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Sweet cicely is a UK native, perennial wildflower and herb/vegetable. A vigorous and shade tolerant, yet extremely attractive plant, with heavily divided, fern-like foliage, topped in summer by beautiful, dense creamy umbels.
Traditionally it has been used as a herb, as the leaves have a lovely sweet aniseed flavour. Used as such it pairs particularly well with tart fruits, like rhubarb, making them taste much sweeter, so that less sugar is needed, or in savoury dishes which call for aniseed or Thai basil. However, it is a much more versatile plant than many traditional herbs.
The young, unfurling leaves, including the petiole (leaf stalk), make a delicious and more substantial vegetable. These make excellent tempura. The leaf stalks and flower stems can be candied, like Angelica, and used in baking.
The young roots, pealed and then cooked (I prefer to boil or par-boil and then roast) are excellent in Thai curries, where the aniseed flavour pairs well with the other flavours. The mature roots (which can get very large) have a stronger flavour, and can develop a thin woody core (which is quite easy to remove once cooked), but can be used as a flavouring in stews and curries.
And while the mature seeds are tough and fibrous, the immature seeds – which are produced in reasonable quantity and are quite large for a member of the carrot family – are soft, juicy and taste like liquorice.
N.B. The name ‘Sweet Cicely’ is also used for a group of plant in the Carrot Family (Apiaceae) belonging to the genus Osmorhiza and native to North America. Sadly we don’t grow any of these at the moment!