Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata), not to be confused with American Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis), is a hardy perennial (zones 3-7) that emerges in early spring. The leaves have a beautiful fern like appearance followed by tiny white flowers in the summer. It can reach a height of 4-5 feet with a 2-3 foot spread. It prefers moist rich soil and partial shade, but can tolerate somewhat sunny areas.
This herb, once extremely common in European gardens, is definitely underutilized in North American gardens. Sweet Cicely has an anise like aroma which distinguishes itself from lookalikes Cow Parsnip and Poison Hemlock. The leaves, seeds and root have a sweet anise like flavor that can be used in a variety of ways in cooking. The leaves are a natural sweetener and can be used in recipes to cut in half the amount of sugar needed. This makes it great for use by Diabetics trying to cut back on their sugar intake. The fresh leaves can also be chopped and used in salads. The roots can be peeled, steamed and buttered, similar to parsnips or carrots. You can also eat the roots raw, peeled and sliced, served with vinaigrette.
Traditionally, Sweet Cicely has been used to stimulate the appetite and provide relief from flatulence and indigestion. It has also been used to help “lift the spirit”. Sweet Cicely is a good herb for the elderly who have lost their zest for live. It gives their spirits a boost and helps increase their appetite allowing them to enjoy their food more. This in turn helps in the absorption of important nutrients. It is also beneficial to people who are still weak after a long illness or someone who has been worn down from taking caring a loved one for an extended period of time. It helps restore their energy, slowly rebuilding their strength while revitalizing their entire system. Prepare Sweet Cicely as a tisane for relief from asthma, cough or chest complaints (non heart related). Sweet Cicely has been used as a general tonic herb.
Following are some recipes incorporating Sweet Cicely.
Sweet Cicely Apéritif –
To a quart jar, add enough macerated leaves and stems to fill halfway. Add vodka to within ¼ inch of top. Cover, shake and set in a dark location for one week, shaking every day or two. After one week, taste it to see if the flavor of the herb has infused sufficiently. If too weak, allow to steep longer. You may even add additional leaves & stems. If too strong, add additional vodka. When the aperitif has reached the desired flavor, strain off and store in a clean glass container. Place in a dark space at room temperature and allow to age for a few months. Serve before meals to increase appetite, after dinner to aid digestion (digestif) or as a tonic to relieve flatulence or lift your spirits.Strawberry Rhubarb & Sweet Cicely Pie
½ to 1 cup sugar (depending on taste)
1 TBLS finely chopped Sweet Cicely leaves
2 cups rhubarb chopped
2 cups strawberries
¼ cup Tapioca
1 ½ TBLS butter
Enough pastry for a 2 crust pie – use your favorite recipe or store bought. Preheat oven to 425°
Line the pie pan with one of the pie crust.
Mix the first five ingredients together in a bowl until the fruit is well coated.
Pour mixture into the pastry lined pie pan, dot with the butter and then cover with top crust. Make a few slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake until crust is nicely brown and juices bubble up through slits.