Caraway (Carum carvi L.) is a member of the carrot family. The fruits (seeds) of caraway are used as a spice or may be distilled to produce an essential oil. In addition to the familiar rye bread seasoning, caraway seed and its essential oil is used to flavor cheeses, sausages, and other foods. The essential oil is also a source of carvone for cosmetics, including perfumes and soaps.

Both annual and perennial caraways are available. The biennial caraway is more widely cultivated and more productive than the annual type. Biennial caraway forms a rosette of leaves the first year and develops a flowering stalk the second, after which the plant dies. The inflorescence is an umbel with white or pinkish flowers, and the seeds are double achenes. The essential oil is produced in five channels running the length of the seed. Biennial caraway seed contains 3-7% oil, while annual caraway contains 2-3% oil. The main oil constituents are carvone (50-70%) and d-limonene (25-30%) (1, 2).

Caraway is adapted to a variety of soil types, but does not do well on very light or waterlogged soils. Adequate moisture is important for seed production (2). Higher yields are expected under irrigation.

Research Summary

Both annual and biennial caraway were grown under irrigation at the Western Agricultural Research Center, Corvallis, MT. Annual caraway was less vigorous than biennial caraway and seed was late- maturing in western Montana. Seed maturity was achieved in the long season of 1998, but seed would not have matured before frost in the normal season of 1999. Biennial caraway grew well with no overwintering mortality, and produced a good seed crop.

Annual caraway

Annual caraway was sown at 12 lb/acre on May 4, 1998 and 16 lb/a on May 5, 1999. Plant stand in 1998 was 10 plants per foot and in 1999 was 9 plants per foot. Eight-row plots were 15 ft long with 1 ft between rows, in four replications. Mature seed was harvested on October 6, 1998. In 1999, plants were cut September 22, when seeds were still immature, and distilled without drying. Border rows were not included.

Biennial caraway

Biennial caraway was sown at 3.5 lb/acre on May 14, 1998 . Six-row plots were 8 ft long with 1.5 ft between rows, in four replications. Two replications were harvested on June 30, 1999 , when seeds were in an immature condition and distilled immediately. Seed was harvested from the other two replications on July 14. Border rows were not included.

Table 1. Yield of annual and biennial caraway at the Western Agricultural Research Center, 1998 and 1999
Seed (lb/a) ± SE
Oil (lb/a) ± SE
1,159 ±141
2.7 ± 0.42
2,432 ± 145
42.1 *

* distillation not replicated


Biennial caraway was much more productive at WARC than was annual caraway. Annual caraway did not perform well at the WARC. While biennial caraway appears to be adapted to western Montana, the market for the seed or oil is limited and production costs must be spread over a two-year crop cycle.


  1. Guenther, E. 1948. The Essential Oils. Robert E. Krieger Pub. Co., Inc.
  2. Hornok, L. 1992. Cultivation and Processing of Medicinal Plants. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK.
  3. USDA. 2000. Tropical Products: World Markets and Trade. Foreign Agricultural Service, Circular Series FTROP 1-00, March 2000.