This Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is native to the British Isles, and should not be confused with the herbs of the Osmorhiza family which are native to Asia and the American continent. It actually looks a little like cow parsley or Queen Anne’s Lace about which there is also confusion in names between Britain and the US. Sweet Cicely is sometimes confused with hemlock as is cow parsley, but as Culpeper wrote “It is so harmless you cannot use it amiss.” It is a much brighter green than hemlock and doesn’t have the purple blotches on its stems. It was formerly used as a salad herb or the root was boiled and used as a vegetable. Its leaves taste sweet and are used with tart fruit such as rhubarb. If you use sweet cicely in cooking, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe. You can use its seeds instead of cloves in apple pies, or grind them and add them to spice mixtures. If you chew a leaf the flavour is reminiscent of anise or liquorice, and smells like lovage, another bee plant.
angelica. All parts of the plant can be used and it has been used in cookery and medicine for centuries. It has some associations with the Virgin Mary and Saint Cecilia, and the pagan summer goddesses of the Celts, but the benign ones only.
Culpeper and Gerard both agree that the roots, when boiled and then dressed with oil and vinegar are “…very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.” A tisane can be made with 1 tsp of dried (1tbsp fresh) leaves to 1 cup of boiling water. Steep the leaves in the water for 10-15 minutes then strain and drink a small cup three times a day to help with anaemia and menstrual pains. It will also lift the spirits, and banish gloomy thoughts.
Sweet Cicely is good for the digestive system and if you add finely chopped ginger to the boiling water you make the tisane with, it will relieve flatulence and aid digestion. The root in a decoction is mildly stimulating and relaxing as it has antispasmodic properties. It is used in cough medicines as an expectorant. The volatile oils and flavonoids in the plant are antiseptic, and will purify the blood, act as a carminative and will improve appetite. You can boil the root with the leaves to make a tisane too. You won’t need to use sugar or a sweetener such as honey.
Cook the roots as you would parsnips and use them to flavour soups and stews, and use the leaves as a garnish and in salads. Use the root to make a decoction in wine, brandy or water and use for all the ailments mentioned above. Apparently these decoctions are good for bites from vipers (the only venomous snake in Britain) and for cleaning putrid wounds that are not healing. The decoction made with wine was often given to people with consumption.
If you make a paste with the roots and leaves and apply it to the skin, it will cure skin problems. The seeds when pounded into a paste have been used to make a sweet-smelling furniture polish. You can chew the fresh seeds to aid digestion too. They taste like liquorice.
These photos of the plant were taken by Aldo De Bastiano.
PRAWN AND SWEET CICELY RISOTTO
500 gr prawns, shelled and the shells reserved
1.25 litres chicken stock (or water or vegetable stock)
75 gr butter or oil for frying
1 glass of white wine (dry)
300 gr Arborio rice
300 gr tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tbsp sweet cicely leaves, shredded
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf, torn
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp flat-leaved parsley, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Sweet cicely leaves to garnish
Make a stock with the shells and heads of the prawns adding a little brandy if you wish. You won’t need to add salt. Reserve ¼ pint of it for this recipe and freeze the rest.
Melt butter and fry garlic and onion. Add the prawns and then the rice with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then simmer on a low heat for 20-25 mins until the rice is cooked.
Garnish with sweet cicely leaves and serve.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
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Driving across Upstate New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire this last weekend in May, we frequently saw Sweet Cecily growing in swaths along the roads. It is so common that it might be considered an exotic invasive. However, it was very pleasant to view, giving a nice complement to the Dames Rocket also fully in bloom. I look forward to experimenting with some of the suggested cooking and herbal usesReplyDelete
Thank you for that very good description. We hope you enjoy the recipes!Bon appetit!Delete
it takes over my garden every june and I just love it. I didn't know what it was until today. A complaint was lodged with the city due to "high weeds and grasses". The city inspector agreed with me that it wasn't a weed, but it wasn't a wildflower either as I had thought. He confirmed the name and now I'm excited to try cooking with it.ReplyDelete
Wayne/ Nakusp B.C.ReplyDelete
I have had this plant for years and moved 400 miles away and brought a couple of sprigs with me and did ever take off. I now have it for shade outside my chicken pen for the chickens. Wonderful looking plant. I didn't know if was safe to safe to eat but I have been chewing the seeds for years, being a liquorice nut, I love it. Thanks for all the information. I will be trying it on a skin problem I have and use in in my wife's potpourri pot this winter.
I love the stuff. I moved about four hundred miles from our home on the West Coast to the West Kootenays where it is fairly cold with lots of snow about ten years ago and took a good size piece with me. Even with the weather it grows very well Now I have a huge patch and love chewing the seeds. I will try more ways to use it now that I have read your article. Thank You.ReplyDelete
Nakusp, British Columbia
Great work. Truly speaking I never seen a blog like that. Absolutely superb work. Good luck. Thanks for such an informative post.ReplyDelete
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I have grown sweet cicely for years & like to munch on the seeds for their licorice taste. I didn't know much about eating the leaves but with this information I can now put them in my wonderful salads.ReplyDelete