Spring Herb: Cicely {Myrrhis odorata}

Also, Known As:

  • Anise Fern
  • British Myrrh
  • Cicely
  • Cow Chervil
  • Garden Myrrh
  • Shepherd’s Needle
  • Smooth Cicely
  • Sweet Bracken
  • Sweet Chervil
  • Sweet Cicely
  • Sweet Myrrh

The plant called the sweet cicely is a hardy and robust herb. The cicely is an aromatic perennial herb indigenous to the mountainous areas of Europe and Asian Russia – growing originally only in these regions. The cicely when fully mature can reach 0.6 to 0.9 m or 2 to 3 feet in height. Sweet cicely is one of the first herbs that come up when spring arrives; the sweet cicely is a pretty plant and makes a beautiful backdrop to a perennial border in mountainous regions where it grows.

Sweet-CicelyIn older times, people would usually grow this old cottage garden perennial at a site near the door to the kitchen. The site would be chosen so that the pretty divided fern-like leaves could be easily accessed and at hand for use in sweetening the tart fruit. The cicely herb possesses a graceful and airy appearance. Moreover, it is capable of resisting the cold weather normally seen in mountainous regions and often begins to grow immediately towards the end of winter and blooms in the spring time. Cicely also puts forth flowers early in the year and these open as soon as spring arrives. Due to the early opening of the cicely flowers, cicely attracts a lot of animals. The flowers of the plant are one of the first flowers available to nectar loving insects in the mountains. Young growth in the cicely can be induced and encouraged by cutting or trimming down the exhausted flower stems in the summer. At the same time, these can be left on the plant to ripen the seeds – the seeds can be used whole in fruit dishes of many kinds during the summer or ground down into a fine powder to be used as a spice for seasoning different dishes.

The cicely bears soft and silky leaves. The leaves of the herb which also resemble the leaves of the fern are pale green in color and are white on the undersides – this becomes purple in the fall. Cicely leaves are also marked by possessing a distinctive sugary taste and a slight hint of licorice. The leaves of the cicely also possess a fragrance that can be said to be similar to the fragrance of the anise herb. The stems of the sweet cicely are hollowed out internally with furrows on the external surface. The root is large and thickened, often growing very deep into the ground. The floral bloom is followed eventually by the appearance of cicely seeds, each of these seeds are about two cm or approximately ¾ of an inch in length. The seeds are borne upright on the plant following the floral bloom. The seeds possess a stronger flavor of licorice than the leaves, the scent of the leaves of also much more powerful than the fragrance of the leaves. The seeds of the sweet cicely turn a shiny dark brown when they ripen. In the floral blooms that are most profuse during May and June, the sweet cicely gives off large clusters of small, whitish, sweet-scented flowers that resemble the flowers of the Queen Anne’s lace plant. The sweet cicely is a very useful plant, and the stems, the leaves, the roots, and the seeds are all edible.

Plant Parts Used:

Leaves, roots, seeds, stems.

cicely-flowers-img-678x381Remedy Suggestion Use:

Sweet cicely remedy was employed as a general tonic in traditional herbal medicine; it was also used as a mild herbal laxative, and to stimulate flagging appetite. The pulmonary system was also believed to be strengthened by drinking the remedy made with sweet cicely.

The entire plant possesses beneficial effects; the remedy made from the plant is aromatic and has carminative, expectorant actions relieving stomach problems of all kinds. The sweet cicely remedy is useful as a mild stimulant for problems affecting the stomach as well as in treating problems like persistent coughs and flatulence. Snake and dog bites can be treated using the antiseptic decoction made from the root – this solution can be used as a first aid treatment for such injuries. Problems like gout and external wounds can be soothed down on the application of an ointment made from the roots of the sweet cicely.

CULINARY USES

The freshly plucked cicely leaves can be added to salads and soups, as well as made into stews. The delicate flavor of the cicely is appealing to the taste, however, including the leaves in highly seasoned dishes may not be useful as the delicate flavor and aroma of the sweet cicely’s is easily drowned out by other strong spices. Sweet tasting cicely leaves can be used as a substitute for sugar and the sweet tasting leaves can be cooked with sour fruits like the rhubarb or some gooseberries, this helps in cutting back on sugar normally used for sweetening sour or bitter fruit and vegetable dishes. The freshly plucked tender sweet cicely leaves or the green seeds are an excellent substitute for sugar in the manufacture of fruit conserves like jams and marmalades. The raw seeds of the sweet cicely can be chopped or diced and added to salads, or used in flavoring whipped cream or ice cream made at home.
The ripened whole seeds can be added to baked foods such as cookies, all kinds of cakes, and to fruit pies, particularly apple pies. In theses baked items, the seeds can be substituted for cloves. The amount of sugar given in the recipe can be progressively lowered whenever sweet cicely seeds are used in baking. The cicely seeds can also be roasted and eaten similar to how candy is eaten. A tasty side salad dish can be made from the peeled and chopped roots mixed with some oil and vinegar. Parsnips can be replaced by cooked fresh cicely roots and served at the table in the same manner. All kinds of soups and stews can be flavored using the roots of the sweet cicely.

CRAFT USES

Dried cicely flowers are fragrant and sweet-smelling and make a good addition to potpourris at home.

Habitat of Cicely:

sweet cic aniserootThe kind of soils in which the sweet cicely grows best is deep and well formed loamy soils rich in humus and nutrients. When planting the sweet cicely, the soil at the site must be dug deeply to accommodate the long taproot of the plant, the soil at the site must also be kept moist at all times. When cultivating the plants, the site must be fertilized by additions of a cm or up to half an inch of farm compost or manure each spring to allow proper growth. The sweet cicely grows optimally at a recommended pH range from 5.5 to 6.5 – thus, the plant prefers slightly acidic soils.
Cicely grows very well in full sun as well as in a shade. Seeds should be sown while they are still fresh, no deeper than 1/4 inch (6 mm) in late summer. Seeds germinate best in the winter months after freezing.
Sweet cicely plants can also be propagated using the root division method when seeds are in short supply. Each section of the upper root must contain an eye to ensuring that new growth is given off when planting. The roots are usually divided in the spring and planted at the site immediately.
When planting cicely at a site, each of the plants is ideally spaced 0.6 m or 2 feet apart from the nearest plant. When sweet cicely is mature, it usually self-seeds around the base and puts off new growth at the original site. To prevent such new growth from choking up the site, simply remove all the fruiting stalks before the seeds have a chance to ripen and self-sow. A plentiful supply of leaves is best assured by removing flowers immediately following the floral bloom in spring. The sweet cicely is a hardy plant and is normally very resistant to common plant pest and to plant diseases or infections.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

The use of herbal sweet cicely remedy does not usually produce any side effects in the person using it, and till date, no known health hazards significant or otherwise are associated with the use of herbal sweet cicely remedies. At the same time, the numbers of clinical research conducted on the safety aspects of this herb have been few and far between. The best option is to use remedies made from sweet cicely in a moderate dose, till more is known through research.

Harvesting Cicely:

The tender stems and leaves can be harvested at any time for culinary use. The leaves are ideally plucked just before they are used in the dish as they tend to wilt very quickly. The leaves of the sweet cicely do not dry very well and tend to become tasteless when frozen over a long period of time, therefore, it is best to use the leaves fresh and as soon as they are plucked. The seed heads must be harvested while the seeds are still green and unripe on the stem. Ideally, the seed heads must be collected from the plants with a small portion of stem still attached to them. The seed heads can be hung upside down by the stems when drying. Once the seed is dried, they must be stored in an airtight container and kept in a place with minimum moisture. The sweet cicely roots can be dug up from the ground and used whenever required, as the roots of the plant tend to go very deep into the soul, this digging out of roots may not be an easy task. The dried flowers can be included in potpourris mixed with other flowers from different plants.