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Plant of the Month: Myrrhis odorata (Sweet cicely)

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Our outdoor spaces have become more important than ever over the last year, and with outdoor socialising back on the agenda, gardens across Cambridge are busy hosting long-awaited reunions between family and friends. Space is at a premium in many city gardens, so plants need to justify their place. With this in mind, May’s plant of the month is , also known as ‘Sweet cicely’.

A member of the Umbelliferae family which includes carraway and coriander, this upright perennial herb is named for the aniseed scent of its flowers and foliage. Fragrant, beautiful, tactile, and edible too, this perennial herb is truly a treat for the senses. Frothy clouds of white flowers bloom in May and June, with masses of miniature 5-petalled blooms forming umbrella-shaped clusters. The umbels sit atop stalks, setting them apart from the foliage.

Myrrhis odrata’s deeply divided, fern-like leaves have a feathery appearance and are velvet-soft to the touch. Foliage is a vibrant green when young, becoming paler through the growing season. Following flowering, elegant spindle-shaped seed-heads appear, darkening as they mature and providing interest well into autumn.

There’s more to Myrrhis odorata than stunning looks and gorgeous scent – all parts of the plant are edible. Its leaves and stems were traditionally used to sweeten fruit and are a great addition to soups and salads. The aniseed-flavoured seeds can be eaten raw or used in cooking in place of cloves. Used for centuries in traditional herb gardens, ‘Sweet cicely’ is also a great choice for contemporary settings. At up to a metre high and 50cm wide, Myrrhis odorata is tall enough to create height and structure in borders while its compact spread makes it an ideal choice for containers and smaller spaces.

Native to Britain, Myrrhis odorata is fully hardy and will thrive in any moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. It is happiest in a sheltered spot – ideal for a courtyard or enclosed roof terrace. If growing from seed, plant in autumn or spring. Cold triggers germination, so refrigerate seeds before spring planting. Plug plants are a good choice for faster results.

A low-maintenance plant, ‘Sweet cicley’ should be watered in dry weather to keep soil moist and fertilised twice a year. Cut back foliage following flowering (or once you have harvested seeds) and fertilise twice a year.

This versatile plant is a great addition to any modern garden and its early flowers are a valuable food source for bees and other early pollinators.

If you would like our help with any aspect of garden design or landscaping, do get in touch.

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