GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A biennial herb up to 0,75 metres high with a much-branched stem, finally cut leaves and umbels of white flowers, with a thick and tapering root. The small seeds are curved with five distinct pale ridges.
DISTRIBUTION: Native to Europe and western Asia; naturalised in North America. Now widely cultivated especially in Holland, Poland, Hungary and Egypt.
HERBAL/FOLK TRADITION: Used extensively as a spice, especially in bread, cakes and cheeses. Traditional remedy for dyspepsia, intestinal colic, menstrual cramps, poor appetite, laryngitis and bronchitis. It promotes milk secretion and is considered specific for flatulent colic in children, according to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
ACTIONS: Antihistaminic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, aperitif, astringent, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactagogue, larvicidal, stimulant, spasmolytic, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge.
EXTRACTION: Essential oil by steam distillation from the dried ripe seed or fruit (approx. 2-8 per cent yield).
CHARACTERISTICS: Crude caraway oil is a pale yellowish-brown liquid with a harsh, spicy odour. The redistilled oil is colourless to pale yellow, with a strong, warm, sweet-spicy odour, like rye bread. It blends well with jasmine, cinnamon, cassia and other spices; however, it is very overpowering.
PRINCIPAL CONSTITUENTS: Mainly carvone (50-60 per cent) and limonene (40 per cent), with carveol, dihydrocarveol, dihydrocarvone, pinene, phellandrene, among others.
SAFETY DATA: Non-toxic, non-sensitising, may cause dermal irritation in concentration.
AROMATHERAPY/HOME USE: Respiratory system: bronchitis, coughs, laryngitis. Digestive system: dyspepsia, colic, flatulence, gastric spasm, nervous indigestion, poor appetite. See also sweet fennel and dill. Immune system: Colds.
OTHER USES: Used in carminative, stomachic and laxative preparations and as a flavour ingredient in pharmaceuticals; also to mask unpleasant tastes and odorous. Fragrance component in toothpaste, mouthwash products, cosmetics and perfumes. Extensively used as a flavour ingredient in most major food categories, especially condiments. The German brandy ‘Kummel’ is made from the seeds.