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Sweet Cicely

( Originally Published 1933 )



Umbelliferae Perennial

The sweet cicely is native to the mountains of Savoy, and has become naturalized in England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Stem. The stems are hairy, marked with longitudinal lines, and are two to three feet high and one-quarter of an inch across.

Leaf. The leaves are fern-like, or tansy-like, much divided, each little division having its margins cut and being hairy.

Flower. The flowers are small, whitish, and polygamous in a strict compound umbel, two and one-half inches across, and with unequal rays of the typical umbelliferous flowers.

Seed. The seed is very long, about three-quarters of an inch, and narrow, strongly ribbed, and cleft.


Pliny referred to it, and Gerard mentioned it as did Parkinson, who said it gives a better taste to any other herb put with it. The root in wine was a remedy for spider bites, and also against the plague and pestilence. It is not grown much in the United States, nor is it mentioned by the early American writers.


The seeds, full of oil, have a pleasant taste and in olden times were crushed and used to scent and polish oaken floors and furniture. It had a certain vogue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was mentioned by Claude Mollet, but now is rarely cultivated in gardens.

Food. The seeds are eaten fresh and green, and are sliced and put with other herbs to give them a better taste. In Savoy the seeds are infused into certain brandies, especially in the elixir des Chartreuse (the liqueur of the Grande Chartreuse), and its use seems to have come down from the gardens of the ancient solitary monks. Boulestin and Hill say its leaves are faintly flavored of anise, and that it is too weak to be of much use in the kitchen, while Miss Bardswell says they taste of paregoric and were formerly put into the salads, and Sturtevant says it has fallen into disuse in Europe.


According to Burr's "Field and Garden Vegetables of America," the seeds should be sown in the autumn, as they germinate better if they have been frozen. Once established the seedlings will yield abundantly, and thrive in almost any soil or situation. Our seed came from England, but our plants died the first summer. They are said, how-ever, to be quite hardy.

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