Sweet Cicely






Sweet Cicely
Myrrhis odorata

Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Myrrhis
Species:  odorata

Synonyms and Common names: Garden Myrrh, 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

Description and Habitat: 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, a herb, or boiled, where 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, lacy leaf, with a simple wing curving up from each side of its root. The stem grows from two to three feet high, bearing many leaves.

White flowers appear 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 being an inch long, dark brown, and fully flavoured.  The leaves taste as if sugar had been sprinkled over them.

Found in mountain pastures from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus. I  Britain, in hilly districts of Wales, Northern England and Scotland.   Partial shade to full shade and moisture-retentive, but well-draining humusy soil is best.  Is long-lived, grows large. And has a long taproot, making transplanting somewhat difficult.

Parts used: The whole plant and seeds.

Harvesting: Harvest young leaves and stems for culinary use at any time; leaves wilt quickly so pick them just before use.

Sweet Cicely leaves are best when fresh, as they do not dry well and lose some of their flavours when frozen.

Harvest seed heads while the seeds are still green and unripe.  Collect seed heads with a small portion of stem attached and hang upside down by the stems to dry. Store dry seeds in an airtight container.

Dig root as required, although this is not an easy task, as the roots are quite deep.

Constituents: Volatile oil, flavonoids.

Actions: Antiseptic, blood purifier, carminative, digestive aid, expectorant.

Indications: Coughs, colds, flatulence, digestive disorders, indigestions, lack of appetite.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: The root has a sweetish taste. By decoction is a mild stimulating and relaxing antispasmodic, influencing the mucous membrane and is valuable in cough syrups as an expectorant. It influences the gastric and intestinal mucous membrane and relieves flatulence, especially if combined with a small portion of Zingibe (ginger)  The herb in an infusion has similar properties.

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.

Contraindications: There are no known health hazards associated with sweet cicely.

Preparation and Dosage:  Infusion for aerial parts of the herb, drink three times a day.

Decoction is used for the roots, a teaspoonful three times a day.

Tincture 3-4 drops taken in water three times a day.

Culinary uses - Add fresh leaves to salads, soups, and stews, but don't include in highly seasoned dishes, as sweet cicely's delicate flavour is easily lost.

Cook the sweet-tasting leaves with sour fruits such as rhubarb or gooseberries, and cut back on the sugar you usually add for sweetening.

Use fresh leaves and green seeds as a substitute for sugar in fruit conserves.

Add chopped, unripe seeds to salads, or use them to flavour whipped cream or ice cream.

Include whole ripe seeds in biscuits, cakes, and fruit pies, especially apple pies, where they may be substituted for cloves. When using Sweet Cicely seeds in baking, you should plan on decreasing the amount of sugar called for in your recipe.

Eat the seeds as you would sweets.

Toss peeled chopped roots in oil and vinegar and serve as a tasty side salad.

Cook fresh roots and serve as you would your favourite recipe for parsnips.

Add roots to flavour soups and stews.

Additional Comments & Folklore:
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.'

Sweet Cicely has been 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 to prevent infection.  The Latin name is derived from the Greek word for perfume as it has a myrrh like smell.

Sweet Cicely was associated with midsummer festivals at which, leaves were added.