History Of Using Caraway As A Remedy

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The knowledge about usage of plants for medical purposes has always been one of the greatest treasures of any civilisation. The very important task for scientists working on medicinal plants is to preserve the primary med-botanical knowledge, commonly called folk medicine, before, as it was dramatically put by R.E.Schultes (1978), it gets buried together with the cultures who created it. Scientists from numerous countries work on gathering and organising the information widely spread in literature concerning the effect of various plants on human health. One of the plants is Carum carvi.

The history of using caraway as a remedy goes back to the days of the ancient Greeks, who probably knew and used the practical herb. It was mentioned by Plinius and Dioscorides, but today their correct identification of the species is uncertain.

In the Middle Ages Carum carvi was known and commonly used as a spice and a remedy. It was among the goods being a subject of trade in Europe. In 1410 Poland was undoubtedly one of the exporters of caraway, which is known from an old price list of spices passing through Gdansk Harbour.

In the old days some medicinal plants were believed to posses extraordinary or even magical properties. That is why beside the quite usual uses, there were also some rather odd beliefs concerning various species. Caraway was one of them. Plants from Umbelliferae family in general were believed to provide protection against evil and witchcraft. In German tradition bread made with caraway fruits was used to drive away dwarfs and demons, and when brought into the house caused distress. The fruits were sometimes sprinkled with salt in coffins, as a protection against hexes, sorcery and demons. They were also considered effective in calming down restless children. A jar full of them placed under a cradle was said to have wonderful sedative powers (Mathias 1994). Moreover caraway, among other umbels, was one of the components of love potions, which made one fall in love with the person who had served it.

It was believed that for medical purposes caraway had to be collected on the 24th of June, when its healing powers were extremely high. The plant was used to treat a wide spectrum of diseases: indigestion, flatulence, eye disorders, coughs and even hysteria.

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