Sweet Cicely Care – Tips On Growing Sweet Cicely Herbs

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is an attractive, early-blooming perennial herb with delicate, fern-like foliage, clusters of tiny white flowers and a pleasant, anise-like aroma. Sweet cicely plants are known by a number of alternate names, including garden myrrh, fern-leaved chervil, shepherd’s needle and sweet-scented myrrh. Interested in growing sweet cicely herbs? Read on to learn more.

Sweet Cicely Herb Uses

All parts of sweet cicely plants are edible. Although sweet cicely has been widely cultivated in past years and used to treat ailments such as stomachache and coughs, it isn’t commonly grown in most modern herb gardens. Many herbalists think sweet cicely deserves more attention, especially as a healthy, zero-calorie replacement for sugar.

You can also cook the leaves like spinach, or add fresh leaves to salads, soups or omelets. The stalks can

be used much like celery, while the roots can be boiled or eaten raw. Many people say sweet cicely roots make flavorful wine.

In the garden, sweet cicely plants are rich in nectar and highly valuable to beesand other beneficial insects. The plant is easy to dry and retains its sweet aroma even when dried.

How to Grow Sweet Cicely

Sweet cicely grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 7. The plants perform best in sun or part shade and moist, well-drained soil. An inch or two of compost or well-rotted manure gets sweet cicely off to a good start.

Plant sweet cicely seeds directly in the garden in autumn, as the seeds germinate in spring after several weeks of cold winter weather followed by warm temperatures. While it’s possible to plant seeds in spring, the seeds must first undergo a period of chilling in the refrigerator (a process known as stratification) before they will germinate.

You can also divide mature plants in spring or autumn.

Sweet Cicely Care

Sweet cicely care is definitely not involved. Just water as needed to keep the soil moist, as sweet cicely generally needs about an inch of water per week.

Fertilize regularly. Use an organic fertilizer if you plan to use the herb in the kitchen. Otherwise, any general-purpose plant fertilizer is fine.

While sweet cicely isn’t considered invasive, it can be quite aggressive. Remove the blooms before they set seed if you want to limit spread.

Cicely, Sweet

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Botanical: Myrrhis odorata (SCOP.)
Family: N.O. Umbelliferae

  • Description
  • Medicinal Action and Uses

—Synonyms—British Myrrh. Anise. Great (Sweet) Chervil. Sweet Chervil. Smooth Cicely. Sweet Bracken. Sweet-fern. Sweet-Cus. Sweet-Humlock. Sweets. The Roman Plant. Shepherd’s Needle. Smoother Cicely. Cow Chervil.
—Parts Used—The whole plant and seeds.
—Habitat—Mountain pastures from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus. In Britain, in the hilly districts of Wales, northern England and Scotland. —Description—The name Myrrhis odorata is derived from the Greek word for perfume, because of its myrrh-like smell.

It is a native of Great Britain, a perennial with a thick root and very aromatic foliage, on account of which it was used in former days as a salad herb, or boiled, when the root, leaves, and seed were all used. The leaves are very large, somewhat downy beneath, and have a flavour rather like Anise, with a scent like Lovage. The first shoots consist of an almost triangular, lacey leaf, with a simple wing curving up from each side of its root. The stem grows from 2 to 3 feet high, bearing many leaves, and white flowers in early summer appear in compound umbels.In appearance it is rather like Hemlock, but is of a fresher green colour. The fruit is remarkably large, an inch long, dark brown, and fully flavoured. The leaves taste as if sugar had been sprinkled over them. It is probable that it is not truly a wild plant, as it is usually found near houses, where it may very probably be cultivated in the garden. Sweet Cicely is very attractive to bees; in the north of England it is said that the seeds are used to polish and scent oak floors and furniture. In Germany they are still very generally used in cookery. The old herbalists describe the plant as ‘so harmless you cannot use it amiss.’ The roots were supposed to be not only excellent in a salad, but when boiled and eaten with oil and vinegar, to be ‘very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.’

—Medicinal Action and Uses—Aromatic, stomachic, carminative and expectorant. Useful in coughs and flatulence, and as a gentle stimulant for debilitated stomachs. The fresh root may be eaten freely or used in infusion with brandy or water. A valuable tonic for girls from 15 to 18 years of age. The roots are antiseptic, and a decoction is used for the bites of vipers and mad dogs The distilled water is said to be diuretic, and helpful in pleurisy, and the essence to be aphrodisiac. The decoction of roots in wine is also said to be effective for consumption, in morning and evening doses of 4 to 8 OZ., while the balsam and ointment cure green wounds, stinking ulcers, and ease the pain of gout.

The medicinal properties resemble those of the American variety.

Chervil, or Scandix Cerefolium (fam. Umbelliferae), a native of southern Europe and the Levant, is used only in cookery, and used in the French bouquet of herbs known as ‘fines herbes.’

American Sweet Cicely (fam. Apicceae) or Ozmorrhiza longistylis. This plant grows in various parts of the United States, on lowlying, moist lands, flowering in May and June. The root has a sweet smell and taste, resembling aniseed and yields its properties to water or diluted alcohol.

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Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) Seeds
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) Plants

Common Name Index
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Bear in mind “A Modern Herbal” was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900’s. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.

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Botanical Name: Myrrhis odorata.

Habitat: Cicely is originally native to the mountainous areas of Central and Southern Europe but has spread far beyond its native range and has become naturalized in many places with proper climate (zones 3-7).

Cicely thrives best in half shade or in full sun and prefers moist and humus rich soil.

The plant is propagated by seeds that are preferably sown as soon as they are ripe, as they quickly lose their germination capacity.

The seeds also require several months of cold to germinate and germination can take a long time. The plant, however, self-sows readily. Since the plants are quite large, they should be planted with plenty of space between them.

Description: Cicely is a perennial plant that belongs to the celery family (Apiaceae). It has a sturdy taproot and furry hollow stems that can reach over one meter in height.

The leaves are bright green, large, feathery and triangular with serrated edges. White spots usually appear on the leaves as the plant ages.

The plant is in full bloom from May to June. The flowers are white and star-shaped and when they are fertilized they turn into ridge-like fruits (seeds) that are initially green, but soon after become shiny and brown-black.

The flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies as they are an excellent source of nectar.

Plant Parts Used: It is the leaves, roots, and seeds that are used as a spice, food and herbal medicine. The leaves should be picked during the growing season and used fresh or frozen down for later use.

The roots should be dug up in spring or autumn and used fresh or dried for use in decoction. The seeds are picked while they are green and used fresh.

When the leaves or the immature fruits are crushed they give away distinctive smell or aroma similar to that of anise (Pimpinella anisum). To preserve the flavor of the leaves, it is best to remove the flowering stems as they form.

Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Therapeutic and Traditional Uses of Cicely

Active Ingredient and Substances: The main active ingredient found in cicily is the essential oil that contains anethole, sesquiterpenes (germacrene-D, beta-caryophylllen), limonene, alpha-pinene, alpha-farnesene and myrcene.

In addition, the plant contains flavonoids (luteolin) and apigenin glycosides. It is the substance anethole that is responsible for the distinctive anise taste and the smell of the plant.

This substance is also found present in fennel, anise and star anise.

Cicely as a Medicinal Plant

Cicely is rarely used in modern herbal medicine but has been valued as a medicinal herb in folk medicine for a long time.

The herb has great nutritional value and is supposedly good for digestion. The fruits, roots or leaves have been used to enhance appetite, as a mild disinfectant, and to reduce the formation of intestinal gas.

Cicely – Medicinal Herb ©The Herbal ResourceIn old herbal medicine books it is stated that the roots and leaves can been given as a general tonic for the elderly, and extracts of the herb could also counteract anemia in adolescent girls.

In earlier times, the herb was considered an effective “blood purifier” and an ointment made from the root was applied to all kinds of wounds to promote healing.

Additionally, cicely was used during the Middle Ages as protection against the plague and a decoction made from the root was applied as a treatment for snakes bites.

The herb has a weak diuretic and laxative properties. Furthermore, it is thought to have an expectorant and antispasmodic effect and is considered to have blood pressure lowering properties.

Cicely has been used traditionally as a treatment for a cough, asthma and shortness of breath due to various lung ailments and the dried leaves were sometimes smoked in the same way as tobacco to promote expectoration of phlegm.

An extract made from the roots and seeds has been used for the treatment of a sore throat and chest pain, as well as a remedy for bladder problems.

In folk medicine, the crushed fresh leaves were used as an external remedy for pain associated with gout and rheumatism. An herbal tea was also made from the leaves to promote sleep.

Cicely as Spice and Food

The leaves are best used when fresh since they tend to lose a lot of their flavor when dried. The leaves can be eaten whole, or finely chopped and added to salads, herbal butter, and omelets.

They can also be cooked as a vegetable, but when boiled much of the anise-like flavor is lost. Additionally, they can be used in soups and fish and chicken dishes, as well as to add an extra flavor to fruit desserts.

Finely cut leaves can be used as a natural sweetener for diabetics or others who want to reduce the intake of sugar.

Green and unripe fruits have a very strong, sweet flavor, and can be chopped and used in salads or used as a natural sweetener in whipped cream, ice cream, and puddings. A herbal tea can be made from the fresh leaves and unripe fruits or they can be added as flavorings to liqueurs.

The taproots are also edible and may be peeled, sliced, and served raw in salads, with vinaigrette, pickled or steamed and buttered like carrots or parsnips.

Other Uses

The crushed fruits have been used to polish wooden furniture for extra aroma and shine. The ripe, brown seeds can also be crushed and mixed in potpourri as a fragrances fixer.

Therapeutic Dosages

There is no know standard dosage for this herb.

If cicely is intended for use as a herbal medicine, a trained herbalist should be consulted prior to use.

Cicely Flowers

Side Effects and Interactions of Cicely

As of yet any information on the possible side effects or interaction of cicely is lacking but it is usually regarded as a safe herb to use, be it as spice, food or medicine.

Supporting References

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Thordur Sturluson

Thor Sturluson has a BS in Biology, majoring in Botany, from the University of Maine and a masters degree in Zoology from the Open University in London. He’s an experienced Biologist with a history of working in the environmental services industry. A trained scuba diver and researcher, Thor’s has a keen interest in nature conservation and animal/plant protection. His work and botany passion has made The Herbal Resource what it is.

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Sweet Cicely is an attractive plant that is a striking component of herb gardens and hedgerows.
This early flowering perennial is renowned for its aniseed taste and fragrance. It is in growth and in flower before most other umbellifers are even thinking of it, a really useful precursor to the Ammi genus such as Ammi majus. The plants grow to a height of 90cm (36in), and umbels of tiny white flowers appear from spring to early summer. The fern-like leaves are deeply divided and smell of aniseed when crushed.
Sweet Cicely was formerly a widely cultivated culinary herb, but now only occasionally grown in the herb garden. As a culinary herb it is a valuable sweetener, especially for diabetics and for the many people who are trying to reduce their sugar intake. Used in many savory as well as sweet dishes, it gives a delightful flavour and helps to save almost half the sugar needed.
Sweet Cicely can be used in borders and beds, it flowers early and its ferny foliage, deeply lobed and toothed, set off by the white flowers compliments other flowers beautifully, it also smells divine.
Hardy to about minus 20°C (-4°F), it is one of the first garden herbs to emerge after winter and the last to die down and is available for much of the year.
It is noted for attracting wildlife and is one of the first nectar plants to appear in spring, so it is extremely valuable to the bees and the beekeeper.

This seed is organically produced. The seed has been harvested from plants that have themselves been raised organically, without the use of chemicals.

Sowing: Sow seeds as soon as possible.
Sweet Cicely seeds like many others germinate easily when they are fresh from the plant. As they dry out the germination inhibitors develop and need a period of cold to help break them down.
They are easiest grown when sown directly outdoors in a seedbed in autumn. The seeds require several months of cold winter temperatures to germinate. Keep a check on the compost to make sure it does not dry out.
Thin the seedlings in the outdoor bed as necessary (eat the thinnings) and transplant the young plants into their final positions in the following spring.
At other times of year in order to germinate successfully, the seeds may need to be stratified. This replicates the sort of conditions found in nature and is easily achieved by mixing the seed with damp sand or vermiculite and leaving in a polythene bag in the fridge for four weeks. After which time seed can be sown as normal into prepared seed or plug trays.
As the seed is so large, sow one seed per cell. Prick out seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in spring after the frosts are over.

Cultivation:
Transplant out into garden into a sunny or part shaded position with well drained, humus rich, moisture retentive soil.
Feed and water the seedlings frequently. Use an organic fertiliser especially if the plant is to be eaten. Hardy to about minus 20°C. (-4°F), so there should be no need for protection.
It will self seed freely in ideal conditions, so remove the faded flowers before they set seed if you want to restrict their spread.
As this herb has a very long tap root it does not happily grow in a container but it can be done if you choose a container that will give the root room to grow and use a bark, peat mix of compost. Place it in a semi-shade place and keep well watered throughout the season.

Division:
Divide in spring or autumn. Remove the tapering tap root and cut the remaining root into sections with at least one eye per section and replant into prepared plug trays or direct into a prepared site in the garden at a depth of 5cm (2in).

Harvest:
The leaves can be picked in late winter and again in late summer and even in the depths of January in places. Unripe seeds can be collected when green, ripe ones when brown. Dig up roots for drying in the autumn when the plant has died down.
The seeds are long, first green turning black on ripening. The foliage and seed do not dry or freeze well but the seeds store well in a dry container.

Culinary Uses:
Sweet Cicely used to be grown in kitchen gardens near the door. All parts of the plant can be used: leaves, roots, flowers and seed. The flavour is sweet and aniseed like.
The leaves can be cooked like spinach, added to soups, omelettes and custards or used fresh in salads. The crisp stalks make a good substitute for celery after light cooking.
The roots can be eaten raw in salads or boiled and eaten like parsnips. They also make a good wine.
The seeds are used as flavouring. Toss unripe seeds into fruit salads or chop and add to ice-cream, cream or custard they have a sweet flavour and a nutty texture. Flower buds are edible and can be used as decoration.
Use seeds instead of cloves in apple pies, or grind them and add them to spice mixtures. When the plant is setting seed the young tender seed pods can be eaten like sweets. In times past children used to eat the ripe seed pods as a snack on the long walk to school.
Sweet Cicely leaves can be chopped finely and added to salads, dressings and omelettes. Add to soups, stews and to boiling water when cooking cabbage.
They can be added to cream for a sweeter less fatty taste and are excellent when cooked with tart fruits to cut down the acidity. This works well with rhubarb, red currants and gooseberries. If you use it in cooking, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe. It is a valuable sweetener, especially for diabetics and for the many people who are trying to reduce their sugar intake. It gives a delightful flavour and helps to save almost half the sugar needed.

Medicinal Uses:
Sweet Cicely has been used in medicine for centuries, all parts of this herb were used.
As Culpeper wrote “It is so harmless you cannot use it amiss.”
It is good for the digestive system and a wonderful tonic herb, it will lift the spirits and banish gloomy thoughts. The volatile oils and flavonoids in the plant are antiseptic and will purify the blood, act as a carminative and improve appetite.
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.”
The ripe seeds can be chewed as an aid to digestion and a tea made from the chopped leaves is said to soothe the stomach. 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 to 15 minutes then strain and drink a small cup three times a day.

Other Uses:
Sweet Cicely is famously used by Carthusian monks to make the liqueur, Chartreuse. Like its relatives anise, fennel, and caraway, it can also be used to flavour Akvavi. In Scandinavian countries it traditionally associated with Christmas and other celebrations. While claims for the medicinal properties of the drink may be rather inflated, aquavit is popularly believed to ease the digestion of rich foods.
The leaves and the seed make good polishes for wood. Simply rub the leaves over the wood and then rub the wood with a clean cloth to remove any greenness. It is particularly good on oak panels, giving a lovely glossy finish and an aromatic smell. The seeds when pounded into a paste were used to make a sweet-smelling furniture polish.

Constituents:
Both the leaves and the seed pods, which are edible, liberate the sweet smell of aniseed when crushed between the fingers. The taste of aniseed is due to the chemical anethole which is synthesised in the plant. Anethole is the olfactory component of Oil of Aniseed, which is present in other members of the Carrot family. It is obtained from Anise, Pimpinella Anisum; it also contributes to the flavour of Tarragon and of Fennel.

Nomenclature:
Myrrhis odorata is the sole species in the genus Myrrhis. It belongs to the family Apiaceae.
The Latin name for the plant comes from the Greek ‘myrrhis’ meaning ‘smelling of myrrh’, with the specific name ‘odorata’ deriving from the Latin word ‘odorus’ meaning ‘fragrant’. Several of the common names of the plant reflect this:
Greater Chervil, Roman Plant, Cow Chervil, Smooth Cicely, Sweet Fern, British Myrrh, Shepherd’s Needle, Sweets, Fern-Leaved Chervil, Wild Myrrh, Sweet Cus, Sweet Hemlock, Beaked Parsley.
The Greeks called Sweet Cicely ‘seselis or ‘seseli’. It is logical to suppose that ‘Cicely’ was derived from them, ‘sweet’ coming from its flavour.

Origin:
Native to Central Europe, it is found in and around woodlands, often in clearings as well as grassy banks and verges as well as cultivated areas. Beware of similar looking umbellifers which have darker green fern-like leaves, do not smell of aniseed, and which may be extremely poisonous.
Note: 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

Identifiable Characteristics:
The leaves have a slight resemblance in shape and form to some other members of the Carrot Family, possibly poisonous ones. But those of Sweet Cicely are a lighter green, and smell of aniseed. Both stems and seed pods are covered in thin hairs reminiscent of those on Stinging Nettles, but they don’t sting.
Smells of aniseed when crushed, as does Fennel, but Sweet Cicely has fern-like leaves whereas those of Fennel are thin and thread-like.
Sweet Cicely can be found growing wild but because of its similarity to a number of other plants, some of which, like hemlock can be extremely poisonous, in the wild it is best left alone. ‘Fortune favours the brave’ is a lovely saying, but it’s not something to be applied to foraging.

Sweet Cicely

Category:

Herbs

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Sun to Partial Shade

Foliage:

Grown for foliage

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us

Height:

36-48 in. (90-120 cm)

Spacing:

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F)

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us

Danger:

N/A

Bloom Color:

White/Near White

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Non-patented

Propagation Methods:

From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

Seed Collecting:

Bag seedheads to capture ripening seed

Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds

Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible

Regional

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Stamford, Connecticut

Cumberland, Maryland

Roslindale, Massachusetts

Wales, Massachusetts

Weston, Massachusetts

Ishpeming, Michigan

Belton, Missouri

Niagara Falls, New York

Massillon, Ohio

Milford, Pennsylvania

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania(2 reports)

Austin, Texas

Leesburg, Virginia

Bellingham, Washington

Seattle, Washington

Spokane, Washington

Stanwood, Washington

Dousman, Wisconsin

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Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is a hardy perennial herb that blooms in spring (usually in May here). Supposedly it prefers moist, well-drained soil that is full of humus and thrives in partial shade, but I have found that here it will grow anywhere and everywhere and can be quite invasive. After a couple of years sweet cicely can reach a height of three feet, and individual plants grow closely together to form a dense clump of fern-like leaves and small white flowers.

After the flowers fade, groups of deeply-ridged seed pods will start to form… changing from a light green to a deep brown as the seeds ripen. At this point in self defense I get in there with scissors and cut off all the stalks of seed pods… otherwise the seeds will fall onto the soil and produce an astonishing number of new plants the following spring.

Some people believe that the seeds need to freeze and thaw in order to germinate. I have found that seeds collected during warm weather and stored in the freezer will show a surprisingly high germination rate if they are planted the following spring.

Sweet cicely plants can also be divided but will wilt to the ground and look absolutely hopeless no matter how carefully you make the division. They do recover quickly however and in a few days will look as perky as ever.

Sweet cicely is often described as being difficult to propagate because its seeds are finicky about germinating. That certainly hasn’t proven to be true here… it’s a beautiful plant but it naturally self-sows so easily. I’m constantly fighting a battle to keep the plants I have under control.

Sweet cicely is also a culinary herb. The flavor is often described as being a cross between anise and celery, and my herb reference books suggest using the seeds in candies or as a substitute for caraway… steaming and then pureeing the roots… and adding the leaves to salads.

Written by Shirley Filed Under: My Country Gardens

Flower:

Flowers are in flat clusters (umbels), in groups (umbellets) of 4 to 7 flowers each, at the top of the plant and the ends of branching stems. Individual flowers are about 1/8 inch across, with 5 notched white petals, 5 white-tipped stamens, and 2 styles that are shorter than the petals (the arrows in the thumbnail photo point them out). At the base of each umbellet are several narrow, hairy bracts that spread downward.

Leaves and stem:

Leaves are 1 or 2 times compound in 3’s. Basal and lower stem leaves are long stalked, becoming short stalked to stalkless as they ascend the stem. At the base of the stalk is a short appendage that sheathes the stem. Leaflets are up to 3 inches long and 2 inches wide, shallowly to deeply lobed with toothed edges, becoming smaller and less lobed as the ascend the stem.

Surfaces are hairy, especially along the veins on the underside. Stems and stalks, except the umbellet stalks, are densely covered in long, spreading white hairs.

Fruit:

Fruit is a dry brown seed ½ to 1 inch long that splits in 2 when ripe. It persists through the winter. Seeds are densely covered in appressed hairs.

Notes:

Sweet Cicely and Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) are very similar and easily confused. Aniseroot has more flowers per umbellet (8 to 16), styles longer than the petals, has short-hairy or hairless stems, the leaves are less deeply divided, and the foliage has an anise fragrance when crushed. The hairiness of the stems is usually the most noticeable difference.

Sweet cicely is a perennial herb–a member of the parsley family. The leaves and seeds of sweet cicely are very sweet flavored with a hint of licorice. Sweet cicely can be used in the kitchen as a sweetener and to cut down the acidity of fruit. Sweet cicely looks much like a fern and its clusters of white flowers atop tall stems make it a showy addition to perennial borders as well as herb gardens.

Get to Know Sweet Cicely

  • Botanical name and family: Myrrhis odorata is a member of the Apiaceae—parsley family.
  • Origin: Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus.
  • Type of plant: Sweet cicely is a perennial; however, it will die back in winter.
  • Growing season: Summer
  • Growing zones: Sweet cicely grows best in zones 3 to 7.
  • Hardiness: Sweet cicely is cold hardy to -20°F. It grows best in mild summer regions. It does not grow well in hot climates.
  • Plant form and size: Sweet cicely grows to 3 to 6 feet tall. Several thin branching stems grow upright from a taproot. The mature plant can be mistaken for a fern.
  • Flowers: Sweet cicely has flat clusters of tiny white flowers that open to form a bloom similar to Queen Anne’s lace umbels about 2 inches across. Flower clusters grow at the end of 3 to 4-foot stems. Elongated brownish black seed capsules follow after the flowers fade.
  • Bloom time: Sweet cicely blooms in midsummer.
  • Leaves: Sweet cicely appears soft and ferny; finely lobed or toothed leaflets are bright green with whitish undersides. Leaves grow from a central leafstalk and secondary branches. The secondary branches have deeply cut leaflets of descending size toward their tips—making the outline of a Christmas tree. The leafstalks wrap around the stem of the plant.

How to Plant Sweet Cicely

  • Best location: Sweet cicely prefers shade or partial shade; plants will die easily in full sun. The back of a border is a good spot for sweet cicely; it grows taller than most herbs.
  • Soil preparation: Plant sweet cicely in compost-rich, well-drained soil. Add aged compost to planting beds every spring. Sweet cicely prefers a soil pH of 6.5.
  • Seed starting indoors: Fresh seed can be started indoors in late spring. Seeds need stratification or cold treatments before they will germinate. Place seeds in moistened peat moss in a covered container in the refrigerator for three months before sowing. Germination will take about 30 days but can sometimes take up to 8 months. Spring division of roots is the surest way to start sweet cicely.
  • Transplanting to the garden: Sweet cicely has a long taproot and does not like to be moved. It’s best to transplant sweet cicely when it is small before taproots grow long. Set out transplants after the last frost in spring. Transplant sweet cicely to a shady part of the garden.
  • Outdoor planting time: Sow seed in spring or late summer for germination the next spring. Germination can be very slow. Seeds germinate only after undergoing a series of freezes and thaws.
  • Planting depth: Sow seed ½ inch deep. Set divisions at the same depth they were growing.
  • Spacing: Space plants 2 feet apart.
  • How much to plant: Grow 6 plants for culinary use; grow 12 plants for preserving.
  • Companion planting: Sweet cicely is rich in nectar; it will attract honeybees and beneficial insects to the garden. Avoid planting sweet cicely near parsley and carrots; they attract the same pest insects.

How to Grow Sweet Cicely

  • Watering: Sweet cicely grows best where the soil stays just moist; do not let the soil dry out.
  • Feeding: Add aged compost or commercial organic planting mix to planting beds ahead of planting sweet cicely.
  • Container growing: Grow sweet cicely in a container at least 6 inches high and wide.
  • Winter growing: Sweet cicely can be grown indoors in a pot in winter. The plant will die back to the ground after the first autumn freezes.

Troubleshooting Sweet Cicely

  • Pests and diseases: Sweet cicely is usually pest and disease-free.

How to Harvest Sweet Cicely

  • When to harvest: Pick sweet cicely leaves anytime you need them once plants are 8 inches tall or taller. Harvest seeds as they dry and ripen beginning in midsummer; place seed heads in a paper bag to catch ripe seeds as they fall. Seed heads resemble little umbrellas.
  • How to harvest: Snip leaves and seed heads with a garden pruner or scissors. Dig roots with a spading fork in late fall after they are a year old.

Sweet Cicely in the Kitchen

  • Flavor and aroma: Sweet cicely has the flavor of anise and the celery-like scent of lovage.
  • The leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots of sweet cicely are all edible and aromatic.
  • Leaves: Use sweet cicely leaves fresh in salads, eggs, soups, stews, vinegar, cookies, cakes, and fruit desserts. The dried or frozen leaves are excellent with fish.
  • Seeds: Fresh seeds can be eaten like candy; they have a sweet, nutty flavor. Use chopped or crushed seeds in fruit dishes and ice creams. Use ripe seeds in cookies and pastries.
  • Roots: Sweet cicely roots can be peeled, chopped, and eaten raw in salads or stir-fries. Use fresh or dried roots as a vegetable (similar to parsnip) in soups, stews, or salads. Slice them for stir-fries or dice or shred them into salads.
  • Teas: Use sweet cicely leaves fresh or dried in tea.
  • Cooking: Place stems of sweet cicely on the barbecue coals when grilling fish; they will impart a sweet licorice flavor to grilled fish. Use seeds in cakes and desserts. You can decrease the amount of sugar in the recipe by adding sweet cicely.

Preserving and Storing Sweet Cicely

  • Refrigeration: Fresh leaves can be wrapped in a damp paper towel placed in a perforated plastic bag and stored for a few days in the vegetable crisper.
  • Drying: Dry leaves and stems by bunching stems together and hanging them upside down in a cool, shady place with plenty of air circulation. Leaves will dry in a week to 10 days.
  • Freezing: Sweet cicely leaves can be frozen in ice cubes.
  • Seeds: Place seed heads in a paper bag and hang upside down out of the direct sun; seeds will drop into the bag as they ripen.
  • Storing: Store dried leaves and seeds in an airtight container.

Propagating Sweet Cicely

  • Seed: Sweet cicely seed can take up to 8 months to germinate. Seeds must be placed in the refrigerator or freezer for a few weeks before sowing. Sow seed outdoors in autumn for plants the next spring.
  • Division: Root division is the surest way to propagate cicely. Dig, divide, and replant roots in early spring. Each piece of root division must have a bud on it. Plant the root division at the same depth at which it was growing.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Mint

How to Grow Thyme

How to Grow Oregano

How to Grow Parsley

How to Start a Herb Garden

Growing Herbs for Cooking

April Showers

It would appear that April has finally woken from her annual slumber. And, once again, she’s working hard to bring us her April showers! Whenever I’m out on my daily walk with Caber, I’m always astonished by the new growth that appears each day. However, I’m not so surprised when I invariably arrive home soaking wet! But still, I always manage to find a plant or two to nibble on when I’m out and about. And this week I’ve been nibbling on Sweet Cicely and Wild Garlic. If you’d like to know more about wild garlic, why don’t you take a peek at my post, ‘Wild Garlic – 12 Fab Facts & 6 Recipes’.

“A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew. A cloud, and a rainbow’s warning. Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue… An April day in the morning.

Harriet Prescott Spofford

Sweet Cicely – Identification and Uses

So, what can I tell you about sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)? Well, let’s start with the fact that it’s a herb of the carrot family (Apiaceae). And it can grow to around 2-3 feet in height, as well as width. At the start of its growth, it raises its lovely little head in mid-March. However, it’s around now, the beginning of April, that you should start paying more attention to it.

Identifying Sweet Cicely

On the whole, sweet cicely is the easiest of the carrot family (Apiaceae) to identify. Therefore, it’s an ideal plant to get to know if you’re new to foraging. However, the carrot family of plants can look very similar to each other, and this can lead to confusion. In particular, if you’re new to foraging, it’s easy to make the wrong identification. With this in mind, you must acquaint yourself with a very toxic member of this family, the “Giant Hogweed”. (Tracker app for Hogweed).

Giant Hogweed

Giant hogweed, as its name suggests, can grow to around 20ft tall. Displaying large leaves you can eat your dinner off! But, in order to help you to identify this noxious plant, I’ve included a free identification guide in this post. And it will tell you everything you need to know about the plant. So, do yourself a favour, and keep it with you whilst out foraging.

Heady Aroma of Anise

However, to identify sweet cicely, you merely need to pick a leaf, crush it between your fingers and inhale the heady aroma of anise. Consequently, if this fragrance is absent, then leave the plant alone and move on. So, without further ado, here’s my 14 point, beginners guide to this delightful plant:

  1. Sweet cicely is a herbaceous, fragrant perennial.
  2. Growing to a height of 2-3 feet.
  3. With fern-like leaves.
  4. Displaying umbels of white flowers, which bloom from May – Aug.
  5. Makes a great sugar substitute.
  6. And contains vitamin A and C, as well as, calcium, potassium, iron and phosphorus.
  7. Their leaves have a sweet anise flavour and are edible.
  8. And the roots, whilst chunky and parsnip-like in appearance, taste of yummy liquorice.
  9. The leaves of sweet cicely display small white “chalk-like” random markings.
  10. And the stem (also edible) is hollow, round with grooves and displays soft, downy hairs
  11. The seeds remind me of tiny cucumbers and they eventually turn black and make a lovely, edible treat.
  12. The seeds can also be dried and powdered when green.
  13. It’s also said to aid the flow of milk in animals.
  14. And last, but not least, the roots produce a deep yellow dye.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the many names sweet cicely is also known by:

  • Beaked Parsley
  • Cow Chervil
  • Fern-Leaved Chervil
  • Roman Plant
  • Sweet Fern
  • Sweet Cus
  • Shepherds Needle
  • Myrrh

Medicinal Uses of Sweet Cicely:

  • can be taken as a tea or tonic for asthma and other breathing problems
  • helps cough, chest and throat complaints
  • has been used for digestion problems
  • and urinary tract disorders
  • it’s also used as a “blood purifier”

What More Can I Tell You?

And finally, what more can I tell you about dear sweet cicely? First of all, sweet cicely was introduced to the UK by the Romans. Subsequently, the scientific name of this plant (Myrrhis odorata) found it’s origins in Latin and Greek. The word Myrrhis found it’s origins in the Greek word, Myron, meaning “perfume”. And odorata is rooted in the Latin word, odorus, meaning a “fragrant odour”. And last, but not least, you’ll find it growing in moist, grassy areas. You’ll also spy it beside rivers, streams, hedgerows and roadsides. Ripe for the picking!

Before I finish up today, let me share the recipe below with you. I intend to use this batter recipe to dip and deep fry garlic buds. But I’m also going to make a batch without adding the chopped sweet cicely. And, what I’ll do instead is dip the whole leaves in the batter, and deep fry them.

Another cheeky wee recipe you can try is Sweet Cicely Schnapps. To make this, you’ll need a bottle of vodka, 500g sweet cicely, along with 125g of sugar. Place everything in a container or jar, give it a shake and leave it aside for 1-3 weeks. You then remove the Sweet Cicely, and before you know it, you have delicious Sweet Cicely Schnapps to enjoy with your battered delights! Can’t wait that long? No problem, give the bottle a damn good shake, remove the leaves, and it’s ready to drink straight away. Cheers!

So, there we have it! This weeks post has come to an end, and thanks for taking the time to read it. Until the next time, make sure you stay safe. And, before you go, don’t forget to subscribe.

Tempura Batter with Sweet Cicely Leaves

A versatile batter that can be used with fish, meat or vegetables. Or why not dip a sweet cicely leaf or 2 into the batter and try its sweet taste. Makes the perfect finger food. Prep Time10 mins Keyword: Sweet Cicely, Sweet Cicely Tempura Servings: 8 people Author: Foragers Folly

Ingredients

  • 125 g plain flour sifted
  • 40 g finely chopped sweet cicely leaves
  • large egg
  • 5 oz water ice cold
  • Ice cubes for chilling the water

Instructions

  • Sift flour once or twice to remove any lumps and add in the sweet cicely leaves. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, gently beat 1 egg until the yolk and egg whites are just barely mixed.
  • Prepare ice cold water by combining water and ice cubes in a small bowl. Using a strainer, measure 1 cup of ice cold water and add it to the bowl with the beaten egg. (Don’t add any ice cubes to the tempura batter mixture).
  • Add the sifted flour and leaves into the bowl with the egg and water mixture and lightly combine the flour. Be careful not to over-mix the batter. (Use chopsticks to mix the batter)
  • The batter is now ready for immediate use. Coat your vegetables, fish or meat and deep fry in hot oil until golden and crisp.

Notes

Tip: The iced water makes the batter crispy. Please follow, like and share:

Sweet cicely

Sweet cicely or cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is a perennial herb. It is a delicate plant with a scent; its Latin name refers to it as “fragrant perfume”. It was an old cottage garden favourite and still makes for a lovely addition to the kitchen garden. It is a hardy plant.

Description

Sweet cicely has feathery, soft leaves in a light green colour.

The flowers are white. After flowering, long seedpods form.

Sweet cicely grows to a height of about 1 to 1.5 metres or 3 or so feet during summer. Over winter, the plant will die right back, to return early in spring when the weather starts to warm up again.

Growing sweet cicely

Select a sunny or partially-shaded place to grow sweet cicely. The plant can be propagated by seed in either autumn or spring.

If the flower stems are cut off when flowering is done, new growth will be encouraged. However, if the flowers are left in place, the seeds can ripen for reseeding or for use in cooking as a spice. If the leaves are needed for culinary use, do not allow the plant to flower or the leaves will lose their flavour during flowering.

Uses for sweet cicely

Culinary

Sweet cicely leaves can be added to acidic berries such as blackcurrants and gooseberries, to tone down the acidity with its sweetness (hence the source of the name “sweet” in its name).

The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, and have an aniseed flavour. They can be cooked with vegetables to reduce the acidity in any vegetable.

The leaves can be dried for use in winter.

The root, provided it’s not too old, can be eaten either raw or cooked.

The seeds have an aniseed flavour and can be used as a flavouring and even as a mouth freshener when chewed.

A tea can be made from sweet cicely leaves.

Animal friendly

Sweet cicely is one of the first flowers to appear after winter, helping nectar-seeking insects (bees, flies, beetles, etc.) to find an early food source.

The plant is also known to attract wildlife.

Medicinal

The plant has aromatic, carminative, expectorant and stomachic qualities for herbal medicine uses. Uses for this plant include the reduction of flatulence and coughs, a stomach stimulant and wound salve.

As with any use of herbs for medicinal purposes, do thorough research first.

Polish

Crushed unripe green seeds and leaves of sweet cicely can be used to polish furniture. Crush, then wipe over wood surfaces (especially oak), to produce a glossy polish. A pleasant nutty, aniseed like scent will be left behind.

Sweet Cicely is an herb that has a vague anise-like aroma and taste.

The plant grows up to 3 feet (1 metre) tall, or higher, and the same wide, from very early spring to late fall. It has bright-green leaves that look like fern leaves.

In May and June, it blossoms with small, creamy-white flowers in clusters. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds like the plant.

It is a perennial that self-seeds enthusiastically.

The leaves lose their taste after the plant flowers, so prevent flowering if you want to use the leaves. Use a few fresh leaves in fruit salads or fruit drinks. They can be dried and used a few teaspoons at a time in tart fruit mixtures, or added to stews, soups, dressings.

A few sprigs of Sweet Cicely added to rhubarb being stewed reduces the tartness of the rhubarb, and therefore the amount of sugar required.
It’s not just rhubarb — really any sour fruit such as gooseberries, red or black currants, etc, can benefit.

The unripe, green seeds are good whole in fruit salads. The ripe, black seeds are best crushed for cooking use, but the taste is so faint that some say it is not worth the bother.

The roots can be treated as a root vegetable.

American Sweet Cicely is Ozmorrhiza longistylis. Its root has a sweet smell and taste like anise.

History Notes

Sweet Cicely is native to Europe.

Sources

Grigson, Sophie. My resistance to rhubarb crumbles. London: The Independent. 19 February 1994.

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