Growing Aromatic Caraway
Caraway is an aromatic plant grown for its flavourful seeds which are used in cooking, baking, sweets and liqueurs.
A biennial member of the Umbelliferae family, caraway (Carum carvi) is a doubly useful herb. The fragrant and tasty seeds have long been used in breads, cakes, sweet dishes, with vegetables, or in traditional English baked apple desserts. The young leaves can be used fresh in salads or substituted for, and, as an extra bonus, the tap roots can be dug up and cooked like or carrots.
The name caraway comes from an Arabic word meaning seed, and the seeds have been used since very ancient times. The plant is found wild throughout Europe, North America and parts of Asia. In cultivation, caraway is a thoroughly undemanding plant, unaffected by cither dry weather or frost, and quite happy to grow in herb garden, windowbox or pot.
Caraway takes two seasons to complete its life-cycle. In its first season it grows to about 20 cm (8”) high, its feathery shoots resembling pale green carrot tops. The cycle is completed the next year, when the flowering stems of the plants reach about 60 cm (2’) and produce white, umbel-like clusters of flowers, which become the seedheads. It is for these seeds that caraway is most often grown.
To grow caraway in your herb garden, choose a semi-shady site. The plants do not need much water, so they should never be put intowhich stays damp for long periods. The best soil is fine, sandy and well-drained. If your garden is on heavy soil, dig in a mixture of sand and peat before sowing.
Sow outdoors either in mid-spring or in late summer. Put the seed very thinly in drills 45 cm (1-1/2’) apart. Germination should take about three weeks; when theare large enough to handle, thin to a spacing of 30 cm (1’). Always sow caraway where it is to grow, as the long tap roots do not transplant well. Spring-sown plants will flower in late spring of the following year, while autumn-sown plants will reach maturity in the following mid-summer.
Caraway is a trouble-free and easy-to-care-for herb. The plants need no special feeding or care, other than keeping the bed free of. If the weather is very dry, keep the plants moist by watering with a fine-rosed watering can every two or three days. However, do not saturate the ground, as caraway is not a moisture-loving plant. Protect the plants with cloches or by mulching over the crowns during the winter.
You can takeof caraway leaves beginning eight weeks after planting. Cut sparingly, and only take as many leaves as you can use fresh at that time; dried caraway leaves have very little flavour. Do not cut the leaves in the second year.
Caraway is primarily a seed herb, and the seed should be ready for harvesting in the second summer, after flowering and when the stems begin to discolour and the seed is dark green. Cut the seed heads carefully, put them into paper bags and hang them in a warm, dry place until the seeds fall. Alternatively you can put the seedheads in a single layer on a tray, and dry them in a barely-heated oven, shaking them occasionally. If you leave the seedheads on the plant for too long, the seeds will fall and be lost in the garden, so keep a close watch on your plants.
To store caraway seeds, first be sure they are thoroughly dry. Keep the seeds in an opaque, air-tight container, preferably glass, and keep the container in a dark place. When properly stored, caraway seeds will keep their pungent flavour for at least a year.
After the seedheads have been cut, you can dig the slender tap roots and cook them. Put any remains of the plants on theheap. Once caraway has been grown in the garden, you will always have it, as it self-sows very easily. It pays to look after these plants though, by keeping them fed and watered, otherwise the seed crop will be poor.
Caraway is a good choice for container growing, so long as the container is deep enough for the tap roots to develop. Sow-two or three seeds in the pot where the plants are to grow, and discard any weak seedlings. Use a good potting compost. Then treat the plants exactly as you would outdoor grown caraway.
If you have a large harvest of caraway seeds, you might want to add some to herb bags or pot-pourris.