Sweet, Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely and Rhubarb

In April and May the ditches, damp hedgerows and water meadows are full of sweet cicely. Myrrhis odorata is a gorgeous member of the Apiaceae family – definitely one of my favourites. It’s very easy to identify as the lower leaflets have bleached out markings on them – at first glance like a bird on them – plus being velvety soft, and smelling and tasting strongly of aniseed. 

Sweet Cicely

The young leaves are a very vivid lime green in colour (see below) and are the juiciest and most tender. As the plant grows it forms fibres, especially on the flower stem, which on older plants needs to be peeled away of using in a stewed fruit dish or crumble.

Sweet cicely
Traditionally sweet cicely is cooked with rhubarb. Choose the juiciest young stems, before the fibres have formed, and just chip both stem and leaf up and mix them with your chopped rhubarb. There’s no rule but I generally do 50/50. The aniseed flavour is very mild as it doesn’t survive the heat well but you won’t need to use any added sugar. This is because anethole, a natural compound found in sweet cicely, is actually sweeter than sucrose. 

Making sweet cicely and rhubarb crumble
Sweet Cicely and Rhubarb Crumble Recipe

For sweet cicely and rhubarb crumble I layer the chopped rhubarb and the chopped sweet cicely into a greased baking dish. I then put a handful of pinhead oatmeal in a mixing bowl with a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of ground hogweed seed and a knob of butter, and knead the butter in to make a very dry mix. I then add a couple of tablespoon of sunflower seeds and  pistachio nuts, and a dessertspoon of honey. When all is well blended together I sprinkle it over the fruit to cover it. Pop it into a preheated 180C oven for half an hour until brown on the top. Serve with cream. 

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I also love juicing the stems and adding a shot of sweet cicely juice to apple juice. This is an awesome flavour. In fact the two go so well together that, on my foraging walks, I always offer people a slice of apple to eat with a slice of sweet cicely stem when they’re meeting sweet cicely for the first time. 
Custard is another thing I made with sweet cicely. Green custard specifically! It’s very Dr Seuss and kids love it. The milk is infused with the sweet cicely and pressed over a sieve before making the custard. Simple but so tasty. 

You can also make sweeties. Either by just munching on the green seeds before they become fibrous or by making sweet cicely seed mukhwas. When they’re young they taste just like the inner seed of an old fashioned gobstopper! 

However, sweet cicely is not just a dessert plant. The leaves and stems were often boiled with cabbage or sprouts to reduce the gassy side effects and taking an after-dinner sweet cicely tea, tincture or lozenge will help with indigestion or wind. The young leaves are also lovely additions to a salad. 


  1. narnie83

    Tried this yesterday – wouldn’t have believed that a crumble with no sugar (just a tiny bit of honey) could be so yummy!

  2. Hi Monica, thanks for this! I read about sweet cicely being a replacement for sugar but this is the first recipe I found that actually tells what proportions and how to use it. Am making rhubarb crumble this Saturday! Can you add sweet cicely into jams instead of sugar too? Or will it not store as well? Can you dry it for tea to use later in the year? I actually got a couple of plants in my garden because foraging books I have all warn about it being easily mistaken for a poisonous plant so wanted to be on the safe side.

    • Sweet cicely won’t set and preserve jam like sugar does, it just sweetens things. You can dry it but recommend a low temperature as the flavour disappears quite easily. Easy to identify due to the faded/bleached out marks at the base of the leaves.

      • Thanks! Thought it could be the case with jams but if I can cut sugar in desserts without my kids noticing it would be great! I dry herbs hanging in hot cupboard anyway so will try with sweet cicely. Your site is amazing!

  3. David tomlins

    If your using fruits that are rich in pectin you won’t need sugar to make the jam set just make sure you put all the pith pips or seeds into a Muslim bag to boil in the jam to release all of the pectin that will make the jam set all citrus fruits are rich in pectin bananas also make a surprisingly good jam because of all the white stringy pith on them that’s full of pectin probably for fruits that contain less pectin use the bottles of liquid pectin from supermarket it’s always next to the jam making fructose sugar

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