By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Caraway is truly a useful plant with all parts of it edible for culinary or medicinal purposes. What parts of caraway can you harvest? The most commonly used part of caraway is the seed, which is a classic addition to cabbage dishes and adds sweet, nutty flavor to baked goods like breads and cake. It is an easy plant to grow and harvesting caraway seeds is just a two-step process. Continue reading to learn when to pick caraway so the seeds will be at the peak of their flavor.
Caraway is a biennial herb whose leaves, roots and seeds can be eaten. The plant prefers cool weather and is most often sown in spring or autumn. The deeply notched leaves form a rosette in the first year while it develops the deep taproot. Long stems form during the second year and bear umbrella-like clusters of white to pink flowers. Seeds start ripening a month after flowering and is followed by plant death.
The leaves are taken in spring from the first year and used as part of salads or lightly sautéed. Harvest no more than 1/3 of the plant leaves to ensure continued health of the herb. Leaves remain fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Roots are prepared much like carrots or parsnips and should be dug up after the caraway plant flowers.
The seed is available in the second year and must be completely dried prior to storage. The large white umbel flower bunches will dry, lose petals and form small capsules. These split open when dried and release the tiny seeds. Seeds can be kept for a year in an airtight container.
As the season ends and the petals fall from the flowers, the seed pods are forming. In the wild, they would just dry on the plant, crack open and self-sow. To glean your own caraway harvest, you need to beat Mother Nature.
Wait until all the petals are gone and the seed pods are tan to light brown. Cut off the umbels and bundle the stems together for ease of handling. Put them into paper bags with the stems sticking up through the top.
Place the bags in a dry location and let the pods finish drying. In a week or two, shake the bag to release the seeds from the cracked pods. Discard the dried umbels.
After harvesting caraway seeds, they need to be preserved. They should be dry enough after a couple of weeks in the paper bags or you can place the umbels on a dehydrator until the pods crack.
After you separate the chaff from the seeds, they may be bottled, placed in a plastic Ziploc bag or put in an airtight vacuum bag. The key is to avoid air, light and heat to the seeds. These extremes can diminish the oils and, therefore, the flavor of the seeds.
With careful preparation, that sweet, almost licorice, flavor will remain for up to a year.
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Do you love to grow your own herbs and spices to provide you with unique flavors for recipes and food creations? Try growing your own caraway!
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In this guide, you’ll learn how to grow and care for this beautiful and tasty spice. You’ll find helpful information on getting your plants to flourish in the garden, as well as pro tips for success in the kitchen. Here’s the lineup:
Mark Macdonald | October 31, 2017
Grow caraway for its intensely scented seeds or as a parsnip-like root vegetable. It will manage in partial shade, but grow in full sun if harvesting the seeds is the intent. Caraway will thrive in nearly any reasonable soil, but if grown as a root crop, take some time to cultivate deeply as you would for carrots. Here are some other details on how to grow caraway from seed:
Season & Zone
Season: Cool season biennial
Exposure: Sun or part-shade
Caraway is best sown directly outdoors in early autumn. For spring sowing, direct in the garden is preferred in order not to damage the taproot. Technically caraway seeds can be started in trays, but transplant them early and carefully, before the root is exposed.
Sow seeds 5mm-1cm (¼-½”) deep. If growing as a root crop, treat the plants like vegetables and space them 20cm (8″) apart. For seed production the plants can be spaced a bit farther apart.
Caraway plants look a bit like carrot plants. In the first year of growth, they reach about 20cm (8″) tall. New spring growth emerges from a parsnip-like taproot in early spring. By early summer, the plant begins to send up its flower stalk to around 60cm (24″) tall.
The edible leaves and flowers can be picked in the summer. In the fall, harvest the seed heads and dig up any second year plants. Sowing more seeds at this time is sensible.
As an umbelifer, caraway acts like a general health tonic for the garden. Once in bloom, the plants will attract many species of predatory insects to control pest species. Plant near any crop that suffers from caterpillars (such as Brassicas) or aphids (such as peas). Just be aware that this amazing property occurs when the plant is in bloom in its second year of growth.
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