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What is Sweet Cicely?

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  • Written By: Angie Johnson-Schmit
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2018
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Sweet Cicely most commonly refers to Myrrhis odorata, an herb that is native to several countries in Europe. The American and Asian relatives of the plant, also members of the Osmorhiza family, are sometimes called Sweet Cicely as well. This herb is non-toxic but is similar in appearance to some poisonous varieties of hemlock plants. The plant has been used for a variety of purposes, ranging from salad greens to furniture oil to purely decorative additions to flower beds.

Frequently found in herb gardens, the plant is a fragrant perennial that often attracts bees. The herb has small, white flowers and delicate leaves that resemble fern fronds. Sweet Cicely can grow to a size of 3 feet (about 94 cm) tall by 3 feet (about 94 cm) wide. The plant grows best in a shaded area with moist soil and good drainage, and does not tolerate heat well. While the herb can be grown from seed, the seeds typically need to be frozen and then thawed to properly germinate.

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The root, leaves, seeds, and flowers are considered edible and can be used in a variety of home recipes. Sweet Cicely is often described as tasting slightly sweet with a flavor similar to anise or licorice. The root can be cut, dried, and ground into a powder to be used as a fennel or caraway seed replacement, or fresh roots can be boiled or roasted like most other root vegetables. Also, the leaves can be used as a salad green. Seeds can be boiled and added to soups or sauces as well.

There are several other possible home and commercial uses of the plant. Oil extracted from the seeds has been used to make furniture polish. The plant can be dried and used as an addition to potpourri mixtures. Sweet Cicely leaves and roots can also be used to create flavored liquors and fruit cordials. Probably the most well known commercial use of the plant was by the Carthusian monks who used the herb in their famous liquor, Chartreuse.

Anethole, the essential oil found in Sweet Cicely, fennel, and star anise, is sometimes used in aromatherapy. Some folk remedies suggest the herb can be used to help ease stomach problems and flatulence. The roots of the plant are thought to be antiseptic and have been used as a natural remedy for insect bites and stings. Sweet Cicely has also been used to relieve dry coughs, as the herb is thought to loosen phlegm.

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