In the 1940s, radio comedian Fred Allen—best known for his faux feud with Jack Benny during what was known as the Golden Age of Radio—loved to use the imagery of the tiny caraway seed in his bits.
He used them in two particular jokes:
- “Television is a triumph of equipment over people and the minds that control it are so small that you could put them in a gnat’s navel with room left over for two caraway seeds and an agent’s heart."
- “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood and place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room left for three caraway seeds and an agent’s heart.” 1
Still, since caraway seed is not usually the first essential oil that comes to mind when considering essential oils with health benefits, those who consume caraway on a regular basis in bratwurst and sauerkraut likely have no idea about the benefits that caraway seed essential oil offers.
Caraway, known as Carum Carvi or Apium Carvi , is a member of the carrot family and is a cousin to dill, fennel, anise, and cumin. 2
Also known as meridian fennel and Persian cumin, caraway seed is transformed into an essential oil by steam distillation of the crushed seeds. Seeds that are grown in Finland, which make up more than a quarter of the world’s caraway production, produce the most oil.
Caraway oil blends well with other spice-based oils including basil, coriander, and ginger ; herbals including chamomile ; citrus scents such as orange, lemon, lime and bergamot ; florals, including lavender ; and exotics such as frankincense.
The History of CarawayWhile the health benefits of caraway seed essential oil may not be as well-known as those of other essential oils, caraway seed essential oil has a long history, and fossilized seeds have been found in Stone Age dwellings in Switzerland, suggesting that the seed has been used for at least 8,000 years. 3
Later, ancient Egyptians are thought to have used caraway seeds in religious rituals, as well as in cooking. Ancient Romans ate caraway seeds to freshen their breath after they ate, as did diners in India. 4 Caraway was also mixed with milk to make a bread that Julius Caesar fed his soldiers before going into battle.
Additionally, Aristotle’s protégé, Theophrastus, wrote a recipe for oysters that included caraway seeds, which were consumed in order to more easily digest food. Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician, and botanist during the time of Nero, recommended caraway seed essential oil for “pale-faced girls,” which could have been a reference for anemia.
One of the oldest herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, caraway seed essential oil has been used for a wide range of health issues including digestive woes, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, obesity, headache, and colic, among others.
Linguists debate the origins of the word "caraway—" some same it comes from Arabic, while others argue for Latin. However, it is known that the first English use of the word “caraway” dates back to 1440. 5
Today, caraway is used in almost all cultures to flavor food. In Europe, it is used in desserts, liquors, casseroles, and cured meats. More specifically, in Serbia, it flavors cheeses. In the Middle East, caraway flavors a pudding called Meghli , which is popular during Ramadan.
Caraway seed essential oil is also used to scent soaps and perfumes.
Chemical PropertiesCaraway is packed with compounds that provide a range of health benefits, ranging from improved digestion to better skin. Some of the key compounds that contribute to the benefits that caraway seed essential oil provides are highlighted below.
CarvoneThe main component of caraway essential oil, carvone has been shown to act as an appetite suppressant, making it a natural option for promoting weight loss.
Carvone has also been shown to stimulate digestion, which allows for increased extraction of nutrients from food and better digestive health overall.
LimoneneLimonene, a monoterpene, has been researched for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits. As an antibacterial, it may help speed up the healing of wounds. Additionally, it is a powerful antioxidant that can prevent free radical damage and inflammation.
CarvacrolCarvacrol has been shown to kill some antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses such as salmonella. 6
AnetholeAccording to a study in the journal Nature, anethole is another volatile compound in caraway essential oil that may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Research suggests that anethole may also have antimicrobial, antifungal and insecticidal benefits.
The structure of anethole is similar to that of catecholamines, a class that includes the "fight-or-flight" hormones adrenaline and norepinephrine, as well as the neurotransmitter dopamine, which activates the brain’s pleasure center. 7
ThujoneA monoterpene, thujone has an impact on GABA, the primary neurotransmitter sending messages from the brain to the rest of the body. This has been linked to alleviating stress.
MyrceneMyrcene is another monoterpene believed to help ease stress and anxiety. It is effective because its molecules are molecules small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, so it can interact with neurotransmitters linked to feelings of stress.
LinaloolLinalool, a terpene, works in synergy with myrcene to ease the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and poor sleep quality.
It also encourages the production of vitamin E, a skin-friendly antioxidant that helps protect the skin proteins collagen and elastin, which make up skin’s structural layer.
Alpha-pinene, like other terpenes such as linalool, may naturally ease stress by interacting with neurotransmitters in the brain.
Caraway as a dietary addition, not the essential oil, also offers vitamins including riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vitamin E, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
Uses for Caraway Seed Essential OilCaraway seed essential oil is one of those underrated oils that provides an unexpected diversity of health benefits, some of which are highlighted below.
Relieves Cold SymptomsCaraway seed essential oil can be used to provide natural relief to cold or seasonal allergy symptoms. The oil is especially helpful at easing coughing. Caraway oil helps neutralize histamine effects, alleviating allergy symptoms.
Alleviates StressMany of the compounds in caraway seed essential oil, especially linalool and myrcene, are known to help relieve stress by calming the nerves and increasing levels of feel-good hormones that can boost the mood.
For optimal benefits, use caraway seed essential oil aromatically by adding a few drops to a warm bath, a room diffuser, or in a personal essential oil diffuser like Happy.
Supports Heart HealthCaraway seed essential oil has been shown to strengthen the heart muscles, keeping veins and arteries more pliable and maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Improves Appearance of SkinCaraway seed essential oil encourages the production of vitamin E, an important vitamin for healthier skin, and when combined with the antioxidants carvone and limonene, caraway is a powerhouse.
Vitamin E encourages the production of collagen and elastin, the two skin proteins that make up the structural layer of skin.
Together, they fight signs of aging including fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging, sallow skin while encouraging tissue regeneration.
Acts as an AntisepticThe compounds in caraway oil make it a natural antiseptic, protecting wounds from infection while promoting healing internal infections.
Reduces Muscle PainCaraway seed essential oil can help ease muscle pain such as pain or inflammation associated with exercise.
Promotes Weight LossThis essential oil not only acts as a diuretic, increasing urination to expel toxins and relieve bloating, it also encourages healthy digestion, which can promote weight loss.
A Malaysian study found that caraway seed essential oil helped reduce weight, body fat and body mass index, based on the results from 70 female volunteers.
Supports Immune System FunctionCaraway seed essential oil helps protect the immune system in several ways. Not only does it help stop bacteria from entering the body, but it is also packed with antioxidants that fight oxidative stress, strengthening cells by protecting them from damage.
Relieves Digestive IssuesSeveral studies—one in 1999 appearing in the German journal Drug Research, the other a 2018 study also from German researchers—found that a mixture of caraway and peppermint oils showed promise at treating symptoms of indigestion.
How To Use Caraway Seed Essential OilThere are many ways to take advantage of the benefits that caraway seed essential oil provides, the most popular being topical and aromatic use.
- Caraway seed essential oil can be added to warm water—a warm bath, for example—or used in a diffuser for stress relief, as well as relief from symptoms of colds, allergies, or nasal congestion.
- Mixing caraway seed essential oil with a carrier oil makes it an excellent massage oil that can be used to alleviate stress or reduce the pain of pulled muscles, muscle cramps, or sore muscles.
- A few drops of caraway seed essential oil can be added to tea or drizzled into a salad dressing.
- Caraway seed essential oil can also be used as an ingredient in making skincare products including soap, bath oil, and perfume, or can be added to your favorite face cream to help boost its benefits.
Caraway Seed Fun Facts
- According to folklore, placing a caraway seed with your valuables will help protect them from being stolen.
- More than a quarter of the world’s caraway cultivation occurs in Finland, where the long, sunny days of summer suit the sun-loving plant, encouraging it to produce higher levels of its essential oil.
- Caraway seed is the major flavor in the European liquor Kümmel.
- In German folklore, parents placed plates of caraway seeds beneath their children's beds to keep unfriendly spirits away.
- Caraway is mentioned in the second part of Shakespeare’s Henry IV .
ConclusionThough you may have only tried caraway in food, or not at all, the essential oil from this little seed is a chemical powerhouse.
Try diluting the oil with a carrier oil like coconut, almond, or jojoba oil and applying it topically for anti-aging benefits.
No matter how you choose to use it, the benefits of caraway go far beyond filling up your belly with deliciously-seasoned food and can provide a range of health benefits when added into your daily routine.
Statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.