By Bonnie L. Grant
Caraway is a flavorful and aromatic herb. The caraway seed is the most used part of the plant and can be used in baking, soups, stews and other foods but all parts of the plant are edible. Growing caraway seeds requires some patience, as the caraway plant is a biennial and doesn’t do more than grow vegetatively in the first season. The caraway plant resembles a carrot and sets seed in its second year.
Learn About the Caraway Plant
The caraway plant (Carum carvi) is an herbaceous biennial that will mature to 30 inches tall. The plant is only about 8 inches tall in the first season with carrot-like foliage and a long taproot. By the second year, the plant will triple in size and the foliage becomes more feathery with stout stems. Tiny white flowers appear on the umbrels, which begin in May and last until the end of summer. The spent flowers yield small hard brown seeds– the caraway spice that is an important part of many regional cuisines.
How to Grow Caraway
Caraway spice is an under-used and infrequently grown plant in most herb gardens. It is native to Europe and Western Asia where it thrives in full sun and well drained soil with pH ranges of 6.5 to 7.0. It is not a good plant for hot, humid climates and prefers cool temperate zones. Sow the seeds 1/2-inch deep in fall or spring.
Once seed germinates, thin the caraway plant to 8 to 12 inches apart. In colder climates, mulch the roots of the plant heavily with straw or organic mulch, which will add nutrients to the soil.
Germination is slow and sporadic when growing caraway seeds, and the herb may be intercropped to help prevent weeds and manage soil conditions.
Very little cultivation is required in caraway growing, but adequate moisture is an important component in the first year. The foliage of caraway plants need to be kept dry during irrigation, so a drip hose is an excellent way to keep the soil moisture level up.
Cut the plant back in the fall as it will die back and re-sprout in spring. Caraway has few pests or disease problems. Plant a second crop a year after the first for consistent production.
Caraway growing provides you with a fresh source of spice that is adaptable and stores well. All parts of the caraway plant are edible. Harvest the leaves in the first or second years to add flavor to salads. When the plant has produced seed, dig up the taproot and use it as you would any root vegetable. The seeds are harvested when they turn a rich deep brown color. Cut the umbels off the plant and put them in a paper bag. Let them dry in an open bag for a few days and then shake the bag to remove the caraway spice.
Herb gardens are more complete when you grow caraway and add the characteristic flavor to your spice rack.