway won’t mature (produce seeds) until the second growing season, though its leaves in the first year can be a nice addition to a soup or salad. It can grow up to three feet tall and blooms from May to July.
Sometimes confused for fennel or cumin, caraway is a distinct plant within the celery family. The caraway seed is darker in color and smoother than cumin and is usually slightly curved. Caraway seeds are more bitter than cumin and the aroma can be described as slightly minty or peppery. The seeds have an anise-like flavor, though it is more complex and less pronounced than fennel.
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, caraway was recognized for its long history as a medicinal plant. Historically, caraway was a valued spice, which hosts would lavish on their guests to show appreciation and generosity.
Many know of caraway as a spice for use in breads or ethnic deserts. 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 and relieve gas, bloating, and heartburn.
Hildegard of Bingen valued caraway as both a healing culinary spice and a medicinal plant. Hildegard wrote the following about caraway seed health benefits. “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 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 on our digestive system and for other medicinal uses continues gathering interest in scientific research and has contributed to the fruit’s election as Germany’s medicinal plant of the year in 2016.
Harvesting Caraway to Eat
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.
The History of Caraway’s Use
Caraway has been harvested and used by humans since the Neolithic period. Much later, during the Middle Ages, caraway was traditionally introduced after a big feast. Served with sugar at the end of a meal, caraway was thought to prevent bloating.
Modern Use of Caraway
Caraway has a long tradition in Germany, and in known as the best herbal remedy for stomach bloating and stomach intestinal cramps. It calms an irritated or nervous stomach, promotes complete digestion of the food we eat, and prevents bloating and flatulence.
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 include are for the relief of cramps and for probiotic and antimicrobial benefits within the digestive system. It is believed that 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. 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.
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. All dishes are believed to be easier on the stomach and digestive system when accompanied by caraway.
The whole caraway fruit can be added to dishes to add spice, flavor, and texture. Alternatively, to moderate the flavor, cook dishes with caraway fruit, and 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.
Other 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
- 6 parts cumin
- 2 parts pepper
- 1 part fenugreek
Pulverize and mix the powder of all three. 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.”
Making Caraway Oil for Stomach Pain
Caraway oil used for flatulence or stomach pain should be applied topically. This 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.
- 1 teaspoon of essential caraway oil
- 3 teaspoons of olive oil
Combine 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. Caraway oil is effective for relieving adults with digestive disorders as well as infants and small children with flatulence.
Caraway seeds health benefits includes a proven home remedy for young girls with painful menstruation. This is best handled with caraway tea, see below.
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.
Making Caraway Tea
- 1 Tsp. of crushed caraway seeds (per cup of hot water)
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 mixture supports healthy digestion, particularly when consumed warm 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.