Caraway is truly a useful plant with all parts of it edible for culinary or medicinal purposes. What parts of caraway can you harvest? The most commonly used part of caraway is the seed, which is a classic addition to cabbage dishes and adds sweet, nutty flavor to baked goods like breads and cake. It is an easy plant to grow and harvesting caraway seeds is just a two-step process. Continue reading to learn when to pick caraway so the seeds will be at the peak of their flavor.
When to Pick Caraway
Caraway is a biennial herb whose leaves, roots and seeds can be eaten. The plant prefers cool weather and is most often sown in spring or autumn. The deeply notched leaves form a rosette in the first year while it develops the deep taproot. Long stems form during the second year and bear umbrella-like clusters of white to pink flowers. Seeds start ripening a month after flowering and is followed by plant death.
The leaves are taken in spring from the first year and used as part of salads or lightly sautéed. Harvest no more than 1/3 of the plant leaves to ensure continued health of the herb. Leaves remain fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
The seed is available in the second year and must be completely dried prior to storage. The large white umbel flower bunches will dry, lose petals and form small capsules. These split open when dried and release the tiny seeds. Seeds can be kept for a year in an airtight container.
How to Harvest Caraway
As the season ends and the petals fall from the flowers, the seed pods are forming. In the wild, they would just dry on the plant, crack open and self-sow. To glean your own caraway harvest, you need to beat Mother Nature.
Wait until all the petals are gone and the seed pods are tan to light brown. Cut off the umbels and bundle the stems together for ease of handling. Put them into paper bags with the stems sticking up through the top.
Place the bags in a dry location and let the pods finish drying. In a week or two, shake the bag to release the seeds from the cracked pods. Discard the dried umbels.
Preserving Your Caraway Harvest
After harvesting caraway seeds, they need to be preserved. They should be dry enough after a couple of weeks in the paper bags or you can place the umbels on a dehydrator until the pods crack.
After you separate the chaff from the seeds, they may be bottled, placed in a plastic Ziploc bag or put in an airtight vacuum bag. The key is to avoid air, light and heat to the seeds. These extremes can diminish the oils and, therefore, the flavor of the seeds.
With careful preparation, that sweet, almost licorice, flavor will remain for up to a year.