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What is Cicely?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Cicely is an herb with a delicate, anise-like flavor which complements a wide range of dishes. In addition to being flavorful, Cicely is also ornamental, and some gardeners include it in their flower gardens as a large decorative plant. Dried Cicely is available in some markets, especially the seeds, and it is also easy to grow at home. Since Cicely is very cold tolerant, it is an excellent choice for cooler regions. It does not do well in warm or extremely humid climates.

The plant is also known as Myrrhis odorata, and is sometimes called garden or British myrrh. It is in the parsley family, along with a number of other plants which have the same slightly biting anise flavor. Like many of its relatives, Cicely is umbelliferous, with flowers forming large umbels of clustered blooms which sort of resemble umbrellas. The leaves of Cicely are feathery and fine, and when left unchecked the plant can grow to around three feet (one meter) in height.

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The fresh leaves can be used in assortment of foods, either as part of a base for dishes like soups and stews or as a garnish. Dried leaves are used much like dried parsley would be. The seeds have a higher concentration of flavor, and they may be included in a range of foods from curries to baked goods. Toasting the seeds beforehand can bring out the flavor even more, as will crushing them. As with all dried herbs, Cicely should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place when not in use.

The plant is very easy to grow, requiring rich, loamy soil with a neutral pH. It thrives in USDA zones three through eight, and has been known to grow in colder regions. The water needs of Cicely are average, and the plant requires minimal care as it grows. For gardeners who want to keep a stock of the leaves handy, the flowers should be pinched off periodically to encourage more growth.

Northern European cooks often use Cicely, since it grows in inhospitable climates. The plant appears to be native to Europe, and it appears in blends of fine herbs in numerous countries, especially Germany. Some cooks confuse it with chervil, another member of the parsley family with a similar flavor. Chervil, however, is more bitter than Cicely, which has a hint of sweetness that leads some cooks to call it Sweet Cicely.

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