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Caraway

( Originally Published 1933 )



CARVUM CARVI, L.

Umbelliferae Biennial

Caraway is native to Europe and has become naturalized a little in the United States. Its feathery leaves are similar to those of its close relative, the carrot, which it resembles, except that it is a taller and more leafy plant.

Root. It has a long and tapering root, yellowish-white, fine grained, and with a flavor not unlike the carrot.

Stem. The stems are glaucous, marked with horizontal lines, and over two feet high.

Leaf. The bluish-green leaves are much cut into thread-like segments. Their taste has something of the carrot and the parsley, a little bitter, yet pleasant.

Flower. The flowers come the second season, in May, and are borne in flat umbels and from a distance look greenish-yellow. Upon close examination they prove to be a creamy yellow with the tiny petals curled in at the edges, greenish-yellow centers, and thread-like stamens which give the whole inflorescence a lacy look.

Seed. The seeds ripen in June and early July. They are about one-quarter of an inch long, concave on one side and convex on the other. They are dark brown with ridges much lighter in color and have a little button at one end. They smell of caraway, camphor, and anise; their taste is sharp, of camphor, warm, and pleasant, all composed into a distinct caraway flavor. The fresh home-grown seeds taste much stronger than the bought ones. They keep their vitality a long while.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

The name is said to come from the former province, Caria, in Asia Minor. The seeds of caraway were found in the débris of the lake dwellings of Switzerland. Pliny and Apicius mentioned it, and Dioscorides prescribed it for pale-faced girls. The roots mixed with milk made a sort of bread, called Ghara by Julius Caesar, was eaten by the soldiers of Valerius. Ibn Baithar speaks of caraway, and Charlemagne had it on his list. It was customary for the farmers of England to give caraway seed cakes to their laborers at the end of the wheat sowing.

USES

Medicine. The oil extracted from the seeds is given internally for colic, digestive disturbances, to correct griping cathartics, and also to improve the taste of bitter remedies.

Perfume. Small quantities of the oil distilled from the seeds in combination with other oils flavor mouth washes, cheap perfumes, and, in England, soap as well. The ground seed is good with other ingredients in sachet powders.

Food. On the Continent the oil has been used for centuries in brewing liqueurs, such as kummel, in Germany and Russia, and l'Huile de Venus, in France. The Germans are especially fond of the taste of caraway and flavor their sauerkraut, bread, biscuits, cakes, and cheeses with the seed. The Dutch cultivate it extensively and put it into their cheeses, too. Roast apples, or other baked fruits flavored with caraway seeds, are good. Caraway comfits, which consist of the seeds encased in white sugar, decorate and flavor cookies and cakes.

CULTURE

Caraway is grown from seed and likes a sunny, dry situation. It is hardy, and fruits well in this country, especially in the North. The end of the first season the leaves will be up about eight inches. During the winter, I have protected my plants with a light covering as I do the other perennials and biennials, but am not sure that this is necessary.

Most of the seed used in the United States is imported from Europe.



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