Caraway is a member of the group of aromatic plants like anise, Cumin, dill and fennel. Caraway is known less for medicinal properties of the fruits, or 'seeds,' than for use as a flavoring in cooking, confectionery and liqueurs.
Caraway as an Herb for Medicinal Use
The use of caraway in a medicinal form is no longer as common as it once was. However, there are long-standing uses that refuse to fade away.
Caraway aids digestion. It can help promote the menstrual cycle, and is used to help increase a mother's milk. It is added to cough remedies as an expectorant.
For flatulence, from 1 to 4 drops of the essential oil given on a lump of sugar, or in a teaspoonful of water, will be found helpful. You can also make a combination tea for flatulence, as follows.
- 4 parts caraway
- 3 parts fennel
- 3 parts anise
- 1 teaspoon of the combined crushed seeds added to 1-cup of water just off the boil and steeped 10 minutes.
Distilled Caraway water is still considered a useful remedy in the flatulent colic of infants, and is an excellent enhancer for children's medicine. When sweetened, its flavor is agreeable to most.
One ounce of the bruised seeds infused for 6 hours in one pint of cold water makes a good Caraway julep for infants, given in doses of 1 to 3 teaspoonsfuls. (Source: A Modern Herbal Volume 1, A-H (1931)).
The bruised seeds, pounded with the crumb of a hot new loaf and a little spirit to moisten, was an old-fashioned remedy for bad earache. The powder of the seeds, made into a poultice, will also take away bruises.
For high blood pressure, whole caraway seeds have been combined with equal parts fennel, anise, and Yarrow, plus 2 parts of chamomile and peppermint leaves in infusion form (1 teaspoon of the mixture placed in in 1/2 cup boiling water and taken 1 to 1-1/2 cups daily, a mouthful at a time).
In Henry IV, Squire Shallow invites Falstaff to 'a pippin and a dish of caraways.' The custom of serving roast apples with a little saucerful of Caraway is still kept up at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at some of the old-fashioned London Livery Dinners, just as in Shakespeare's days - and to this day in Scotland, a saucerful is put down at tea to dip the buttered side of bread into and called 'salt water jelly'.
Culinary Uses of Caraway
Note: Long term cooking can make caraway bitter. The seeds are best added no more than 30 minutes before a dish is done.
Caraway seed is popular in north European cooking to flavor breads, cakes, sauerkraut, stews, cabbage, cheeses, and cooked fruits.
Scattering caraway seed over cakes has been a long-standing practice. Caraway-seed cake was formerly served at feasts given by farmers to their laborers at the end of the wheat-sowing season. The little Caraway comfits consist of the seeds encrusted with white sugar.
A Scottish custom is to dip the buttered side of bread into a dish of caraway seeds, and that this is called "salt water jelly."
Kummel is a caraway flavored liqueur.
In Germany, the peasants flavor their cheese, cabbage, soups, and household bread with Caraway, and in Norway and Sweden, polenta like, black, Caraway bread is largely eaten in country districts. Caraway is a well known seasoning in northern and eastern Europe to flavor cakes, goulash, cabbage, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, split pea soups, applesauce, cheese, cream soups, cooked apples, sauerkraut, beets, spinach, potatoes, snap beans, peas, cauliflower, turnips, zucchini, French dressing, barley, oats, pork and fish.
Crushed seeds have been sprinkled over popcorn.
The Romans ate the spring leaves as a pot herb and made Chara (a bread) from the roots.
The oil extracted from caraway is used as an ingredient in liquors. Both the Russians and the Germans make a liqueur called 'Kummel' from Caraway. The greatest benefit of caraway oil is its calming and soothing effect on the nerves and the digestive system.
Burners and vaporizers. Caraway oil is used in vapor therapy as a tonic for nerves, for helping the digestive system and urinary problems. Also boosts the respiratory tract.
Massage oil or in the bath. Caraway oil can be used in a blended massage oil. It can be diluted in the bath to assist with painful period pains, digestive problems or respiratory congestion. It can also act as a tonic for the skin.
In a cream. When blended in a cream, caraway can help to fight itching skin, scalp and skin problems such as acne, reduce bruising and in general help with tissue regeneration, thereby helping to fight the signs of aging.
Caraway essential oil is distilled chiefly from Dutch, Norwegian and Russian fruits. The Dutch are small and dark brown in colour. English fruits, of which only a small quantity is produced, are of a brighter tint.
Scotch Crowdie Recipe
Scotch Crowdie was a popular dish of the 16th century that utilized the herb caraway.
2 quarts of sour milk were heated slowly over a low heat until it separated (it was not allowed to boil). The liquid was then strained off and the solid curds seasoned with caraway seeds. Add salt and pepper, then place into a muslin bag or cheese bag to press out the extra moisture. It was then chilled for 3 days before serving.
Roman New Potatoes Recipe
The Roman method of preparing new potatoes used caraway seeds.
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 cup butter
1 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
Saute caraway seeds in the butter. Add the wine and bring to a boil; allow to simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Gradually add the sour cream 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. Add the parsley and the sauce; pour over 10 boiled or baked potatoes.
Caraway oil blends well with basil, chamomile, coriander, frankincense, ginger, lavender and orange.
In old times, an unusual superstition was held about the Caraway. It was deemed to prevent the theft of any object which contained caraway while holding a thief in custody within an invaded house.
In like manner it was thought to keep lovers from forming an ingredient of love potions, and also to prevent fowls and pigeons from straying. Tame pigeons are particularly fond of the seeds.
Also, historically caraway was an herb of weddings used both in the wedding feast and rained on the bride and groom for good luck in the belief the couple would remain faithful and not separate.
No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.
An intake of larger dosages of the volatile oil (for example in caraway liquor) for extended periods can lead to kidney and liver damage.
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