"Come, cousin Silence! we will eat a pippin of last year's graffing with a dish of carraways and then to bed!"
--Shakespeare, in Henry IV

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(Carum carvi)

Probably native to Asia, this plant grew in Europe's Mesolithic Age and was early prescribed by physicians for flatulence (imagine all those gassy people chewing seeds!). It's also reputed to stimulate appetite--and was used as a gargle to soothe a sore throat.

In Elizabethan times it was served in dishes as a common seasoning--and was a main ingredient of love potions. By the 18th century, its taproot was used as an alternate to parsnips--incredibly, as popular a vegetable with people then as potatoes are with people now. In 19th century America, caraway root was routinely given to children to stop their hiccups.

The plant itself is a glabrous biennial that grows about 2 feet tall on hollow stems. The first year produces parsley-looking leaves; the second, the stem with umbels of little white flowers that become boat-shaped fruits. The oil derived from caraway's "seeds" (actually they are the fruits, dried) contains carvone and limonene, the latter of which is the chemical found in lemon, orange, and dill. It's the flavor of this oil that marks the northern European liqueur kummel.