Ajwain may be an unfamiliar word, but the ajwain plant carries an herbal punch that includes many more familiar spices and herbs.
Ajwain (Trachyspermum ammi) hails from India, North Africa, and the Middle East. Also known as ajowan, bishop’s weed, carom seeds, or ajowan caraway, ajwain is an umbellifer, along with carrots, dill, and celery. People have been eating ajwain leaves and fruit for a very long time, but many Americans are unfamiliar with this attractive edible.
If you were to look at a handful of ajwain fruit, you would swear they were seeds. Actually, they are schizocarps. Carrots, parsnips, cheeseweeds, and hibiscus all produce schizocarps. Schizocarps are tiny dried fruits that surround seeds.
Ajwain is an overachiever, when it comes to flavor. It is described as being similar to oregano and anise, with strong overtones of thyme. Apparently, these fruits are quite pungent - a little goes a long way. Because they are so strong, they are rarely used raw. In most cases, the schizocarps are dry-roasted or fried in clarified butter, before being added to curries or sprinkled over bread. The leaves are used in chutneys.
How to grow ajwain
In hot areas, ajwain is a perennial. Everywhere else, it is an annual. Ajwain can be grown from seeds or cuttings, with cuttings being the easiest method. To grow from seed, plant 1/4-inch deep in rich, potting soil, or scatter on top of the soil. Use a mister to water, to avoid washing all the seeds into a corner of the pot. Mist daily for a week or two, until germination occurs. Once the first true leaves emerge, you can transplant the seedling into a larger container. [I couldn't find any free images of ajwain plants, so you will have to wait until mine get started...]
To propagate ajwain from cuttings, take stems that are a few inches long and remove all but the upper two sets of leaves. Bury the stem in potting soil, with the leaves exposed ands water regularly. Before you know it, new roots will emerge.
Once your ajwain plant gets started, you will have to cut it back frequently, or it will take over an area. Any node that touches soil will develop new roots. Because of this behavior, ajwain is probably best grown in containers. The round, velvety, somewhat succulent leaves and fast growth make ajwain a candidate for a garden hedge, if you enjoy the fragrance. Because it is so pungent, most insects are not interested in ajwain plants.
If you happen to have a tummy ache, ajwain seeds can help relieve some of that discomfort.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!