Herb Caraway


Plants Available March-November

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This is what Alys Fowler has to say about caraway

I declare caraway the new parsnip. Actually it’s the old parsnip because the roots were eaten in Roman times, but as few have done this since, I think it deserves a raise. It’s found in the same family as parsnips and carrots, apiaceae (the umbel family), and behaves in much the same manner. It’s a biennial and spends its first year as a low-growing rosette of fern-like leaves; in the second year it shoots up to flower. It grows to 45-60cm high.


A little like cow parsley but prettier and less brutish, the flowers are white, tinged pink. It’s easy to work into a border; I have mine growing among Astrantia major ‘Roma’ and Centaurea montana. When all three are in flower, it gives a lovely appearance of meadow.


You could just grow it for the seeds, which is what I’ve been doing. You get a huge supply – two plants keeps me in caraway seeds for a year. But it has other edible parts, which I found out about in Norway, where it grows wild, dancing along the shoreline of fjords and racing into the mountains. In poor soils along the shores, it’s a small thing with seeds that taste so powerfully of that soapy, clean flavour, they are almost too much. On the fertile edges of meadows, it develops a milder flavour and has bigger roots.


You can eat the leaves, too. They are used in spring salads and soups, imparting a slightly bitter but pleasant flavour, but I don’t think they’ve got a pinch on the roots. These are sweet like a parsnip, but offer something different. Their one fault is that these roots are much smaller than parsnip. They should be eaten towards the end of their first year, in autumn. Once they’ve flowered, the root becomes woody, although still edible. The seeds are collected in the second year.


Home-grown seed has a powerful taste, so use sparingly. I like to dry and then toast the seed for using in sauerkraut or baking. Harvest seed just before it goes nut brown, and let it continue to dry indoors. Collect the seed heads in a paper bag and hang them upside down. After a week or two, and with a little vigorous shaking, the seeds will fall off. They need to be perfectly dry before storing in an airtight container.


Save some seed for sowing again. Like all umbels, the seeds germinate best if fresh, so sow from late summer to early autumn. It’s best to sow in the soil as it doesn’t like to be disturbed, but if you don’t have space now, sow in s or toilet roll tubes (ideal as you can plant the whole thing out). If allowed, caraway will happily self-seed. A happy place for it is in full sun in well-drained, fairly fertile soil – especially important if you want to grow for roots.