Lacy green patches of Sweet Cicely graced almost every traditional Victorian garden in Europe. This shade tolerant perennial was one of the first to emerge for honeybees in the spring and the last to lose its cheerful display of blossoms in the fall. The Victorian gardener was happy to have Sweet Cicely for its taste and medicinal value as well.
This hardy herb has a delicate anise flavor that sweetens acidic foods like currents or rhubarb. The leaves, root and unripened seed pods are delightfully flavorful, which has earned this garden staple the nickname “Grandma’s Candy.” Sweet Cicely allowed children to nibble their way through the garden all summer.
Chefs stirred this plant into the cook pot with cabbage because it reduces intestinal gas along with refreshing the flavor of the meal. Sweet Cicely’s secret is an essential oil called anethole. This is the same chemical you can smell and taste in both fennel and star anise. Anethole works to sooth the digestive tract and reduce inflammation.
Sweet Cicely’s taste makes it an excellent choice for dieters and diabetics. The dried leaves may be tossed into tea as a natural sweeter that doubles as a digestive aid. The root can be nibbled either raw or dried to suspend sugar cravings.
By a happy coincidence, North America has another member of the carrot family with a striking similarity in flavor and medicinal use. It’s called Western Sweet Cicely. This little treasure also enjoys shaded, moist soil and gives off the same tell-tale anise scent which betrays the presence of anethole. Western Sweet Cicely has an added bonus of offering mild anti-fungal relief to those with yeast infections. Either version of Sweet Cicely deserves a respectful corner in the modern garden and a place of honor in our medicine cabinets.
Author – Sue Sierralupe
Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website
Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”