My Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is starting to come up, lovely feathery, fern-like leaves that will have an umbel of frothy white flowers soon. The whole plant is aromatic, myrrhis meaning ‘smelling of myrrh’, and odorata meaning ‘fragrant’. Its folk names include British Myrrh or Wild Myrrh, as it is native to the British Isles.
It was used to scent furniture polish in the 16th and 17th centuries. You can make your own by gently macerated the seeds in beeswax over a low heat before straining. The flowers and leaves can be dried and added potpourri or added to incense to lift the spirits and impart joy and happiness to ceremonies, particularly Beltane and Midsummer.
Every part of the plant is edible. It has an aniseed-like taste, very pronounced in the unripe green seeds, which can be eaten raw or roasted as a snack.
However, the important thing about sweet cicely is that it is sweet! It can be used as a sugar substitute. The natural sweetness of the leaves has been used to reduce sugar in recipes, especially when stewing fruits such as rhubarb or gooseberries, as they also help reduce the acidity. They are calorie free and well tolerated by diabetics.
The stalks can be used much like celery, while the roots can be boiled or eaten raw. The raw leaves can be added to salads, even fruit salads. They can also be cooked into soups, stews and omelettes.
Medicinally, the plant is added to digestives and aperitifs to aid digestion and relieve flatulence. Sweet Cicely is famously used by Carthusian monks to make the liqueur, Chartreuse. Try making your own aperitif by steeping the unripe seeds in vodka or brandy for two months before straining.
© Anna Franklin, April 2021