Caraway seed is a fragrant, culinary herb that is native to Asia. It is in fact a fruit of the caraway herb, but it resembles seed once it has dried. This spice is valued for its medicinal benefits, particularly for digestive conditions such as dyspepsia, flatulence and colic. However, taking caraway seed can have a number of side effects; consult with a health professional before you use it for medicinal purposes.
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Ironically, one of the herb’s medicinal benefits, namely its carminative, or gas-relieving properties, is also the cause of one of its most common side effects. The book “Pocket Guide to Herbal Medicine,” explains that caraway seed facilitates the expulsion of excess gas in the gastrointestinal tract. However, while relieving the discomfort of gas in the stomach, it may also trigger heartburn by reducing pressure in the esophageal sphincter, a valve that normally keeps stomach contents in the stomach.
The carminative effects of caraway seed may also cause excessive belching, writes Adriane Fugh-Berman in her book “The 5 Minute Herb and Dietary Supplement Consult.” Belching, which is sometimes referred to as burping or ructus, involves the expulsion of excess gas and bloating from the stomach and intestinal tract through the mouth. It may be accompanied with a characteristic sound and, sometimes, an odor.
According to the Physicians Desk Reference, caraway oil, a highly volatile essential oil found in caraway seed, can cause kidney and liver damage when it is taken in large doses over a long period of time. Authors Kraft and Hobbs note that this essential oil has also been found to prevent or alleviate muscle spasms in animals.
Fugh-Berman writes that caraway may have an abortifacient effect on pregnant women, which means that it may trigger an abortion or induce premature labor. She cautions that lactating mothers should also avoid caraway seeds and, especially, caraway oil.
Caraway seed has narcotic properties, reports Florence Daniel. In her book “Food Remedies: Facts About Foods and their Medicinal Uses,” she writes that it should be used with caution because, like a narcotic, it can become addictive. Other side effects that are associated with the herb’s narcotic effects include drowsiness, mental clouding and nausea.