Sweet cicely: flower, care & uses of Myrrhis odorata

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

Sweet cicely can be used in a fragrance and herb garden, but also simply as a decorative perennial in the garden. It is also very popular with bees.

White flowering sweet cicely plant
In Europe, sweet cicely grows naturally in the wild, but it can also be planted in the garden [Photo: Danny Hummel/ Shutterstock.com]

If you like licorice and anise, you will love sweet cicely. It smells very aromatic and tastes like the popular candy. We reveal everything about proper handling of the plant and give tips for its use in the kitchen.

Sweet cicely: origin and properties

The cicely (Myrrhis) genus includes only one species, namely sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). It belongs to the umbelliferous family (Apiaceae) and is also known as myrrh chervil or Spanish chervil. This wild plant, native to our region, used to grow in the mountains but is now widespread throughout Europe and is even found in Chile. It can reach heights of up to 2 metres, but usually remains smaller. The perennial herbaceous plant bears white flowers arranged in double umbels. The large green foliage leaves are multipinnate, fern-like in appearance and soft to the touch. The whole plant smells and tastes of anise and is therefore also used in cooking. When the sweet cicely is in bloom, that is, from May to August, many insects also enjoy its white flower umbels.

Hemlock plant and sweet cicely plant
Hemlock looks very similar to the sweet cicely, but usually has a red spotted stem [Photo: weha/ Shutterstock.com]

Caution: Sweet cicely looks quite similar to spotted hemlock (Conium maculatum). However, this is poisonous and must not be consumed. Therefore, harvest the sweet cicely only if you are absolutely sure what it is.

Planting sweet cicely: location and procedure

Sweet cicely likes sites in humus-rich, fresh to moist soil in partial shade, preferably in the shade of larger trees or shrubs. However, a little more sun or shade does not harm its health. The herb can be purchased as a seedling or self-seeded.
Sowing sweet cicely is best done in the autumn, directly into the bed or in a pot. Sinceit is one of the cold germinators, the effect of low winter temperatures on the seeds is necessary to see seedlings the following spring between March and April. Sweet cicely requires a lot of space, so it is best planted individually or as a maximum of three, with a minimum distance of 40 cm. If you want to keep the plant in a pot, it should be sufficiently deep because the herb develops a long taproot.
If you have purchased a young plant, it should be planted out only from May.

Close-up of dainty white myrrh flowers
The dainty white myrrh flowers appear from May to August [Photo: Fitzsimage/ Shutterstock.com]

For planting in a pot, it is best to use a nutrient-rich soil with a high humus content, such as our Plantura Organic Enriched Compost. It is made from natural raw materials and is completely peat-free. The high content of organic matter also ensures active soil life and thus also fertile soil. It is therefore a good idea to mix in a little compost with the garden soil when planting, especially if the soil is sandy.

Plantura Organic Enriched Compost
Plantura Organic Enriched Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly: perfect for using in raised beds, ensures an abundance of aromatic fruit & veg

Tip: Sweet cicely can also grow in sandy soils, but will then remain smaller.

The right care

Depending on the location and weather, cicely must be watered and fertilised occasionally. If it is planted in a suitable soil, maintenance measures are necessary less often. If sweet cicely is kept in a container, it should be repotted regularly.

Especially in the summer, it is important that the soil does not dry out completely. It should be watered occasionally but shorter dry periods are not a problem. Soils with a high sand content, which cannot hold water as well, should be irrigated more frequently as needed.

Close-up of sweet cicely fruit capsule
Sweet cicely seeds can be found in the fruit capsules [Photo: OlgaOtto/ Shutterstock.com]

Due to the relatively high nutrient requirements, you should fertilise sweet cicely. A complete fertiliser is ideal here as it contains all the essential nutrients. If you want to use sweet cicely in cooking, it is best to use a natural fertiliser such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food. The nutrients are provided slowly over a period of at least three months, so there is no need to constantly re-fertilise. If the herb grows in a pot, it should be supplied with liquid fertiliser, such as our Plantura Flower Food, about every 4 weeks during the growing season, which is administered along with the watering water. Alternatively, those who have a composter in the garden can regularly work compost into the garden soil.

Close-up of sweet cicely leaves
Sweet cicely leaves look similar to those of ferns [Photo: simona pavan/ Shutterstock.com]

Even if the cicely dies back in the cold season, you do not have to worry about the frost-hardy perennial. It will sprout again next spring.

Is sweet cicely hardy? Sweet cicely is hardy and does not require additional protection. It tolerates temperatures as low as – 29 °C and survives in the soil.

Propagation

As a rule, sweet cicely reproduces all by itself by self-seeding, but usually only in the immediate vicinity of the mother plant. If you want to propagate sweet cicely yourself, you can harvest the ripe fruit of the plant in the autumn. Ripe fruits can be recognised by their almost black colour. Separate the seeds from the split fruit in two and sow them in autumn, either directly into the open ground or in pots. Low temperatures are important for cold germination. These trigger signaling chains inside the seed that lead to seed germination in the spring. Therefore, seeds planted in pots should also be overwintered outside. It is best to use growing soil or mix sand into the substrate so that the seedlings develop strong roots. In winter, the seedbed should be kept rather dry, but should be watered carefully in the spring with rising temperatures.

White myrrh flowers constrasting against purple flowers
Myrrh can reach heights of up to two metres [Photo: mcajan/ Shutterstock.com]

Harvesting and use of sweet cicely

Whether root, flowers or leaves, all parts of the herb are used in the kitchen. It tastes like anise or licorice and can be used in a variety of ways. The leaves and roots can be harvested all year round, the flowers from May to July, the seeds in August. The roots are usually chopped and cooked and can be used similarly to parsnips. Young, fresh sweet cicely leaves can be added to salads or chopped up and added to sauces. The stem is particularly sweet and can be used as a sweetener. A sweet cicely tea is also popularly prepared from the fresh leaves. The flowers go well with sweet dishes and the seeds can also be used as a spice and refine breads, for example. Since all parts of the plant can be very tasty, careful dosing is initially required. Cicely contains essential oils and is said to have mainly appetising, but also expectorant and antioxidant effects.

Tip: Unripe seeds, which are still green, taste sweet and can be eaten raw.

Myrrh and rhubarb plants in garden bed
Myrrh and rhubarb go perfectly together, both in the kitchen and in the garden [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/ Shutterstock.com]

Is sweet cicely poisonous? Sweet cicely is not poisonous. However, it can easily be confused with other poisonous umbellifers.

Chervil also looks confusingly similar to sweet cicely. However, here there is no danger because chervil is not poisonous. We show how to plant, care for and use it.

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