I’ve been doing a little experimenting with sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) lately. It’s a plant with a lot of pluses. All parts of the plant have a strong aniseed flavour. It’s native, good for wildlife, tasty, vigorous, perennial and shade tolerant. The big downside for me is that it isn’t very productive. The leaves are available all growing season; they can be used as a seasoning and are traditionally cooked with rhubarb to reduce its acidity, but I don’t find them that great and they are far too hairy for salad use. The young seeds are great, but as they get older they become tough and fibrous. The root is woody and rather unpalatable. How to get more out of sweet cicely?
My first try was to cut a plant down after picking all the young seeds, in the hope of getting it to flower again. That didn’t work, but at the Wild Harvests Gathering Andy from Fresh Direct told me that if you cut a plant down when it first flowers then it will flower again later, so if you have more than one plant you can spread the season out. Another thing I got to try at the Gathering was juiced sweet cicely, which has quite an oomph and is probably best used as a mixer.
Next up was storing. Seeds picked while young go black like the mature ones, but if put in water they will rehydrate with all their flavour and some of their tenderness. They also freeze well.
I also wondered if the first year root might be nicer than the mature one, so I dug up one of the many seedlings that come up in the wild part of the forest garden. It was straight and clean and peeled like a parsnip. After a few minutes cooking it was tender and tasty. Possibly too strong to want a plateful, but it would go great in curries and winter stews. You could keep an adult plant for seed and grow young plants like an annual (which would give an interesting opportunity for some plant breeding), or just dig up the seedlings that it produces so enthusiastically. I’ll keep you posted on how long into the season the roots stay tender.