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Sweet Cicely
Status

Edible plant
Medicinal plant

Scientific Name

Osmorhiza longistylis

Alternative Common Names

Anise Root, Sweetroot, Longstyle Sweetroot, Licorice Root, Wild Anise

Groups

Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, the umbellifers, or the parsley family

Plant Type

Herbaceous perennial

All Seasons This Plant is Edible

All year except early fall

Primary Seasons This Plant is Edible

Early- to mid spring and mid- to late fall

Food Uses

Salad, potherb, root vegetable, seasoning, tea, beverage

The newly growing leaves of early- to mid-spring and autumn are the best to eat, although they're also good if you can find them during warm spells in the winter, or where winters are mild.

The taproots are good all year, though you're not going to find it when the ground is frozen and covered with snow, and it's difficult, but not impossible, to find fleshy, usable taproots in the summer. They're at their best from early- to mid-spring, before the plant flowers, and from mid-fall, when new basal rosettes appear, through late fall.

The immature seedpods are edible in late spring, before they get tough.

Parts to Use

Leaf
Root
Pod

Habitats

Light shade, in woodlands with rich soil, along the edges of paths, and in thickets

Primary Habitats

Trail- and roadsides
Woodlands

Range

This species grows throughout much of the US and eastern Canada except for Florida, Louisiana, and the West Coast, although other closely related edible species cover most of the rest of North America and Canada

Prevalence

Common species

Place of Origin

Native species

How to Spot

Look for a plant with a light green, reddish-tinged, hairy, somewhat branched stem one to three feet tall, with alternate leaves similar to basal leaves—long, deeply toothed, twice-compound, and divided into threes, with long, purple leaf stalks. The long-oval, pointed leaflets also divide into threes.

Five small, sparse, flat-topped, umbrella-like terminal clusters of tiny, white, five-petaled flowers grow above recurved, linear to lance-shaped bracts. The flowers become sharp, slender, black, ribbed, crescent-shaped, persistent, tapered, barbed seedpods, maturing from green to black.

Scratch and sniff for the odor or black licorice or anise.

General Information

This attractive herb, which smell like licorice or anise when injured, begins in early spring with a basal rosette of deeply toothed, twice-compound, often slightly hairy leaves with long, purple leaf stalks. The leaves can grow up to one foot long. They're divided into groups of three. The long-oval, pointed leaflets, also in threes, grow up to one inch long. The terminal leaflet is always the largest.

In late spring, a smooth, light green, reddish-tinged, hairy, somewhat branched stem, with alternate leaves similar to but smaller than the basal ones, grows from one to three feet tall. For about two to three weeks in late spring to early summer, it produces five small, sparse, flat-topped, umbrella-like terminal clusters of eight to 16 tiny, white, five-petaled flowers 0.125 inch across. Recurved linear to lance-shaped bracts grow beneath the flowers.

Replacing the flowers, painfully sharp, slender, black, ribbed, crescent-shaped, tapered, barbed seedpods mature from green to black in mid-summer and fall.

A short, stout, gnarled, light brown underground base gives rise to many tightly packed, small, light brown, fleshy taproots, white inside. They grow four to six inches long.

Positive ID Check

•Basal leaves up to one foot long, deeply toothed, twice-compound, divided into groups of three

•Pointed, long-oval leaflets up to one inch long

•Terminal leaflet always the largest

•Long, purple leaf stalks

•Short, stout, gnarled, light brown underground base giving rise to many small, tightly packed, fleshy, light brown taproots

•Light green, reddish-tinged, hairy, somewhat branched stem one to three feet tall, with alternate leaves similar to the basal leaves

•Five small, sparse, flat-topped, umbrella-like terminal clusters of eight to 16 tiny, white, five-petaled flowers

•Recurved, linear to lance-shaped bracts, growing beneath the flowers

•Slender, black, ribbed, crescent-shaped, persistent, tapered, sharply barbed seedpods maturing from green to black

Harvesting

Pinch off the leaves or flowers with your fingers. Dig up the roots with a shovel or trowel, taking only a fraction of the plants where they're very abundant, and remove the taproots, which are the best parts to eat, from the tough base.

Food Preparation

Add the leaves, flowers, or tender young stems raw to salads, or add them to soups, stews, or desserts, at the end of the cooking time, to preserve the delicate flavor. They cook in about five minutes. Their delicate licorice flavor also makes them an especially good garnish.

Discard the hard, gnarled, underground base above the taproots (or steep it to make tea, which you can do with any part of the plant) and use the fleshy, strongly licorice-flavored taproots, the best part of the plant, grated or sliced, like you'd use carrots. Use them sparingly, or they'll overpower the other ingredients in your recipe. Edible raw, they're also great in soups and stews, as well as dessert dishes. I add them, grated, to ice cream, include them in smoothies, and always put some into oatmeal and cooked cereals. I also keep some grated roots in the freezer, to use as a seasoning.

You may also nibble on the immature green seedpods before they get tough, or use them in salads and cakes in place of anise seeds.

Don’t dehydrate this plant or it will lose all its flavor and become as tasteless as my jokes. But you can freeze the taproots raw or cooked. They're already adapted to freezing in the winter.

Nutrition

No info is available.

Medicinal Uses

An infusion of any part of this plant, but especially the taproots, is good for stomach ailments, indigestion, gas, and lack of appetite. It's also been used as an expectorant, to help cough up phlegm and for or mucus congestion, and for amenorrhea, to ease childbirth, as well as for eye drops. The crushed root has also been applied to wounds as an antiseptic. Its uses for indigestion are quite well established, but I'd love to see whether some of the other uses can be verified scientifically.

Poisonous Lookalikes

Poison Hemlock, Fool's Parsley

Cautions

Avoid walking thorough the sharp, pointed seeds in autumn, or they'll poke you through your socks and needle you!

Similar Plants and Confusing Factors

Although sweet cicely smells like it relative, anise (Pimpinella anisum), which doesn't grow in America either, they're completely different plants.

Other closely related licorice-scented sweet cicely species (Osmorhiza spp.) are all very hard to tell apart from (O. longistylis), but they're all edible.

There’s also a totally different, unrelated European sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) that doesn't grow wild in America.

Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Sweet Cicely

This is what my wife and my five-year-old daughter, Violet, asked for, and with the right combination of herbs, especially the sweet cicely, it came out like a perfect combination of pancakes and confection.

1 cup sugar-free vegan chocolate chips

Dry Ingredients

1-1/2 cups (7 oz.) buckwheat flour or other whole-grain flour
1 tbs. flaxseeds, ground
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. guar gum
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. powdered stevia
1/4 tsp. cloves, ground

Ingredients to Blend

3 cups soy-rice milk or other non-dairy milk
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup corn oil
1/4 cup sweet cicely root (or add 1/2 tsp. star anise, ground, to the dry ingredients)
2 tbs. lecithin granules
2 tsp. vanilla

1. Mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Purée; the ingredients to blend in a blender.

3. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Don’t overmix.

4. Stir in the chips. Don’t overmix.

5. Pour a ladle-full of batter onto an oiled hot griddle, cook until lightly browned underneath, flip with a spatula, and repeat the process to use up all the batter.

Serves 6

Preparation/cooking time: 45 minutes

Plant Images
Very Young Sweet Cicely

Young Sweet Cicely

When sweet cicely starts growing, the long-stalked, 3-parted, twice-compound leaves emerge from a single, small taproot.

Sweet Cicely Taproot and Basal Leaves

Sweet Cicely Basal Leaves and Roots

The twice-compound, deeply toothed leaves, divided into threes, grow from long, reddish leaf stalks, above a hard base from which emanate crowded, fleshy taproots.

Sweet Cicely Flowers

Sweet Cicely Flowers

While the delicate alternate leaves' deeply toothed leaflets are twice-divided into threes, the long-stemmed, flat-topped, umbrella-like flower clusters are grouped in fives. Each tiny white flower has five petals.

Sweet Cicely Seeds

Sweet Cicely Seeds

These sharp, pointed, barbed, narrow, recurved seedpods can be quite painful when they penetrate your socks, and even worse when they reach your ankles!