Sweet Cicely – Osmorhiza SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Black Licorice of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, osaga’tigom meaning tangled branches, edible and medicinal sweet cicely (osmorhiza claytonii) and its close relations have an anise like scent.

Wooly AKA hairy sweet cicely (osmorhiza claytonii) is the only osmorhiza listed in Haliburton Flora. It’s fairly common on bush roads and trails and in thin deciduous woods. I tend to find it here and there down the center of damp bush roads. Hairy sweet cicely is also common in Algonquin park. On the west side of the park, there’s also a rare smooth sweet cicely (osmorhiza longistylis).

Other species native to Ontario include mountain (o. berteroi) and blunt sweet (o. depauperata).

Sweet Cicely – Osmorhiza SPP.
Sweet Cicely – Osmorhiza SPP.

Another member of the carrot family, this plant can be confused with its very toxic relatives (ex. poison hemlock). While its anise-like odor sets its apart, you wouldn’t want to be messing with poison hemlock to do a smell test. Goutweed is another, less toxic carrot relation it could be confused with. In general, avoid contact with the sap of this whole family of plants.

In Europe, their main Anise/sweet cicely species is myrrhis odorata. North America’s osmorhiza claytonii is sometimes labelled myrrhis claytonii.

Edible Uses of Sweet Cicely

Sweet cicely has a black licorice or anise like taste. O. longistylis is sweeter and is more often called aniseroot. But the Western/pacific native osmorhiza occidentalis has even more potent roots.

The leaf stalks and roots can be cooked and eaten. The roots and unripe seeds are used for anise flavouring or condiments. The seeds can be used raw or coked.

Medicinal Uses of Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Carminative, Expectorant, and Mucilage. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the astringent roots chewed or gargled for a sore throat. Other common astringent uses include as a soothing eyewash, poultice for cuts and sores, ulcers. And as an expectorant and mucilage it’s good for some coughs.

As with its edibility, it’s usage is similar to true anise, anise hyssop, and mints. The pacific variety with the more potent root is favoured medicinally as well!

Alternative Uses of Anise Root

A compound in aniseroot, chavicol, is used for perfume.

Sweet Cicely – Osmorhiza SPP.
Sweet Cicely – Osmorhiza SPP.

Growing Osmorhiza SPP.

We featured native sweet cicely in our Wood Folk Diary feat. black swallowtail butterflies. Other pollinators that will visit them include beetles, bees, especially short tongued bees, wasps, flies and moths. Like many wildflowers, the seed barbs cling to clothing, so you may want to take that into account when placing it. You’ll need a spot with moist well drained soil and shade to partial shade.

Other native plants that go well with it are early meadow-rue (thalictrum dioicum), similar looking and yellow flowered golden Alexanders (zizia aurea), Virginia bluebells (mertensia virginica), wild geranium (geranium maculatum), and native phloxes.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

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