Caraway, a member of the carrot family, is a self-seeding annual, sometimes growing as a biennial, which likes a sunny location and, unlike most herbs, well-watered soil. Seeds should be sown in shallow drills as early as possible and, in milder climates, in the fall. Thin the seedlings and keep the bed weeded. Caraway does not need fertilizer. For some reason the spice does not like to grow near fennel, but it makes a good companion for peas and will help keep the weeds down under your pea rows. When the seeds are brown (mid to late summer), check their ripeness with a gentle tug. If ready, cut off the whole plant and turn it upside down in a paper bag. When dry, the seeds will fall to the bottom of the bag when it is rolled between your hands.
There is evidence of caraway’s use dating back over 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest known spices. Medicinally, caraway is a carminative, soothing the digestive tract, relieving colic, cramps, bloating and flatulence. As English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote in The English Physitian (1652), caraway is “conducive to all the cold griefs of the head and stomach … and has a moderate quality whereby it breaketh wind, and provoketh urine.” Caraway is reputed to increase breast milk production and its antispasmodic action will also relieve menstrual pain. The spice is frequently used in cough syrups, especially for children, and will successfully combine with white horehound in this role.