Sweet Cicely: A Rare European Herb

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While the history and use of sweet cicely are not widely documented in ancient texts, what is known is that the name sweet cicely goes back to ancient Greek. The Greek term seselis is the origin of the sweet cicely’s name and appears to have been used in reference to a number of herbs. In addition, sweet cicely is often referred to in different European languages as Spanish chervil or Roman chervil. It should be noted that the American version of this herb is not related to the European sweet cicely though it does have a somewhat similar appearance. The European sweet cicely is Myrrhis odorata; the American version is Osmorhiza longistylis.

Sweet cicely is a relative of chervil and parsley and is native to Central Europe, but is generally considered a British herb. It was a particularly popular addition to British herb gardens in the Victorian era. The tradition was for it to be grown near the kitchen door so that it could be easy to reach.

Other established uses for this herb include as one of the main ingredients in Chartreuse, a liqueur first made by Carthusian monks in the 18th century.

Sweet cicely flavor profile

The sweet cicely flavor profile is often described as being similar to the flavor anise or fennel; in other words, it tastes like licorice. It has enough of a mild sweetness that it has been used as a sugar substitute.

Health benefits of sweet cicely

Sweet cicely is a good source of several essential nutrients including:

  • Vitamins: Sweet cicely contains both vitamin A and Vitamin C. Both of these vitamins provide antioxidant benefits.
  • Minerals: Among the minerals in sweet cicely are calcium, iron, and potassium.
  • Anethole: Anethole is an aromatic compound that is found in the essential oil from sweet cicely as well as in the essential oils of many other culinary herbs like basil. It has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties and is also responsible for the herb’s sweetness.

Traditional medicinal uses for sweet cicely include:

  • As an antiseptic: The essential oil from sweet cicely is thought to have antimicrobial properties. Pressing sweet cicely against a wound is thought to be beneficial for preventing infection and promoting healing. As a result, sweet cicely is a traditional remedy for dog bites.
  • As a digestive aid: Sweet cicely has long been used to help improve digestion. Not only does it help to increase appetite, it is known as a carminative in that it helps to relieve flatulence.
  • As a diuretic: Sweet cicely is a mild diuretic and is often utilized for detoxification.

For treating respiratory ailments

Traditional medical practitioners have used sweet cicely as a treatment for coughs and asthma.

Common uses of sweet cicely

This herb is most commonly used in French cuisine and sometimes included among the fines herbes. Early uses for sweet cicely include as a herb in salads as well as boiled. The herb can be used in the fresh form or dried and added to stews or soups. Other traditional uses for sweet cicely was a sweetener to be used with tart fruit. For example, it is often used in combination with rhubarb or gooseberries. Along with being one of the essential ingredients in Chartreuse, it is also used to make Scandinavian akvavit or aquavit.