Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis Odorata)
An aromatic perennial with bright green, frothy, ferny leaves growing up to 50cm long. If you try growing it in a window box, keep using it! It can grow up to 1.5m and take over your window-sill. With creamy white flowers which are formed in large umbels, this plant’s decorative leaves are some of the earliest to appear, heralding longer days and the promise of summer.
Sweet cicely is another aniseedy herb, a flavour to be savoured either in leaf, seed, flower or root. Very versatile, its sweet grassy notes work well with sweet or savoury dishes. It’s a fabulous partner with a delicate white fish and a great success in breads, scones and muffins. Sweet cicely excels, however, when paired with fruit particularly the more acidic such as rhubarb since the sweetness in this herb allows you to reduce how much sugar you need to add to your dish. Try it in ice cream with Victoria plums and you will be hooked!
Culpepper and Gerard appear to have been in agreement that the roots (a bit like parsnips), when boiled, are ‘very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increases their lust and strength’. Lust aside, sweet cicely is a great aid to the digestive system aiding relief from flatulence. According to Culpeper the boiled roots offered protection against the Plague while the Roman writer Columelia wrote that it causes joy and gladness. Perhaps we can all be strong, lusty, joyful and wind-free.
Grown from seed, plant in Autumn because they need a cold spell to germinate. Once established sweet cicely will self seed generously and will thrive almost anywhere, your garden, roadside verges, river banks and grassland.
Note: if you are harvesting from wild use caution – if your pickings do not smell aniseedy they could be cow parsley or hemlock seedlings which are poisonous.