Legend has it that tucking a caraway seed with any valuable object will help prevent it from being stolen from you. Another belief is that the plant helps keep lovers from losing interest in each other. These are interesting superstitions, but if you want to take full advantage of caraway's properties here's a great idea: Use caraway oil. Read on to learn more about this essential oil's uses and benefits.
What Is Caraway Oil?
Caraway essential oil comes from the seeds of the caraway plant or carum (Carum carvi or Apium carvi), a member of the Umbelliferae family, which also includes anise, dill, cumin and fennel. It is a biennial herb that originated in Asia Minor, but is now cultivated widely in Africa, Northern Europe, and Russia.1
Caraway can be identified by its smooth, furrowed stems that grow 1 1/2 to 2 feet high, tender-soft, fern-like leaves and white or pink flowers that bloom in June. The fruits, which are actually called "seeds," are curved and laterally compressed, with a horny and translucent appearance and marked with five distinct pale ridges. When bruised, they release a pleasant and aromatic odor. This is also the part of the plant that is traditionally added to food as flavoring.2
Caraway spice is popularly used in Europe and in the Indian subcontinent. Its use can be traced as far back as the Stone Age. The Egyptians added it to foods as a flavoring, while the Romans used it in bread making. It was also used by Germans and Austrians in culinary applications during the Middle Ages. Caraway oil is extracted from the seeds of the plant. It has a sweet, spicy odor with a slight peppery smell.
Uses of Caraway Oil
While caraway seeds are popularly used as a spice to flavor cheese, meat, bread, pickles, sauces and other seasonings,3 the essential oil is used in manufacturing processes, such as adding flavor to certain medications and fragrance to soaps, toothpaste and cosmetics.
Caraway oil also has many uses in aromatherapy, and is greatly appreciated for its warming and stress-relieving properties. It helps alleviate mental strain and emotional fatigue. It also can benefit your digestion, as it can help settle your upset stomach and relieve colic, flatulence and gastric spasms.
Caraway oil also works as an expectorant, making it beneficial for respiratory health. It can provide relief for people with bronchial asthma, coughs and bronchitis. Caraway oil promotes coughing and expels phlegm and other fluids from your respiratory tract. Promoting skin and hair health is another use for caraway oil, as it is an effective tissue regenerator. It can help fight oily skin, clear acne, heal bruises and boils and clean infected wounds. It also soothes itchy skin, as well as dandruff and other scalp problems.
Composition of Caraway Oil
Caraway oil's beneficial and medicinal properties come from many components, namely carvone, furfural, cumuninic aldehyde, acetaldehyde and limonene. The concentration of caraway oil's components varies, depending on the ripeness of the fruit upon distillation.
For example, levels of carvone and other oxygenated compounds increase as the fruit ripens. Therefore, oils that come from mature and fully ripened seeds have more carvone and less limonene, resulting in a better quality oil.4
Benefits of Caraway Oil
Caraway oil has antiseptic, anti histaminic, anti spasmodic, carminative, digestive, disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant, astringent and tonic properties that make it beneficial for treating or alleviating many health problems, such as:5
• Indigestion — According to a 1999 study published in the German journal Drug Research, a blend of caraway and peppermint oil may help treat indigestion as well as the gastroprokinetic agent cisapride does (a medication for treating heartburn).6
• Heart ailments — Caraway oil helps strengthen the cardiac muscles, maintain proper heart rate, prevent hardening of the veins and arteries and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the blood.
• Urinary issues — People who are suffering from obstructed urination, high blood pressure and renal calculi can benefit from caraway oil. The urination-stimulating effect of this oil also helps lower blood pressure, reduce fat, remove uric acid and clean up waste deposits from the kidney.
• Internal infections — Caraway oil effectively treats infections in the colon, digestive system, respiratory system and urinary and excretory systems. It can also heal external infections, and inhibit bacterial and fungal growth.
How to Make Caraway Oil
Caraway essential oil is one of the few oils that is mostly produced in European countries. It is made by crushing and distilling the seeds of the plant. The seeds are ripened and then dried first, before being crushed and going through steam distillation. Every caraway seed produces around 2 to 8 percent of this essential oil.7
How Does Caraway Oil Work?
Caraway oil's healing properties are mostly acquired when it is used topically, inhaled, or diffused. Try these different applications for this oil:
• Diffuse it in a burner or vaporizer. A few drops can help relieve your nerves, soothe your digestive system and boost your respiratory tract.
• Blend it with a massage oil. Make sure you use a safe carrier oil that will not irritate your skin. You can also add a few drops to your bathwater.
• Add it to a cream, shampoo or lotion. This is recommended if you're using caraway oil to treat skin or scalp conditions. Just a few drops will suffice.
I recommend blending caraway oil with other carrier oils, as using it full strength may not be ideal for your skin. Caraway oil blends well with chamomile, coriander, frankincense, ginger, orange, lavender and basil oils.
Is Caraway Oil Safe?
Caraway is generally safe for most people, but I do not recommend it for pregnant women, as it can induce menstruation, which may be harmful to the unborn child. While it's said to promote secretion of breast milk in nursing mothers, I advise you to consult a physician before doing this, to ensure that it's safe for you.
I advise you to check as well if you have any sensitivity to caraway oil by doing a skin patch test. Simply apply a drop of diluted oil to your inner arm and see if any reaction occurs.
Side Effects of Caraway Oil
Caraway may cause skin irritation, such as rashes and itching when used in high concentrations, especially in sensitive individuals. Make sure to dilute it with a safe carrier oil before applying it on your skin. When blended with peppermint oil, it may cause heartburn, belching and nausea.8