Caraway is an interesting feathery plant with small white flowers, for the uninitiated it can easily be mistaken as a weed. However the interesting aroma of the leaves and seeds sets it apart from any other plant. It has a sweet warm aroma with a flavor similar to aniseed and fennel. The seeds are considered as a attractive spice and it is grown commercially in Europe and Canada. Adding one or two Caraway plants to your garden ensures interest and lovely flavors for your cooking. No herb garden should be without it. It is very hardy surviving to zone 3 and takes a lot of punishment as long as it is watered and fed.
Caraway is mostly a biennial so it only flowers in the second year, however in some cases it can act like an annual. In most cases during its first year it will resemble a small feathery bush. The leaves are delicate finely cut mid green in color and arranged on the upright stem in threes or opposite pairs. During this first year the plant will produce a shallow tap root. In the second year plants that have a roots with a diameter less than ½ inch (1.2cm) at the start of the growing season are not likely to produce flowers that year but will continue to grow until the next season. Plants with larger roots will send up long grooved branching hollow stems up to two feet tall and terminate in umbels of tiny flowers that are usually white but can be yellow or green in color. It blooms in June or July. These are followed by fruits containing the seeds that are brownish in color, ribbed and slightly crescent shaped and marked with five distinct, pale ridges. They have a pleasant aroma when bruised and an agreeable taste. The leaves have the same aroma and taste as the fruit.
Once the plant has flowered and set fruit it will die. In most cases this is completed in two years (biennial) however those with small roots will continue to grow and usually set seed during the third year, in some unusual cases they can live four years. Under some circumstances the life cycle can be completed in one year and the plant acts like an annual.
Due to the formation of the non branching taproot caraway is most commonly seeded directly in the ground as it is very hard to transplant. Germination can be sluggish and can take up to three weeks. Placing the seeds in the freezer for several days before planting can aid this process (our seeds have already had this treatment and are then kept in cold storage until being shipped).
A sowing of seeds in September may possibly produce plants that will flower the following year, sowing in spring will produce plants that should flower the following year. Sow in spring at about the last frost date or as early as the soil can be worked. Seedlings have reasonable tolerance of spring frosts.
Barely cover the seeds (about ¼ inch deep) about 8 - 12 inches apart with rows spaced at about 18-24 inches. Water well constant even moisture is important for good germination so keep the soil watered but not saturated until the seedlings emerge do not let the soil dry out.
Location and care.
Hardy to Zone 3. Caraway needs full sunshine to grow well it will tolerate some shade but will not grow as well. It likes a well drained soil with plenty of organic material and fertilizer. It does not grow well in waterlogged soil or heavy clay. Some sources say it likes sandy soil others say it should be avoided as it produces poor seed emergence, the best option is sandy soil with a lot of organic material to keep the moisture it needs. Caraway needs plenty of moisture, trickle irrigation or a sprinkler system in a garden especially in hot climates and during the summer months. It is happy in soils that are fairly acid or alkaline tolerating a range of pH from 4.8 to 7.8.
Plants can be damaged by very cold weather (-10 ° C, 14 ° F), and late spring frosts. These plants are likely to stay in a vegetative state for that year and not flower until the next season.
Once plants are established they will benefit from additional fertilizer about twice per month with a side dressing of compost about mid season to produce the best leaves and flowers.
Caraway plants can look very similar to Queen Anne's Lace in the foliage stage, so take care that you don't think you are growing weeds. In the first year since Caraway does not usually grow taller than 12 inches it is easy to spot the difference, as Queen Anne's Lace however will shoot up much taller. However in the second and possibly third year, more vigilance is needed to tell them apart.
Caraway is not bothered by many pests or diseases, but occasionally is attacked by carrot root fly, otherwise known as carrot rust fly (Psila rosae). Being a member of the parsley family it may be attacked by parsley caterpillar these can usually be removed by hand. The flowers are attractive to parasitic wasps which control aphids.
Grasshoppers may be a pest and grasshopper body parts in the seed sample can cause down-grading or rejection. Leaf hoppers may also be of importance as they transmit aster yellows disease. Attempts should be made to prevent the spread of leaf hoppers into the caraway crop.
Caraway grows well with most vegetables especially peas and beans but don't plant it near fennel
The leaves can be harvested at any time during the growing year once the plant has reached about six inches in height. If more leaves are desired the flower heads can be pinched out as they appear, this will keep the plant vegetative and it will survive an additional year. However three years is usually the maximum for caraway plants, allow it to flower in the third year.
Seeds should be collected when they are dry on a dry sunny day to prevent any fungal problems. These can either be shaken off the seed heads as they mature or the whole seed head can be cut with snips and placed in a bag to ensure that the seeds are caught when they drop off but still have air circulation and do not collect moisture. Ripe seeds are brown in color, but seeds can be collected just before they are fully ripe and dried in the sun or over a gentle heat or dehydrator. This method ensure that reseeding does not occur in the garden. Make sure seeds are truly dry before storing in an airtight container, any moisture can produce mold on the seeds. Complete harvesting seeds before the first frost. For home use one to two caraway plants is usually sufficient to produce all the seed needed.
Roots are dug up in late fall or early winter or the first year when the most material is stored in them and they are at their largest.
Caraway has many uses in the kitchen. The seeds are used in rye bread and some varieties of cheese. The seeds are sprinkled on cakes and breads and used in cooking of cabbage and sauerkraut. They are also used to flavor many liqueurs including Kummel, Akuavit gins and Schnapps.
The leaves are used in salads or cooked like spinach or added to stews and
soups. In Germany and Austria it is used with pork, duck an goose and added
Both leaves or seeds can be used to flavor omelets, rice and pasta dishes, cheeses and cheese spreads and vegetable dishes and is often used with apples for which it seems to have a great affinity.
Caraway seeds were customarily chewed to freshen breath. The essential oil extracted from caraway is used to flavor mouthwashes, toothpastes and chewing gums. It is also an important addition to Tunisian harissa and some blends of garam masala.
Caraway plants in bloom