The caraway plant is a biennial herb usually with a fleshy root and slender, branched stems. It has feather-like leaves divided into very narrow segments and small white flowers. The fruit, when ripe, splits into narrow, elongated carpels, which are curved, pointed at the ends and have four longitudinal ridges on the surface. The dried fruits or seeds, brown in colour, are hard and sharp to touch. They have a pleasant odour, aromatic flavour, somewhat sharp taste and leave a somewhat warm feeling in the mouth.
Caraway's qualities were recognised by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The herb was widely used in the Middle Ages. It has been used for centuries in breads and cakes, and with baked fruit, especially roasted apples. Because caraway was said to prevent lovers from straying, it was once an essential ingredient in love potions. The seeds of caraway were prescribed for bringing bloom to the cheeks of pale-faced young maidens.
The caraway seed is native to north and central Europe and West Asia. In India, it grows wild in the north Himalayan region. The herb is cultivated as a winter crop on the plains and summer one in Kashmir, Kumaon, Garhwal and Chamba at altitudes of 2,740 to 3,660 metres.
An analysis of caraway Seeds shows it to contain appreciable moisture, protein, fat, substantial amount of carbohydrates besides ash, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. It also contains vitamins C and A. Its calorific value is 465 per 100 gram.
A valuable essential oil, containing substantial amounts of carvone, is obtained from caraway seeds. This oil is colourless or pale yellow with a strong odour and flavour of the fruit. The volatile oil contains a mixture of ketone, carvone, a terpene and traces of carvacrol.
The caraway seeds, leaves and roots are considered useful in activating the glands, besides increasing the action of the kidneys. It is characterised as an excellent 'house cleaner' for the body. Caraway oil is used in medicine to relieve flatulence. It is also used to correct the nauseating and griping effects of some medicines.
Caraway seeds are useful in strengthening the functions of stomach. They relieve flatulence and are useful in flatulent colic, countering any possible adverse effects of medicines. However, the volatile oil of the seeds is employed more often than the seeds. For flatulence, a cup of tea made from caraway seeds taken thrice a day,. after meals, will give relief. This tea is prepared by adding a teaspoon of caraway seeds in 1.5 to 2 litres of boiling water and allowing it to simmer on a slow fire for 15 minutes. It is then strained and sipped hot or warm.
Carvone, isolated from caraway oil, is used as anthelmintic, especially in removing hookworms from the intestines.
A dilute solution, containing small amounts of the oil of the caraway and alcohol mixed in 75 parts of castor oil is considered beneficial in the treatment of scabies. The solution should be taken orally.
Caraway seed oil is used orally in overcoming bad breath or insipid taste.
Caraway is widely used for flavouring breads, biscuits, cakes and cheese. I t is also used as an ingredient in sausages and as a seasoning and pickling spices. Caraway oil is useful chiefly for flavouring purposes and in medicine as a carminative to relieve flatulence.