I’ve been out collecting seeds as my plants finish their growth cycle for the year; this is the time of seeds and their lessons. One of my favourites is caraway (Carum carvi), and caraway seed cakes were traditional at this time of year at harvest festivals. Indeed, caraway is associated with the cycles of sowing and reaping, with the cake served in English farmhouses after wheat sowing and later on in the year at the harvest suppers which were held for all the workers, partly because caraway was thought to be a charm to faithfulness and loyalty, and the farmer wanted to keep his workers!
Caraway Seed Cake
225 gm plain flour
170 gm castor sugar
2 tbsp. cold milk
110 gm butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. caraway seeds
50 gm ground almonds
Cream the butter and sugar together. Whisk the eggs with the milk, and gradually add this to the creamed butter and sugar. Fold in the flour and baking powder, add the ground almonds and caraway seeds. Bake in a loaf tin lined with baking parchment for an hour at 160C/325 F/gas mark 3.
Caraway seeds were widely believed to confer the gift of retention – any object that contained them could not be stolen or lost. Caraway dough was fed to chickens, doves and pigeons to keep them from straying In fact, birds do love it, and this would certainly be an incentive to stay- it is still sometimes given to homing pigeons. You can use caraway infusion (tea) or oil to anoint any objects or tools that you especially value to prevent their loss and bind them to you. Use Caraway Seed Cake as ritual food to bind a group together.
The power of retention even extended to spouses and lovers, and a cake or love potion given to a partner would keep them faithful and prevent them straying, while a few seeds placed in a wandering husband’s pocket would prevent him being lured away. To ensure the fidelity of a bride and groom, guests would throw caraway seeds after the couple at the wedding. Today, hearth witches use caraway at handfastings to help lovers to remain faithful, both in the ritual cup and in the cake. However, because caraway has the power of retention, it is unlucky to give it away: there was an old saying “you baked for me caraway bread, but prepared yourself for tears”.
Caraway is related to dill, fennel and anise and has been thought to have many of the same medicinal properties. They are all antispasmodic, carminative and digestive herbs, used to treat gas, bloating and indigestion. Caraway is also a good remedy for colds and chest congestion, it contains mild antihistamines, antimicrobial compounds that help to relax the muscles that cause coughing spasms. Take a cup of Caraway Tea three times a day to ease the symptoms. You can also use double strength Caraway Tea as a gargle for laryngitis.
1 tsp. seeds, freshly crushed
1 cup boiling water
Pour the boiling water over the seeds and infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and take a cup 3 times daily.
Caraway is considered safe for most people in food amounts, and for most people in medicinal amounts for up to 8 weeks. To be on the safe side, medicinal amounts should be avoided during pregnancy and breast feeding. It very slightly lowers blood sugar, so if you are diabetic, monitor your levels carefully. Caraway should be avoided by those with hemochromatosis as it increases iron absorption.
© Anna Franklin 2020, heavily condensed from The Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal, Anna Franklin, Llewellyn, 2019