Beautiful, delicious, easy to grow and fantastic for pollinators. What’s not to love about Sweet Cicely?
Common names: It has a few! Sweet Cicely, Cicely, Sweet Bracken, Garden yrrh, Great Chervil, Sweet Chervil, Shepherd’s Needle, Myrrh, Sweet-Scented Myrrh, British myrrh, Sweet fern, Sweet Mary and no doubt a few others…
Not to be confused with: Myrrh – the gum/resin that’s extracted from thorny Commiphora plants and used for incense, perfume, medicine.
Officially: Myrrhis odorata
Likes: Sun or part shade and moist, well-drained soil (but it’s not a fussy plant)
Provides: Food for pollinators; sweet leaves and seedpods, edible roots and stalks; great aroma, beauty
Category: Perennial herb
Why grow it
Sweet Cicely is a stunning, tall perennial herb growing up to three-foot high in Summer. It produces an abundance of tiny white flowers in broad bunches, surrounded by wispy feathery foliage. It has a delicious aniseed aroma and an equally wonderful taste and its also a wonderful plant for encouraging beneficial insects to your patch.
You can eat it all
You can eat all of Sweet Cicely – the leaves, the roots, the stalks and the seedpods. The whole thing.
Pick and eat the leaves and the seedpods straight from the plant to nibble throughout the summer. They’re delicious – one of our favourites!
The leaves and pods are equally good prepared as a tea or you can cook the leaves and use them like spinach. You can also dig up the roots in late autumn/winter to use as a vegetable (boiled) or raw (in salads). and you can use the stalks, steamed, as a celery substitute.
As for things we’ve not tried, we hear that Sweet Cicely can make a good wine and that it’s been used to make the liqueur Chartreuse (the world’s only naturally green liqueur). And as if all of this weren’t enough, you can use Sweet Cicely leaves as a wood polish, simply rubbing the leaves on wood then rubbing off the green to leave a good polish and a great aroma. We’ve not tried any of these, although it’s probably only a matter of time…
Beauty and benefits
Sweet Cicely is an elegant plant. Tall, delicate but bold, its large clumps of tiny white flowers contrast nicely with the feathery, mid-green foliage. It is as suited to a flower border as a herb garden.
At Patch of the Planet we especially love plants that support the garden system as well as the eye and the stomach. And Sweet Cicely ticks that box too. As an umbellifer it’s a precious nectar source for some of nature’s great pest predators – the lacewings, ladybirds, hoverflies and parasitic wasps that control garden pests.
How to grow Sweet Cicely
Sweet Cicely is not a fussy plant. It’s happy in sun or part-shade, and in acid, alkaline or neutral soil. It likes moist soil and sheltered spots but it will tolerate a lot. It’s very easy to grow from seed, in situ or in a pot and then transplanted. Once established, you can also propagate it by dividing it in Spring or Autumn.
Cut it back in the late Autumn or early winter once it’s died for the year, or just leave it to die back of its own accord, as we do. If you cut it, allow some long stems to stay in place as they provide an important over-wintering habitat for ladybirds and valuable garden insects.
You can find out a little more about Sweet Cicely at the ever-wonderful Plants for a Future web site.
By Neil Kingsnorth