Osmorhiza longistylis
Common Name: sweet cicely
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Apiaceae
Native Range: Central and eastern North America
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Herb, Vegetable
Flower: Showy

Culture

Easily grown in deep, moist, fertile soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers dappled shade of woodland areas.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Osmorhiza longistylis, commonly known as sweet cicely, sweet anise, aniseroot or sweet chervil, is a perennial herb of the carrot family that typically grows on branched stems to 1-3’ tall. It is native to rich, moist woods, wooded slopes, wooded ravines and valleys from Nova Scotia to Ontario south to Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee and Alabama.

This plant is perhaps best noted for its (a) thick fragrant anise-scented roots (leaves, stems and roots also emit a milder anise-scented aroma), (b) mostly smooth stems (sometimes commonly called smooth sweet cicely), (c) broad compound, bluntly toothed, fern-like leaves 3 times compoundly divided, and (d) compound umbels of tiny white flowers which bloom May-June.

Leaves (as much as 12” wide on lower parts of the plant) are divided into three parts and then further subdivided into fernlike segments. Lower leaves have long petioles. Upper leaves are short-stalked to sessile. Oval leaflets have serrate or lobed margins.

Tiny white flowers are borne in compound umbels. Each umbel is typically made up of about 5 umbellets, each umbellet having 8-16 tiny flowers. Each flower (to 1/8” across) has 5 white petals, 5 white-tipped stamens, and 2 white styles which exceed the length of the petals.

Fruits are narrow seeds (to 1” long) with two sharp spreading points which appear from June to August.

Leaves are edible and are often added to salads. Cut root into small segments for use as a fennel seed substitute.

Genus name comes from the Greek word osme meaning odor and rhiza meaning root in obvious reference to the aromatic plant roots.

Specific epithet means having long styles in obvious reference to the length of the stalk of the pistil on female flowers.

Cicely part of the common name comes from the Greek word seselis which was a name given to a group of plants with umbels. Sweet cicely is also used as a common name for the similar Myrrhis odorata of Europe.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Be careful when harvesting this plant from the wild. It is very similar in appearance to water hemlock which is poisonous.

Garden Uses

Native plant gardens. Woodland gardens. For harvesting purposes, gather the gather the edible roots, flowers and leaves in spring. Dry roots for later herb use.