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Sweet Cicely

Myrrhis odorata

  • Name also: Anise Cicely, Anise Chervil, Spanish Chervil, Sweet Chervil, Garden Myrrh
  • Latin synonym: Chaerophyllum odoratum
  • Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 70–200 cm (30–80 in.). Stem sparsely branched, round, grooved, especially joints soft-haired, hollow, with septa. With pleasant fragrance.
  • Flower: Corolla regular, white, approx. 4–9 mm (0.16–0.36 in.) wide (outer corollas irregular and larger); petals 5, notched, tip recurved. Calyx vestigial. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a compound umbel, secondary umbels 5–20. Primary umbel lacking bracts, secondary umbels with 5(–7) different size, long-tapered bracteoles with hairy edges.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, base sheath-like. Blade triangular, 2–3 times pinnate, finely haired. Secondary leaflets with serrated margins.
  • Fruit: Elliptic, with flattish sides, 2-sectioned, with sharp, high ridges, tip with bristle hairs, shiny black when ripe, 15–25 mm (0.6–1 in.) long schizocarp.
  • Habitat: Culinary herb, sometimes wild, gardens, parks, yards, pastures, broad-leaved forests.
  • Flowering time: (May–)June–August.

Sweet cicely is one of the longest cultivated useful plants in Finland. At the time when the plant began to be cultivated “Germany” referred to any foreign country for the Finns, so it was attached to this plant from overseas. Sweet cicely was cultivated during the age of utilitarianism in western Finland, which was at that time part of Sweden – it was not cultivated in the eastern part of Finland, which Russia ruled. Sweet cicely’s old area of cultivation stretches from the southern coastal region, where the border was, inland to old inhabited areas. Mansions and parsonages tried to lead by example by growing useful plants, and it is worthwhile looking for plants that have survived in their old, abandoned gardens. It has a lovely fragrance and is ornamental, so there is room for it in contemporary gardens too. Sweet cicely is not only used in the kitchen, it also has medicinal properties, increases the flow of milk in animals, and yields a yellow dye.

Sweet cicely’s habit of forming pure, wide stands makes it stand out. At first glance it can be mistaken for an unusually large representative of its more common relative cow parsley, but it is easy to tell the species apart by their fragrance: cow parsley is nothing special but sweet cicely’s is very pleasant, like aniseed. It can also be identified by the soft down on its leaves. It gets less hairy towards autumn, but at the same time it produces shiny black schizocarps up to a couple of centimetres in diameter. Most sweet cicely flowers are pollen-producing staminate flowers, so the fruit never develops very much.

Other species from the same family

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