Sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata
Sweet cicely (which has several other English names as well, including anise chervil and garden myrrh) is a useful plant that was once used in Finland both for medicinal purposes and for seasoning food. About 40 percent of the dry matter in sweet cicely is sugar, so it is also useful as an alternative sweetened, for example, in desserts and pies.
Sweet cicely is aromatic and has quite a complex taste, being at the same time sweet and spicy with hints of liquorice and aniseed. All parts of the plant are edible except the stem. The schizocarps (dry fruits that split when mature), which can grow to as much as 3 cm long, are like juicy aniseed sweets. Sweet cicely is an extremely versatile addition to foods: in desserts, with vegetables, stews, soups, salads, drinks, as flavouring for oils, in rice, bread, and on fish, mushrooms, and meat.
Something to try
- To make sweet cicely soup, first melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a thick-bottomed pot, and add two 2 tablespoons of wheat flour. Cook the flour for a short while, without browning it. Add 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock, and allow to boil for a few minutes. A dash of white wine is a nice addition at this stage.
- Put one egg yolk in a bowl and stir in a small amount cream. Pour the hot broth into the bowl, whisking the mixture briskly as you do so. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle two handfuls of chopped sweet cicely leaves just before serving. Sweet cicely should not be cooked, as it will lose its flavour.
Gathering the plants
The best places to look for sweet cicely are previously cultivated land and areas that were previously used for gardening. What distinguishes sweet cicely from wild chervil (cow parsley) is the scent of sweet cicely, which is like anise. You can also cultivate it yourself.
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