Jacqueline Soule (Gardening with Soule in the land of El Sol) this week to share a wonderful plant to raise this winter.
Caraway has a long history of use as both a culinary and medicinal plant. Evidence of the seed has been found among Mesolithic (middle stone age) food remains, indicating that it has been used by humans for over 10,000 years. Caraway is also mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medicinal manuscript from 1500 B.C.E. Caraway was used in Roman cooking, and Olde English cooking as well, since it is listed in the “Form of Curry,” a cookbook written by Richard the II’s cook in 1390 C.E.
The entire caraway plant is useful. Leaves, roots, flowers, and seed are all edible. As a spice, primarily the seed is used; by Austrians in beef dishes; by Germans to season pork; by Hungarians in goulash; and by Swedes and Norwegians to flavor their bread. Caraway seed is also tasty in eggs, cheeses, baked goods, pastries, fish dishes, or with many types of steamed vegetables, in pickles, or in fruit dishes such as compote, apple sauce, or some chutneys. I mix caraway seed or leaves with tofu and stir-fry for a pleasantly different flavor. Others use the leaves raw in either green or fruit salads, or in soups and stews. The roots may be eaten raw, steamed, or added to soups and stews.
With all these wonderful uses of the plant, you may wonder if caraway will grow in the southwest. The answer is a resounding yes! Start caraway seeds in October in your winter garden. Or plant the seedlings any month without a freeze. If you intend to harvest the roots, be sure that you keep the soil evenly moist throughout the season, otherwise they can be bitter. Caraway can be grown in the yard, in the oasis area of a xeriscape. It also does well in containers at least two feet deep.
Ethnomedicinally, caraway is used to promote digestion, stimulate the appetite, and relieve cases of diarrhea. In most cases it is prepared as an infusion, and has a slightly sweetish taste to it. There is no known indication of toxicity, but all plants contain defensive compounds to deter pests, thus it is best consumed in small doses. People with food allergies to other members of the carrot family, such as dill or cilantro, should also avoid caraway.
Caraway is easily grown, a prolific seed producer, and a delicious addition many dishes. Adding some caraway to your garden or yard is a green action. It will reduce, at least a little bit, importation of caraway seed from eastern Europe, the principle growers. It can also add a wonderful new flavor dimension to your food.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
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Photos courtesy of Pixabay.