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Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is in the Umbelliferae family. It's a hardy perennial with a scent that's been compared to lovage and which has also been described as having a spicy flavor like licorice. Sweet cicely can be substituted for caraway seeds in baking. Press fresh sweet cicely leaves firmly into bluefish before grilling them, or grate the root and add it to quick breads and muffins. Anise can be substituted for sweet cicely.
Flowers are white, numerous, 2" across and are in compound umbels of 5 to 10 smaller umbels. Inner blooms are male and outer blooms are bisexual.
The leaves are fernlike, two or three times pinnately divided and in toothed or finely lobed leaflets. They are whitish, downy and spotted underneath. Leaf stalks wrap around the stem. The fruit is shiny, dark brown and the seeds are sharply ridged and to 1" long. The plant flowers in May and June and is native to Europe and naturalized in North America. It's hardy to Zone 3 and prefers moist, well-drained, humusy soil and partial shade.
Rodale writes: "Here's an herb that seems to have made it onto everyone's 'Most Often Overlooked' list, but not into very many gardens. Although some gardeners have found it difficult to propagate, it will reward the persistent with a beautiful ornamental form, a sweet anise taste and a few medicinal uses.
"Although the plant has been in use in cooking and medicine at least since Roman times, little seems to have been written about it. Indeed, the old herbalists spent most of their words in comparing it to other plants like hemlock, chervil, lovage and anise. It was used as a preventative in time of plague, as a tonic for young girls and old people, and as an aromatic, a stomachic, a carminative and an expectorate.
"Uses: Medicinal: Sweet cicely is employed in folk medicine in some parts of the world, but its uses have not been tested scientifically. It does seem to increase appetite and decrease flatulence, and we know that the roots are antiseptic. All seem to agree that it is harmless, which in a way seems to be damning it with faint praise."
"Culinary: Sweet cicely's flavor is a combination of celery and anise. The leaves of the plant are used fresh as garnishes, in salads or in recipes where a sweet touch is needed. The root is steamed, simmered or cooked and pureed like a parsnip, and the seeds are used in candy, syrups, cakes and liqueurs.
"Harvesting and storage: Harvest leaves throughout their growing season.
Plant parts are seldom dried."