Fans of caraway seed muffins know all about the seed’s heavenly aroma and slightly licorice flavor. You can grow and harvest your own seed to use in the spice cupboard, but first you need to choose the varieties of caraway that will perform best in your garden. There are approximately 30 caraway plant species, mostly native to Asia and Mediterranean regions. Caraway plant varieties are used across the globe, but they are usually classed by region and growth habit.
Different Kinds of Caraway
Caraway has been used in food and as a medicine for centuries. The commonly cultivated variety has several cultivars but most remain unnamed. It is best to group the different kinds of caraway by their growth pattern, either annual or biennial. Technically, there are no listed named varieties. Annual caraway requires a longer growing season, while biennial types of caraway are grown in cooler regions.
Biennial Caraway Plant Varieties
Biennial varieties of caraway (Carum carvi f. biennis) need two seasons to produce umbels and the “fruits,” erroneously called seeds. Caraway plant varieties are classed in the carrot family and produce characteristic umbrella-shaped clusters of flowers. Each of these will develop into a fruit that, when dried, is used in cooking and traditional medicines.
In the first year, biennial plants form rosettes. In the second year, a stalk is sent up to bear the umbels. In some cases, a third year of flowers may develop but repeat sowing annually is necessary for a consistent supply of seed.
Annual Types of Caraway
There are different kinds of caraway due to cultivation preferences and wild hybridization, although none have been named. Of these, annual caraway plant species (Carum carvi f. annua) are grown in warm regions and planted in winter. The long growing season allows the plant to produce the rosette and flowering stalks all in one year.
In these areas, the plant will often reseed itself and purposeful re-sowing is not necessary. Some gardener’s state the flavor of annual caraway plant varieties is sweeter than that grown in northern regions as a biennial.
Tips on Growing Different Kinds of Caraway
All types of caraway prefer well-draining, humic rich soil in full sun. Caraway is slow to germinate and can take up to three weeks to sprout. It is best to plant directly outdoors rather than to transplant. This is to avoid disturbing its taproot, which can interrupt establishment.
Provided soil is fertile, no supplemental food is necessary. Keep soil somewhat moist. You can lightly harvest the leaves for salads and use the taproot after the fruit is harvested.
As seed heads begin to dry, tie a permeable sack around the umbels to preserve the fruits. Separate the chaff and dry seeds for storage in a cool, dark location.