Sweet cicely offers many sensual pleasures to the forager.
There is an ampleness and generosity in her growth that is pleasing to the eye – seldom taller than a metre or so, but always appearing substantial without being solid. The leaves look bright and lacy and feel soft to the touch, while umbels of tiny cream inflorescences float above. Even the scent is ephemeral – leaves sometimes seem noticeably sweet and aniseedy without being touched, but fade quickly after picking. This is not a plant to keep hanging about in your fridge, but that is unlikely to happen. Its not surprising that this delicious and beautiful plant has such a close association with human settlement – read more about its history and folklore here.
Identification: Despite being a member of the potentially dangerous carrot (apiaceae) family, sweet cicely is easily identified by its sweet aniseed smell and the splashes of white on its soft, finely haired leaves. Do make absolutely sure of these though – hemlock and hemlock water-dropwort (both potentially deadly) share similar leaf structures.
Edibile Parts: Leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and roots – all delicious, with a scent and flavour of sweet aniseed. Roots are pungent and should not be dug up with out the landowner’s permission, and even then only where the plant is abundant.
UK Distribution: Not uncommon in Northern England and Scotland. Mostly absent in Southern England, other than in gardens and as an occasional garden escapee.
Season: March – October, Flowers and seeds May/June
Habitat: Moist hedgerows, field edges, roadsides, stream sides. Often found near human habitation – its sweetness was highly valued when sugar was not widely available.
Infuses very well into spirit, sugar syrup, vinegar and through rapid infusion. Tinctures in an atomiser make a great mist for cocktails. Stems and leaves can be hand-juiced. Can be used to make a “champagne” in the same manner as elderflowers or meadowsweet blossoms. Green seeds make a great anise nibble, on the side. Hollow stems make excellent straws, imparting delicate anise flavours to anything drunk through them. One of The Botanist #22 Islay Botanicals
Sweet aniseed, light and floral, becoming deep & resonant in tincture, with more bass-notes
Works well with Japanese knotweed, blackberries, hogweed, apple