Caraway plant: shabby spice and engaging roots

Caraway is grown primarily for its delicious anise-flavored seeds that are often added to lovely casseroles like rye bread. As a two-year herb, you have to wait two seasons for harvest, which means that caraway is only something for the patient gardener. Don't let that put you off! Caraway is not just about seeds.

The seeds are known for their use in bread, cookies, coleslaw, cheese, potatoes, and egg dishes, but did you know you can eat the young leaves in salads or add them to stews and casseroles at the end of the cooking process? The leaves are slightly bitter, which can be an advantage when preparing gastric juices. Similar to parsnips and carrots, caraway roots can also be consumed as root vegetables.

Caraway seeds have been used since the Stone Age to help relieve indigestion and symptoms of gas, cramps, and gas. It is also an attractive plant in the garden, filling in gaps in the flower border or even as a compact catch crop in the vegetable patch to keep weeds at bay. One or two plants should be seeded year-round, so any other plants are a bonus!

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Brief instructions for care

Although caraway is known for its seeds, it also has tasty roots. Source: Unconventional Emma

Common namesCaraway, meridian fennel and Persian cumin
Scientific nameCarum carvi
Height & Spread8 inches – first year, 24 inches – second year
BrightFull sun
floorSandy loam, fertile, well drained
waterRegular watering
Pests & DiseasesAphids, parsley caterpillar, carrot rust fly, cicadas, aster yellow virus

Everything about caraway seeds

Caraway flowers and leavesThe leaf structure is pointed and delicate, just like the flowers. Source: detsugu

The botanical name of the caraway is Carum carvi and it belongs to the Apiaceae or carrot family together with other umbelliferae such as fennel and parsley. Native to western Asia and Europe, caraway has spread to the temperate regions of the world. "Caraway" is the most commonly used name, but it is also known as meridian fennel and Persian cumin because caraway is similar in appearance and aniseed taste.

As an aromatic, biennial herbaceous plant, caraway develops a low-growing rosette of leaves in the first year and flowers and sets seeds in the second year. The leaves are light green, pinnate, 3–6 inches (8–15 cm) long, and look very similar to carrots. The stems are slender, almost slack, and ribbed vertically. In the first season the plants reach heights of 20 cm.

Caraway flowers are produced by tall spikes at the end of their second year, 24 inches long (60 cm), and consist of clusters of tiny white / pink flowers in flat umbels. The caraway taproot is long, pale creamy yellow / white and looks a bit like parsnip.

The seeds are the trademark of caraway. They ripen a month after flowering and turn from golden yellow to warm brown with five pale ribs running along the edge of each seed that are 6mm long.

The life cycle is two years or extends over two growing seasons. First season growth can decline completely in cold climates that return the following spring. Flowering stems develop shortly afterwards. In warm climates, the caraway seeds sown in late summer / early autumn bloom in the following spring. However, all seeds sown in the spring will not bloom until the spring of next year.

All parts of the plant are edible. Leaves can be used in salads and the roots can be used as root vegetables. While the leaves are slightly bitter, the roots have a warm and earthy taste. Caraway seeds can be used in breads, cookies, casseroles, stews, and potato dishes, or basically any dish that calls for a warm touch of aniseed.

As with most umbelliferae, the aromatic character of caraway seeds is a good growth companion for peas and beans. The flowers also attract beneficial and predatory insects to deter and reduce nasty pests.

As a catch crop in the vegetable garden, caraway can reduce weeds in the first year. Just be careful not to turn it into a weed in the following years, as caraway will reproduce itself.

Planting caraway seeds

Sow caraway seeds indoors in early spring at least 4 weeks before the last frost date, after which they can be planted outdoors in their final growth positions. The plants produce a lot of low-growing foliage in the first year and flowers and seed heads in the following spring, early summer.

In warmer climates, you can sow caraway seeds under a roof in early autumn and plant them out in spring, when all danger of frost has passed. The plants will bloom and produce seeds in late spring / summer of the same year of sowing.

Sow the seeds 1 cm deep when sowing in modules or straight. The grafts should be 20-31 cm apart and the seedlings should be thinned to the same distance. Leave 45 cm of space between the rows.

Plant caraway seeds in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil. Plants tolerate some partial shade, especially when growing in a hot climate. If you have limited space, you can plant caraway seeds in containers. Make sure the containers are deep enough to hold the long taproot and wide enough if you plan to grow more than one plant.


Caraway umbelsTender tendrils support the umbels of the caraway flowers. Source: Dendroica cerulea

A plant for the patient gardener, but well worth the wait. Check out the tips below on how to grow caraway seeds.

Sun and temperature

Caraway grows best in cool temperate climates that prefer full sun. Plants tolerate warmer areas with adequate watering and shade during the hottest time of the day. Suitable for growing in USDA Zones 3-10. In colder climates, plants die over the winter months. Freezing temperatures shouldn't be a problem, but if in doubt, a good winter mulch will protect shallow roots or buds from frost.

Water and moisture

Provide uniform soil moisture for young plants in the first year. In the second year, the plants are more drought-resistant, but must not dry out completely. Water early in the morning with timed drip tubes if available. A watering can or hose of water pointed at the ground rather than the leaves will also work. Watering when the plants are dormant in winter isn't necessary, but check the plants in containers in case they dry out.


Plant caraway seeds in nutrient-rich, sandy loam, well-drained soil. Add plenty of compost, leaf mulch, or well-rotted manure in the spring before sowing to give your plants a head start. Repeat this the following spring before the first shoots break through the soil. A protective mulch in the fall in very cold areas can help prevent frost damage. The pH of the soil should be in the range of 6.5 to 7.


When the seedlings are only a few inches tall, feed them liquid algae or nitrogen-rich food to encourage abundant, healthy growth for the first year. Repeat a few times during the growing season. It is time to ramp up flower and seed production when flower buds begin to form the following spring. Use a high-potassium fertilizer for fruit and flower development, such as a high-quality tomato food.


Caraway seeds don't need pruning unless you're just growing for flowers. If so, you can cut the flowers as they fade to encourage a longer flowering period and maybe even a second flowering.


Caraway seeds are propagated from seeds. As with most umbelliferae, the best results are obtained with fresh caraway seeds. The seeds germinate between one and two weeks.

Plant the seeds in modular trays using an all-purpose compost that is 1 cm deep. Keep the compost moist, but not wet. Sowing can be done directly outside in beds prepared with rich organic matter after all danger of frost has passed. Keep the compost moist while the seedlings establish themselves for the first year.

Harvest and store

Caraway seedCaraway seeds are a popular addition to bread or sausage. Source: Unconventional Emma

When you have to wait two seasons to reap the benefits of your labor, getting it right is important! Here are some tips to help you.


Harvest caraway leaves as soon as the plants are established in the first year. Don't over-harvest the leaves as plants rely on them for photosynthesis to produce flowers and seeds the following year. The seed heads are ready for harvest when the seeds turn from golden yellow to brown. Just cut the stem off and bring it inside for kitchen use and prep for storage. Once the seeds are harvested, it's time to dig up this beautiful root. Caraway roots have a nice earthy taste and can be prepared like other root vegetables.


Hang the seed heads upside down in a cool place and cover with a paper bag to catch any mature seeds that fall. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container for up to a year. Caraway root is best used shortly after harvest, but should be stored in a cool and dark place for up to a week. The leaves are also best used fresh, but they can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days.


Caraway is generally a trouble-free plant, but there are a few potential issues to watch out for, just in case.

Growing problems

Growing caraway seeds can take patience. So a growing problem is understanding that it takes two seasons to harvest and not giving up or digging up your plants thinking the harvest has failed. Another potential problem is this do not let the soil dry out completely and to provide shade at noon if it is in a hot climate. Plants begin to wither when they are scorched and dehydrated.


Aphids will attack the new growth of young caraway plants and new shoots in the second year. Aphids (Aphidoidea) are small, sticky, yellow, green, and black insects that feed on the sap of new growth. Encourage many beneficial insects in the garden by planting a good variety of wildflowers and umbelliferae such as coriander. Spray with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. Crushing aphids with your fingers or a quick jet of water can help reduce the numbers.

Parsley caterpillars are another pest that can attack caraway seeds. Covering plants with insect nets provides protection from the beautiful but undesirable swallowtail butterflies that lay their eggs on the host plants. Hand picking caterpillars is easy and quick, and makes a lovely dinner for local birds. BT is an effective means of eliminating larval populations that have already reached the plant.

Caraway can from the Carrot rust fly lays the eggs at the base of plants and the hatching larvae feed on the root, leaving unsightly holes in the flesh. If you don't grow caraway seeds for roots, don't worry as it won't harm the plant. Cover the plants with insect netting to protect them from adult flies. Avoid growing carrots and parsnips nearby, which are also affected by the carrot rust fly. Sticky traps also help reduce the number of adult animals, but if your plants are already affected, you can try nematodes to treat them at the larval stage.


Aster yellow virus, also known as Aster yellow, is a disease that leads to stunted growth and deformities of the leaves, as well as yellowing of stems and flowers, which ultimately do not reach maturity. The disease is spread through Leaf cicada insects. To control the disease, you need to control the cicadas in the garden. Use glue traps, protective covers, and attract beneficial insects to the garden to control the number of cicadas. Insecticidal soap and neem oil can also be applied to plants. Remove infected plants at the first sight of the disease to prevent it from spreading.

frequently asked Questions

Caraway flowersDelicate clusters of caraway flowers. Source: detsugu

Q: What is caraway used for?

A: Caraway seeds can be used to flavor bread, cakes, and cookies, and can be added to soups, stews, and casseroles for an aniseed kick. Leaves can be used in salads, and the root can be eaten like other root vegetables.

Q: Where do caraway plants grow?

A: Grow caraway seeds in cool temperate climates in moist, fertile, well-drained soils.

Q: are caraway seeds edible?

A: The leaves of the caraway are edible, but have a slightly bitter taste.

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