The Sweet Cicely plant
Updated: Apr 23
Sweet Cicely or Myrrhis odorata, also known as cicely, myrrh, garden myrrh, and sweet chervil, is a herbaceous perennial plant of the Apiaceae or celery family of plants. A lovely plant, it's leaves are most often used as a herb, but it also has aromatic roots, seeds, and flowers all which have a subtle anise flavour.
Sweet Cicely Identification
Cicley is a hardy perennial plant with a 90 cm (3 ft) height potential. It has fern-like leaves, strong, hollow stems, and clusters of tiny white flowers are produced from late spring to early summer. These are followed by aniseed-scented fruits or seeds. It features noticeable whitish specks or blotches on most (but not all) of its leaves, but its most identifying trait is the plant's pungent, aniseed flavour.
What does Sweet Cicely look like?
Form - Sweet cicely can reach heights of 3 to 6 feet. A taproot produces several thin branching stems that grow erect. The mature plant is similar to a fern.
Flowers - Sweet cicely contains flat clusters of tiny white blooms that open to form umbels approximately 6-7cm across. Flower clusters appear at the tips of 3 to 4 foot stems. After the flowers fade, elongated brownish black seed capsules appear.
Leaves - Sweet cicely has a silky, ferny appearance, with finely lobed or serrated leaflets that are bright green with whitish undersides. A central leafstalk and subordinate branches produce leaves. The secondary branches have deeply cut leaflets descending in size towards the tips, some say resembling a Christmas tree. The leafstalks wrap around the plant's stem.
Seeds - The seed pods are green and elongated with vertical ridges that when fully ripe, turn practically black.
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Sweet Cicely Season
March to October. Blooms appear late spring to mid-summer, the seeds appear from summer onwards.
Sweet Cicely look alikes
Cicely has a number of look alikes, some of which are extremely poisonous, so you have to real take care to identify this plant with a 100% confirmation. Those look alikes include:
Cow Parsley and Sweet Cicely have nearly identical leaves, with the leaves of Sweet Cicely being slightly softer to the touch. The flower bunches of Sweet Cicely are smaller than those of Cow Parsley, and the seeds are more elongated (turning black as they mature). Cow Parsley does not smell of aniseed.
Giant hogweed is a tall plant that looks like cow parsley when in flower. It has thick bristly stems that are typically purple-blotched. The lobed leaves form a jagged rosette. Giant Hogweeds contain chemicals that will blister the skin. They should not be touched and authorities notified if a crop of Giant Hogweed is found for proper removal.
Poison Hemlock has similar leaf structure and flower structure to Sweet Cicely, but it grows larger and has purple blotches on its stem, which Sweet Cicely does not have. Hemlock does not smell of aniseed. Do not confuse poison Hemlock for Sweet Cicely. It is very poisonous and will cause heart faliure.
All of these plants can be found growing in similar habitats, particulalry where it is damp and cool, so do be very careful if you choose to harvest sweet cicely and make sure that you are just picking up this sweet herb.
Where can you find Sweet Cicely?
This delicious little plant can be found hiding in part shade to sunshine, and can be found under hedgerows or in woodlands, by byways, field margins or by river banks. Although it can be found across the majority of the UK, it is most prevelant in the North of the country.
What is Sweet Cicely used for?
So what can you do with Sweet Cicely.. The uncooked leaves have a delicate feel and can be used in vegetable and fruit salads or dips or used in omelettes or salads. As a herb, it is used in the French bouquet of herbs known as 'fines herbes.' They can also be used to flavour soups and stews. In addition, cicely is also a natural sweetener, the inherent sweetness of the leaves has been utilised in recipes to reduce sugar, particularly when stewing acidic fruits. The root can be eaten as a vegetable and has a subtle aniseed flavour. It tastes great when roasted. Both ripe and unripe seeds can be eaten, though ripe ones have a richer flavour.
Sweet Cicely medicinal uses
Sweet cicely has long been used to create medication. It has been used to treat respiratory issues, urinary tract conditions, and a variety of other ailments. The seeds, when chewed, are supposed to aid with digestion and reduce flatulence. It can be eaten raw, cooked or brewed into a tea.
How to make Sweet Cicely tea
To make a 'relieving' sweet cicely tea you'll need dried and ground roots, perhaps a few dried seeds to if you have them. To make simply, brew two to three tsps of dried, ground root in 1 cup of hot water for ten to fifteen minutes. Once brewed enjoy.
Sweet Cicely Recipes
Sweet Cicely Ice Cream (no churn) Ingredients:
150g sweet cicely picked with green seed pods. You can use all green parts of the plant
1 lemon, zest (whole strips - use a vegetable peeler)
600ml double cream
397g can condensed milk
Place 100g of the sweet cicely in a large saucepan with the zest of 1 lemon, plus 4 tbsp milk. Simmer and cook for 6-8 mins until the sweet cicely smell fills your kitchen (do not allow to boil or cook dry). Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
When cool, strain the herbs and lemon from the milk and discard them. Very finely chop your remaining sweet cicely.
In a mixing bowl, combine the double cream and condensed milk. Whisk until thickened but not stiff, then add the sweet herby cooled milk, freshly chopped sweet cicely and fold in to combine. Pour into a freezer-proof container, cover with clingfilm and a lid and freeze for at least 6 hrs.
To serve, remove from the freezer 30 mins before serving - place it in the fridge to warm up a little. Perfect with rhubarb crumble.
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Blackcurrant and Sweet Cicely Compote
450ml sugar syrup (150g sugar and 300ml water boiled for 2 minutes)
6 sprigs of sweet cicely
Place all ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for just a minute (you want the blackcurrants to remain whole). Allow to cool and then remove the cicely sprigs. Great with yoghurt or with ice cream, and (don't knock it until you have tried it) a spoon full on some crunchy cheese on toast is wonderful.
Quick Sweet Cicely and Fennel seed biscuits
400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
8 dried sweet cicely seed pods, chopped
Tsp fennel seeds
200g unsalted butter, softened
200g golden caster sugar
1 large egg
Pinch of Salt
Heat the oven to 180 degrees, prepare a tin with baking parchment. Beat the butter with a mixer, then add the sugar and salt. Then the eggs and cicely and fennel seeds, mixing until a dough is formed. Roll out to a 3-4mm thickness. Cut into biscuits, whatever shape you like. If you have some leaves, try decorating each biscuit with a little leaf too, gently pressed into the middle of each biscuit.
Cook in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes until they are golden and the edges just beginning to brown. This biscuits are perfect with a coffee, dipped of course.
This most delicious of fine herbs has so many culinary uses, once you start to cook with it, you'll wonder how you ever got on without it. Its delicious and readily avilable, particulalry if you grow some in a shady patch in your own garden.
Do be aware that its 'look alikes' are some serious plants that have the potential to burn or even kill you, so as ever, if you are not 100% sure that the plant is what you think it is, do not eat it, in the case of giant hogweed or hemlock, don't even try to pick it.
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