Caraway seeds taste similar to anise or licorice and caraway plants are easy to grow. Did you know that the entire caraway plant is edible? Read on!
Frequently used in rye bread, goulash, havarti cheese, and Irish soda bread, this cousin to carrots and dill has lovely umbrella-shaped flowers that attract many beneficial insects, such as hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
The caraway seed is actually a type of dried fruit, called an achene. Feathery leaves, strong stems, and small pink or white flowers make caraway (Carum carvi) both attractive and useful. Plants can reach 24-30” in height, though they only reach 8” or so their first year.
As a member of the carrot family, caraway plants can look similar to poison hemlock, so make sure you know how to tell them apart.
How caraway grows
Caraway, like parsley and many other umbellifers, is a biennial plant. This means it uses its first year to develop a root system and become established. In its second year, flower production takes place and seeds are produced. Some varieties are grown as annuals, and one type of caraway is a perennial plant.
Caraway plants prefer warm, sunny locations, good drainage, and nutrient-rich soil. Commonly grown in Europe and Western Asia, caraway plants prefer cool temperate zones and a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0, and can be grown in Hardiness Zones 3-11. While they prefer full sun, caraway plants can handle partial shade.
How to grow caraway
Caraway seeds should be planted 1/4” to 1/2” deep in spring or fall, directly in the soil. As is common with plants that feature a taproot, caraway does not transplant well. Plants should be thinned so they are 8-12” apart. Caraway is a slow grower, so you may want to intercrop with something faster to reduce weeds and to act as a nurse crop for your caraway. Water plants well during their first year, but avoid getting the leaves wet. Soaker hoses are an excellent tool for irrigating caraway.
While caraway has very few pest or disease problems, it is a good idea to leave some distance between them and other members of the carrot family.
If grown as a biennial, cut plants back in the fall. They will regrow, bigger than ever, in spring. If grown as an annual, be sure to start a new crop in succession, for a continuous harvest.
Since all parts of the caraway plant are edible, you can use young leaves and stems in salads, soups, and stews. When seeds have turned brown, remove the flower head and hang it upside-down in a pillowcase until dry. Then you can simply rub the head between your hands to dislodge the caraway achenes. After seeds are produced and harvested, you can dig up the root and treat it the same way you would any other root vegetable.
Try adding some caraway to your foodscape this fall!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!