The sweet cicely is an easy-care herb and medicinal plant that looks very attractive even in a perennial bed. This is how you plant and care for it.
Profile of sweet cicely:
Scientific name: Myrrhis odorata
Plant family: umbellifer family (Apiaceae)
Other names: cicely, myrrh, garden myrrh, sweet chervil
Sowing time: autumn
Planting time: spring or autumn
Flowering period: April to June
Harvest time: leaves: early spring to autumn; fruits: after ripening; roots: autumn
Location: partially shady
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, calcipholous, nutrient rich, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use as a medicinal herb: coughs, stomach aches
Use as spice herb: dips, salads, soups, fish, tea, bread seasoning, stews
Use in: single position, group planting, planters, underplanting, apothecary garden, flower garden, herbal garden, natural garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-26 °C / -15 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of sweet cicely
Plant order, origin and occurrence of sweet cicely
The sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) originally comes from the central mountainous regions of Central and Southern Europe. There, it grows on tall herbaceous vegetation, at forest edges and in alluvial forests. In the meantime, however, the plant is much more widespread in nature. The sweet cicely also known as garden myrrh or sweet chervil is the only species of the plant genus myrrhis from the large plant family of umbellifers (Apiaceae). It is related for example to parsley, carrot or chervil. Its species name “odorata” means fragrant. The whole plant has a pleasant aniseed scent.
Characteristics of sweet cicely
The sweet cicely grows as a persistent perennial with a long taproot and upright shoots. It sprouts very early in the year and remains green until well into autumn. It grows to a height of 50 to 60 centimeters (20 to 24 in), and can reach a height of 100 centimeters (40 in) when flowering.
The fern-like, double- to triple-feathered foliage is light green and, like the leaf stalks and sheaths of the sweet cicely, has soft, downy hairs. The leaf edges are serrated and the leaves sit alternately on the shoot. The light foliage color is especially effective against a background of dark hedges.
The double flower umbels of sweet cicely bear 4 to 20 rays with numerous very fine, white single flowers. These appear from the end of April to June. They are often visited by bees, bumblebees and butterflies and are considered good nectar donors. Each individual flower has four petals, which are inverted heart-shaped. Within an umbel, the petals of the outer flowers are somewhat larger. There are umbels with hermaphroditic flowers on the inflorescences and those with only male flowers.
The elongated, initially pale green and when ripe dark brown shiny schizocarp fruits of the sweet cicely are about 2 to 2.5 centimeters long and ribbed. They ripen in early autumn.
Sweet cicely – cultivation and care
The sweet cicely likes to grow in partially shady areas, for example under deciduous shrubs or in front of hedges. In the garden, it is therefore best placed in a shrub bed. This is where its decorative qualities are best shown to advantage from early spring to the first frost. However, it should be easily accessible to harvest leaves and fruits. You can also integrate the herb into a herb spiral or let it grow for a while in a pot on the balcony. For this, however, you should use a rather tall plant container so that the taproot has enough space to grow.
The sweet cicely likes fresh to moist soils, which should be rather humusy and calcareous.
Where the sweet cicely is planted, it should also be able to remain standing for a longer period of time, as transplanting is rather difficult later on due to the long taproot of the plants. Seedlings on the other hand can still be transplanted easily.
Since the sweet cicely is very easy-care, one hardly has trouble with it. It is frost hardy and can survive even longer periods of drought without damage due to its long taproot. When the above-ground parts die in late autumn, they can easily be plucked from the plant base. Where the plant seeds itself too much, surplus seedlings are pulled out of the bed in spring.
Due to the long tap root, it is not possible to divide older sweet cicely plants.
The sweet cicely usually propagates by self-sowing. Nevertheless, the plant does not become annoying, because the large and relatively heavy seeds usually germinate only in the area around the mother plant. If you want to propagate the plant in a targeted manner, you should know that the seeds need cold to germ. The seeds need a longer cold period after ripening to become germinable. It is best to sow the harvested seeds already in autumn in pots with a sandy soil mixture and then winter them outdoors in a place protected from wind and too much moisture.
Diseases and pests
The robust herb is not attacked by snails, aphids or other pests. In this respect, the sweet cicely is also a very easy-care garden plant.
Sweet cicely have a high frost tolerance and are hardy down to -26 °C / -15 °F. The plant loses its leaves towards autumn and survives in the soil until the next growing season. From the end of March to April the plant usually sprouts again.
Harvesting and use in the kitchen
Fresh leaves from the sweet cicely can be harvested from early spring to autumn and used for herb dips, salads, soups and fish dishes. The plant is also popular as a tea plant. The young, still soft fruit settings taste particularly aromatic and sweet with aniseed. You can eat them from the plants or use them to refine fruit salads. The ripe seeds of the sweet cicely can be stored and finely crushed and used as a bread seasoning, for example. In autumn, you can dig up individual roots and use them, peeled and sliced, for stews or even soaked in alcohol.
- Leaves: as a sweet spice for fish, as an addition to vegetable pans or as a tea herb
- Flowers: go well with baked, cold or cooked desserts
- Seeds: are used as a spice for breads, fruit quark, fruit salads or also for soups and sauces
- Roots: can be cooked as vegetables or made into liqueurs
Use as a medicinal plant
The healthy ingredients of the sweet cicely are mainly essential oils such as anethole, limonene or tarragol. In naturopathy, the extracts from the plant are used to treat coughs and stomach aches. In addition, the sweet cicely is also said to have a blood-purifying effect. Its consumption is appetite-stimulating and digestive. Myrrhis odorata is also said to have an antibacterial effect.
Use in the garden
The sweet cicely has an intense scent and presents itself as an unusual decoration for the perennial garden. Also in a herb bed the plant finds a suitable place. With its strong aniseed scent, the perennial can be used as a spice. The taste of this wild plant reminds many of liquorice. In a vase, the inflorescences of this species of plant will delight you with their spicy bouquet and delicate appearance.
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