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How has your foraging expeditions been going? Isn’t it funny how the landscape around you begins to change when you see it as a giant picnic basket? Rather than a nuisance, dandelions suddenly seem like a lucky treasure. Ramsons are sprouting everywhere you walk and your bland yesterday unexpectedly evolves into a colorful pasture today. Don’t forget to be a prepared and proactive forager!
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What is in today is gone tomorrow and back again before you know it. Do you remember ramsons, chickweed, and purslane? Probably not. The knowledge that was common to our grandparents is not so common today.
Spawning mostly from chefs in Europe, a foraging revival that is spreading across the world is inspiring enthusiasts to once again seek out the lost art of identifying wild edibles. Being an adventurer in the modern age does not require you to find a continent. ( I mean… if you did thwart modern technology and happen upon a continent…Now THAT would be a discovery) Often a contemporary pioneer rediscovers a lost relic of the past. One of my personal favorite forgotten herb species is Sweet Cicely.
Sweet Cicely – an introduction
Have you ever heard of Sweet Cicely? I bet your local garden nursery has 45 varieties of herbs and THIS one is not among them. SWEET is in the name!!!! Sweet-Cicely. For a nation addicted to all things sugary, in theory, this should be the poster child herb at American supermarkets. ( I am going to write that down as a possible business venture or something) What’s more, every part of the plant can be consumed making it practical and efficient. Put the American flag stamp of approval on this sucker and call it a good business day.
My name is…
If it is in the Flora family chances are that it is has acquired many aliases over the course of history, not to mention its scientific name. American Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis) is no different. Over the years it has garnered quite a few nom de plumes. The most well known are garden myrrh, fern-leaved chervil, shepherd’s needle, and sweet-scented myrrh.
I waited until Week Two to delve into the world of greens with you because of the vast amount of dangerous look-a-likes that abound. Cross-reference yourself at LEAST three times. Sweet Cicely is not a beginner’s forage because it can easily be mistaken for Poison Hemlock, one of the deadliest and most toxic plants known to mankind. Both Cicely AND Hemlock are members of the wild carrot family. SAFETY IS KEY! READ our foraging rules and stay safe when you go on the hunt.
Sweet Cicely is an attractive plant, which makes sense considering how “sweet” it is! This is another early spring Foraging find. If you do not locate a Sweet Cicely plant until after the leaves die back in the summer, do not fear. Even when the leaves are not in season, the plant is like the giving tree and always has something to offer. So, when you are just at the breaking point of your winter blues, Cicely sprouts to the rescue. Delivering tiny white flowers, fern-like foliage, and an incredible anise flavoring, this is an herbaceous perennial that is native to North America.
Fine hairy stalks can reach up to 1 to 3′ tall. The leaves are a deep green with a purple hue to the stalks. Unlike hemlock, Cicely has a deep anise fragrance. Even the seed pods waft a remarkably distinctive scent that makes this herb stand out. When searching for this plant, you may mistake it for wild parsley or carrots as it is a close relative.
Location, location location
There are two primary types of Sweet Cicely located in North America. Both are edible. Although this wild edible is found pretty much everywhere in the United States, it is difficult to identify because of all of its close relatives. (Some of us closely resemble our family members, I know I do)
You can find Sweet Cicely growing in rich soil, shady woods, roadsides, and gardens from southern Canada to Florida. There is a high chance, it is right around the corner from you. You can reach out to your local Horticulture Extension and they will be able to tell you where to locate this foraging find!
After searching, properly identifying, and washing with cold water it is time to get down and dirty in the kitchen. EVERY part of this succulent shrub is not only safe for human consumption but contains natural medicinal properties. From the savory leaves to the sugary seeds…
*Healthy Zero-Calorie Sugar Replacement
You can cook the leaves down and enjoy as a breakfast green substitute or eat them raw in a salad. The foliage is best when the plant is young and tender, however, you can eat them at any stage. Personally, I like to add it to my Minestrone or omelets for that extra boost of Vitamin C.
It is rumored that if you add a few sprigs of Cicely to tart dishes, such as rhubarb and gooseberries, you instantly cut the acidity and add a slightly savory element.
P.S. It is FABULOUS in Pesto and dressings. Try using them in your next Gin Cocktail or a hot herbal tea.
Need more fiber in your life? Substitute celery for a Cicely stalk. You can eat in raw or serve it in a vegetable platter, just as you would with celery. Candied, these stalks are an excellent swivel stick in cocktails and iced tea.
Looking to change up your trail mix? Add a dose of health by using the seeds of Sweet Cicely. Toast them for an extra treat. You can use the tender young ripe seeds for trail mixes and salads. The mature black seeds are better used for cooking lending an anise or savory fennel accent to complex dishes. However, the flavor in the black seeds is faint.
Add the delicate white flowers to salads or garnish a dish with them to create a more dramatic plate. Cicely flowers are a burst of flavor and nutrients.
Many culinary enthusiasts and herbalists grow Cicely strictly for the roots. Raw or cooked the bulbous roots stimulate digestion or settle indigestion. The high fiber count makes it a great food aiding in constipation. The root is the flavor hub of the plant. To prepare simply cook as you would any other root veg. Pair it with poultry, fish, vegetables, and eggs to enhance the flavor profile.
As always, the first rule of foraging is safety first. Prior to ingesting anything make sure that you have properly identified the plant or herb. Keeping an identification manual on you is never a bad idea. Below, I have included some of my favorite books. They also have an incredible wealth of information regarding other plants and medicinal qualities. Simply click on the book to read more.
Forager pro tip of the day: A handheld GPS system is one of the best items in my foraging toolkit. Every time I leave the house, I carry it with me in case I come across a patch of herbs or berries. By dropping a pin you will never lose your “spot” or get lost on your hikes. For someone with very little to no sense of direction like me, this is an invaluable tool.