A very hardy perennial that needs almost no care once established. Its one of
the first herbs to come up in the spring it flowers very early offering bees
and other beneficial insects a refuge when little else is flowering. Its wide
umbels of white flowers provide early interest to the garden when most other
plants are just thinking of starting to grow. Whether used in spots in a border,
tucked in a corner or planted in large drifts sweet cicely is a delight to the
Needs full sun and a good moist rich soil but will then produce leaves from later winter until shut down by a killing frost. Hardy to zone 3 its leaves have a wonderful anise aroma and are edible and sweet. It makes an excellent sugar replacement and is well tolerated by diabetics.
Description of Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
Sweet cicely is a tough perennial herb with interesting fern like foliage. It sprouts very early in spring forming a erratic clump of delicate leaves. These are mid green up to 20 inches (50 cm) long finely divided and sparsely downy on the underside the stiff central stalk is covered in fine whitish hairs giving the whole a silky like appearance and texture. In early to mid spring the plant puts up tall stiff stems that can reach 2-3' (60-94 cm) in height. Stems are topped by a flat compound umbel that is made up of numerous smaller umbellets like tiny bursting stars of tiny white flowers. Each flower consists of 5 separate petals but some flowers, usually those on the outside of the umbel can be larger than the ones in the center. Each flower has 5 long stamens and anthers both of which begin life as white but the anthers turn gray as the pollen matures.
Plants bloom in mid to late spring, much earlier than most other plants in this family. The flowers are followed by unusually large seed pods up to 1" long (2.5 cm) dark brown and glossy. The leaves have a strong aroma of anise, mixed with licorice or lovage. The leaves are very sweet anise flavor often described as if sugar has been added to them. The seeds are also highly aromatic far more so than the leaves. The roots are large and thick often burrowing quite deeply into the ground and allowing the plant to survive cold winters and some drought.
Growing Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) from Seed.
Sweet cicely seeds are a little more difficult than many seeds to grow, they need a period of moist cold before they will germinate. Keep the seeds in the refrigerator until you are ready to sow them then choose one of our stratification methods to sow the seeds. Best sown in fall to early winter and left in seed trays overwinter to stratify.
Come spring move trays to where ever you normally start you seeds and treat as any other tray. DO NOT use bottom heat, sweet cicely does not like heat and will germinate best at cooler temperatures.
Once seedlings are large enough to handle repot into their own containers and grow on while hardening off. Sweet cicely grows a large taproot so it does not like to be move once located. Check on your small pots for roots emerging from the bottom, transplant when you first see roots appearing. Make sure that the soil and root ball are removed from the pot in one piece and that the roots are not disturbed. This will ensure that the plant gets the best possible start.
How were your seeds stored before you got them?
Many sources state that fresh sweet cicely seeds are required to obtain germination. This is certainly true if your seed has not been correctly cared for before you purchase it. If left out at room temperature or in a seed packet rack Sweet cicely seed soon looses its viability. However if the seed is collected and immediately stored at cool temperatures it will stay viable for much longer periods. All our seed is collected and stored at approx 34°F (1° C) until it is shipped to you. We recommend that you immediately transfer your seed to the refrigerator until such time as you wish to sow the seed to ensure it remains as fresh as possible.
Location and Care of Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
Sweet cicely does very well in full sun but can tolerate some shade and in warmer zones (8 -9) it is recommended as this is a plant more used to colder climates. Shade from full noon sun if possible planting on the north side of hedges, houses or building is ideal for such warm zones. Pick an area where it will receive some breeze to help cool it.
In all other zones full sun to edge shading is recommended. Space plants at least 2 feet (60 cm) apart.
Sweet cicely grows a large thick taproot which does not like to be moved so
choose the location of your plants well. Tap roots have been know to extend
several feet into the ground once established so it may not be an easy plant
Sweet cicely does best in rich loamy soils. If your soil is clay or poor dig in plenty of well rotted compost and other well rotted organic materials before planting. Top dress the plants yearly and feed with a good organic fertilizer at least three times during the season to ensure the best results. This plant is not recommended for those with shallow soils over rock as there will not be enough room for the taproot to grow.
If plant is grown for harvesting add plenty of nitrogen to encourage leaf formation and inhibit flowering.
Water. The soil need to be slightly moist at all times. Sweet Cicely will not easily tolerate dry soils. Ensuring that there is plenty of organic material in the soil will help with moisture retention. Laying a soaker hose around the plants allows them to be watered easily and quickly with little effort. Water with such a hose for about 30 minutes 2-3 times per week depending on rainfall amounts. More will be needed in drought conditions.
Plants are hardy to about -4°F (20°C). In zones where temperatures may fall lower than this mulch plants well in fall to ensure they overwinter. This can be zones 6-3 depending on location and yearly weather.
Harvesting Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
Leaves can be harvested throughout the year, and will produce new leaves throughout most of the year. However it is not recommended that first year plants be harvested until the fall to allow them to establish themselves first. Leaves tend to wilt quickly so harvesting just before use is considered preferable. If leaves are the desired harvest it is best to prevent the plant flowering as the leaves loose their flavor once the flowers bloom. Leave can be dried for later use, but ensure that such leaves come from early in the season not close to flowering to ensure the highest flavor content.
Seeds. Can be either harvested when still slightly green and allowed to ripen indoors or wait until the pods are brown. Harvest the whole stem especially when green so the stems can be bunched for further drying. Once totally dry seeds can be stored in airtight containers in a dark cool dry place.
Roots. Best dug in late fall, but can be dug at most times of the year if necessary. Choose older plants at least 2-3 years before digging roots to ensure suitable size. Be aware that they can go deep and digging them is not an easy task.
Culinary Uses of Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
Leaves: Sweet Cicely leaves are wonderful in the kitchen. They function extremely well as a sugar saver, and since they have no calories are an excellent alternative to sugar. They are well tolerated by diabetics. They can be eaten raw in salads and the stalks make an excellent substitute for celery. They can be cooked either alone or along with other vegetables, added to soups, stews or other dishes. They can also be used with fruits and helps to reduce not only the amount of sugar required but helps to lower the acidity of the fruits. This is especially useful in things like rhubarb, red currants and gooseberries.
Seeds. Can be used whole, roasted or ground. Fresh tender unripe seeds can be eaten like sweet candy directly from the bush. Seeds can be added to all kinds of dishes, added to salads, ice cream, custards including baked goods and especially fruit pies where the addition of a anise taste is very desirable. When used in baking the amount of sugar required can be lowered.
Roots. Young tender roots can be boiled and mixed with vegetables or used like parsnips or added to salads.
Medical uses of Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
The anise flavor makes it useful as a gentle stomach stimulant especially in treating flatulence and to stimulate flagging appetite. It is also used for persistent coughs and other mild pulmonary ailments. Externally it was applied to snake and dog bites as an antiseptic. An ointment made from the roots has been used to ease gout and soothe wounds. Overall it was used as a general tonic and mild laxative.
Other uses of Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
The fresh leaves rubbed onto wood make a very good polish especially for oak. Sweet Cicely is famously used by Carthusian monks to make the liqueur, Chartreuse.
DON'T FORAGE FOR THIS PLANT.
While Sweet Cicely is a lovely plant with many uses there are lots of other plants that look very similar but don't have the same properties. Two other plants originally classified in the Myrrhis genus Myrrhis longistylis and Myrrhis claytonii have since been moved to the Osmorhiza genus. Neither of these plants have the fern like foliage or sweet flavoring of the leaves that Sweet Cicely (M. odorata) have but the flowers are very similar only differing in the number of florettes in each umbel.
However plants like Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) does have very similar fern like foliage and can often be found growing in similar locations to sweet cicely. Without a good deal of training and experience it can be very easy to mistake this or one of the other dozens of similar fern leafed white umbel flowering plants for Sweet Cicely. Never attempt to collect this or any other similar plant from the wild unless accompanied by an botanical expert.
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Sweet Cicely plant
Sweet Cicely leaf
Myrrhis odorata flowers