Caraway





The common Caraway is a herb of the umbelliferous order found

growing on many waste places in England, though not a true

native of Great Britain. Its well-known aromatic seeds should be

always at hand in the cupboard of every British housewife. The

plant got its name from inhabiting Caria, a province of Asia

Minor. It is now cultivated for commerce in Kent and Essex; and

the essential oil distilled from the home grown fruit is preferred in

this country. The medicinal properties of the Caraway are cordial

and comforting to [82] the stomach in colic and in flatulent

indigestion; for which troubles a dose of from two to four drops of

the essential oil of Caraway may be given on a lump of sugar, or

in a teaspoonful of hot water.



For earache, in some districts the country people pound up the

crumb of a loaf hot from the oven, together with a handful of

bruised Caraway seeds; then wetting the whole with some spirit,

they apply it to the affected part. The plant has been long

naturalised in England, and was known here in Shakespeare's time,

who mentions it in the second part of Henry IV. thus: Come,

cousin Silence! we will eat a pippin of last year's graffing, with a

dish of Caraways; and then to bed! The seeds grow numerously

in the small flat flowers placed thickly together on each floral

plateau, or umbel, and are best known to us in seed cake, and in

Caraway comfits. They are really the dried fruit, and possess,

when rubbed in a mortar, a warm aromatic taste, with a fragrant

spicy smell. Caraway comfits consist of these fruits encrusted with

white sugar; but why the wife of a comfit maker should be given

to swearing, as Shakespeare avers, it is not easy to see. The young

roots of Caraway plants may be sent to table like parsnips; they

warm and stimulate a cold languid stomach. These mixed with

milk and made into bread, formed the chara of Julius Caesar,

eaten by the soldiers of Valerius. Chemically the volatile

oil obtained from Caraway seeds consists of carvol, and a

hydro-carbon, carvene, which is a sort of camphor. Dioscorides

long ago advised the oil for pale-faced girls; and modern ladies

have not disregarded the counsel.



From six pounds of the unbruised seeds, four ounces of the pure

essential oil can be expressed. In Germany the peasants flavour

their cheese, soups, and household [83] bread--jager--with the

Caraway; and this is not a modern custom, for an old Latin author

says: Semina carui satis communiter adhibentur ad condiendum

panem; et rustica nostrates estant jusculum e pane, seminibus

carui, et cerevisa coctum.



The Russians and Germans make from Caraways a favourite

liqueur Kummel, and the Germans add them as a flavouring

condiment to their sawerkraut. In France Caraways enter into the

composition of l'huile de Venus, and of other renowned

cordials.



An ounce of the bruised seeds infused for six hours in a pint of

cold water makes a good Caraway julep for infants, from one to

three teaspoonfuls for a dose, It consumeth winde, and is

delightful to the stomack; the powdered seed put into a poultice

taketh away blacke and blew spots of blows and bruises. The oil,

or seeds of Caraway do sharpen vision, and promote the secretion

of milk. Therefore dimsighted men and nursing mothers may

courageously indulge in seed cake!



The name Caraway comes from the Gaelic Caroh, a ship, because

of the shape which the fruit takes. By cultivation the root

becomes more succulent, and the fruit larger, whilst more oily, and

therefore acquiring an increase of aromatic taste and odour. In

Germany the seeds are given for hysterical affections, being finely

powdered and mixed with ginger and salt to spread with butter on

bread. As a draught for flatulent colic twenty grains of the

powdered seeds may be taken with two teaspoonfuls of sugar in a

wineglassful of hot water. Caraway-seed cake was formerly a

standing institution at the feasts given by farmers to their labourers

at the end of wheat sowing. But narcotic effects have been known

to follow the chewing of Caraway seeds in a large quantity, such

as three ounces at a time.



[84] As regards its stock of honey the Caraway may be termed,

like Uriah Heep, and in a double sense, truly umbel. The

diminutive florets on its flat disk are so shallow that lepidopterous

and hymenopterous insects, with their long proboses, stand no

chance of getting a meal. They fare as poorly as the stork did in

the fable, whom the fox invited to dinner served on a soup plate.

As Sir John Lubbock has shown, out of fifty-five visitants to the

Caraway plant for nectar, one moth, nine bees, twenty-one flies,

and twenty-four miscellaneous midges constituted the dinner

party.





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