If you have ever had rye bread or caraway seed cakes, you are already familiar with the pungent, distinctive taste of the caraway plant. But, did you know that the caraway herb also has proven health benefits? Today we're going to look a little at the history and uses of this popular herb.
The Origins of Caraway
For as long as humans have had civilization, we have had caraway. That may sound like an exaggeration, but this hardy little herb thrives in the vast majority of western civilization, starting in the Fertile Crescent of the Mediterranean area, where human civilization was born. In fact, it thrives so well, that its wild versions are classified as a fast-growing weed by the USDA. Although native to Europe, the near East and northern Africa, this plant was deliberately introduced to the Americas by early settlers, eager to continue to use one of their favorite plants. If you have a home garden, you likely recognize its long spindly leaves and tiny seeds as one of those plants you often fight to keep out!
Of course, wild caraway does not convey the same health benefits and quality as a cultivated plant. Yes, you can probably cultivate caraway in a home garden (if you aren't already), but this plant does better in some climates than others. Due to its advantageous climate, Finland and other northern climes have become the premium source of cultivated caraway due to the longer growing season which allows for better plants with a higher concentration of essential oils.
Caraway for Flavor
For most of its consumers most of the time, caraway is simply a healthy flavoring, all-natural and a good way to improve everything from breads to cheeses without relying on artificial ingredients. These flavors come through its essential oils, especially carvone and limonene, two oils known for their flavorful qualities, also present in carum carvi's cousin the spearmint plant. As with many essential oils, they are better - and better for you - when occurring naturally, as a natural alternative to artificial flavors. Whether sprinkled on as a seed or a mixed into dough as a ground-up herb, caraway is tasty and always good to have.
Health Benefits of Caraway
In addition to its popular use as a natural flavor, caraway has also long been known for its soothing properties, especially with regard to digestion and heartburn. Its leaves and other parts can be brewed into a tea - or else you can eat its seeds as part of your regular diet - and it will help promote good digestion and ease an upset stomach. Especially for those looking for natural heartburn remedies, caraway is a good place to start. As with any essential oil, caraway's natural aroma and taste offers clear healing properties and relief, however one uses it. Another popular use of caraway is to induce menstruation (and to reduce the discomfort from it) by relieving pressure in the bowels.
Because caraway is a perfectly normal part of our diet, its side effects are minimal and will generally occur only when taken in high concentration. If you are looking - for example - to add caraway leaves to your daily tea or add some healthy rye or multi-grain bread to your diet, you should be fine (absent any food allergies of course!) That said, if you are considering a higher dose, you should use the same care you'd take with any new herbal medicine. Pregnant women in particular should avoid taking high concentrations of caraway, because its known ability to induce menstruation could lead to miscarriage.
Looking for a natural remedy for heartburn or relief from other minor aches and pains? Interested in natural flavoring that is also good for you? Caraway is a good one to add to have in your spice cabinet - and in your medicine cabinet too.
The picture is one for Achillea millefolium, not Carum carvi.