Botanical Name: Myrrhis odorata
Common names: British Myrrh, Anise, Sweet Chervil, Smooth Cicely, Sweet Bracken, Sweet-Fern, The Roman Plant, Sweets
Identification: A perennial with feathery leaves growing to 1m. In May and June it holds characteristic umbels of creamy white flowers, and it’s seeds ripen from July to August. This species is identifiable by it’s aniseed scent when crushed and usually the presence of white blotches on the leaves. It has a large, thick and hollow taproot. Sweet Cicely often grows in hedgerows, woodland and sometimes grassland.
Parts Used: Flower, Leaves, Seed & Root
Edibility & Nutrition: The leaves are excellent raw, adding a sweet aniseed flavour. When cooked, they work well combined with tart fruits to reduce acidity, and can therefore reduce the amount of sugar needed. Try a Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely crumble! The herb can be used as a sugar substitute by diabetics. Sweet Cicely is also a great addition to savoury dishes. The seeds, with a strong aniseed flavour are great raw when they are still green. The root can also apparently be eaten raw or cooked.
Growing & Harvesting: Sweet Cicely is a hardy plant noted for attracting wildlife. It can be grown in a range of soils, in partial shade or sun. It is also suited to container growing provided space for the taproot is given. The plant can produce leaves from early spring through to early winter – and if it is the leaves that are being harvested it is best to prevent the plant from flowering as they are less flavoursome when the plant is in flower.
Medicinal Actions: Antiseptic, Aromatic, Carminative, Expectorant, Stomachic
- The whole plant is useful for treating wind, as a gentle appetite stimulant, and for discomfort and griping in the stomach after meals. It gently warms the digestion, increasing nutrient absorption.
- An infusion can be taken to treat anaemia and as a general tonic.
- Sweet Cicely is also an uplifting nervine
- The herb has warming and drying qualities.
- It is said to be useful for people that are weak from exhaustion after caring for someone over a long period of time or recovering from chronic illness themselves.
History & Folklore: Sweet Cicely was associated with midsummer festivals at which, leaves were added to drinks – possibly to aid digestion of the fatty foods that were consumed. During the Great Plague the plant was used with Angelica (Angelica archangelica) to prevent infection. The latin name is derived from the Greek word for perfume as it has a myrrh-like smell.
Preparations: The unripe seeds can be picked and eaten on the go to settle the stomach. A Sweet Cicely aperatif/digestif can be made by steeping the seeds, leaves and stems in Vodka for a few days, then strained and allowed to age for a couple of months to stimulate a poor appetite and weak digestion as well as flatulence and indigestion.
Active Constituents: Volatile oils and flavonoids. The range of constituents hold similarity to Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) which may be why there is discussion around the plant having adaptogenic, stress relieving qualities.
Cautions: Aside from inaccurate identification of this plant leading to the use of other highly poisonous carrot family members, no contraindications have been found.
Bruton-Seal J & M (2008) Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books
The Eldrum Tree. Available at www.eldrumherbs.co.uk
Mrs Grieve’s Modern Online Herbal. Available at www.botanical.com
Plants For A Future (2012) Available from: www.pfaf.org.uk