A plant that is often found near rivers and burns as it likes running water. When it does grow, as it only grows in certain areas of the UK, it grows very well indeed and is often seen in large patches.
It smells and tastes strongly of aniseed. The leaves, stems, seeds and roots are all edible. It is sweet and was used instead of sugar before sugar arrived in Britain. It goes very well with rhubarb. It was used medicinal as a carminative and as an expectorant. A carminative helps calm the digestive tract and therefore help improve digestion and eventually absorption of nutrients. An expectorant helps the lungs to expel mucous and can help with some coughs.
I like making it into rhubarb and sweet cicely chutney, adding it to pickles, a simple syrup to add to cocktails and pudding. It makes an surprisingly excellent ice cream and can be added to anything that uses sugar to reduce the amount of refined sugar in a recipe although it will give an aniseed to flavour to the dish.
It’s always a joy when the first shoots start coming through in the Spring and waiting for a time to positively identify it again and then to start harvesting the leaves and young stems. Sweet cicely has a tendency when it’s older to go a bit fibrous but then I start using it for pickles. The seeds start tender and green and then go almost black and are much tougher but still retain the aniseed flavour. The flavour then goes into the root. Even the flowers taste of aniseed so for the duration of the plant there is always one part that is delicious. So long as you like aniseed that is!
Sweet cicely looks like hemlock and therefore identification is of the upmost importance. It is in the same family, Apiaceae, of which there are some of the most delicious wild plants but also some of the most poisonous. As with all foraging identification is paramount. NEVER eat anything your not 150% sure what it is. When you discover a new plant. Use your new plant find as a learning experience and take note of the location of the plant, look at it’s botanical features, take pictures, collect a specimen (unless it monkshood in which do NOT pick or even touch without gloves as it poisonous through the skin) and go home and look up your wild flower key book and find out what it is. Ask other knowledgeable plant people and get a positive identification. Please do not just eat something as plants can give you a whole host of symptoms and reactions and some can kill you. Do not take this lightly, there have been a fatal mistakes.