Edible plant - intermediate/advanced Season - winter - summer Common names Alexanders, Alisanders, Horse Parsey
Scientific name meaning: The Greek word Smyrna, meaning myrrh, is the origin of the genus name Smyrnium. Olusatrum is derived from Latin and means "black garden herb". This is a reference to the black colour of its seeds
Alexanders tolerate salt, so prefer coastal areas, but can also be found on roadsides, in gardens and in woodland.
It is a native of the Mediterranean region, but is well established in Britain. It was introduced by the Romans.
Alexanders is biennial. In its first year, it produces a clump of dark-green, shiny leaves. In year two, it has large, dark-green leaves at its base, becoming more sparse and smaller near the top of the plant. It puts up a flower stalk that can reach 150cm. All parts have a strong aromatic-celery smell when crushed.
The young leaf shoots start to emerge in winter. They are glossy and yellow-green in colour, getting darker as they age. The leaves are pinnately compound (split like a feather) and trifoliate - in groups of three leaflets, lobed and finely toothed.
The base of each leaf stem is enclosed in a red-veined sheath.
The stem of the plant is grooved and becomes hollow with age.
Cream-yellow umbels (flower heads shaped liked umbrellas) of flowers appear from early spring until late spring.
Seeds appear from late spring. They are dark green at first, becoming black and hardening with age.
Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata), pictured, which is deadly poisonous, has much more deeply lobed and/or toothed leaflets than Alexanders. Its leaves are not shiny. Wild Celery (Apium graveolens) also has a similar appearance, but this is edible and has white flowers.
Use as a food The whole plant is strongly aromatic and can be too overpowering for some. It has a very strong celery taste. The young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked. The older leaves need to be cooked. The stems can also be eaten raw or cooked. The roots cans also be used, and should be cooked.
The black seeds of Alexanders can be put into a spice mill and ground to be used as a condiment. Hazards A member of the carrot family, so those with a celery allergy should do a tolerance test.
Use in herbal medicine and medicine Has been used to treat menstrual problems and asthma, as well as being used as an immune system booster, in the past. If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner Other uses None known Importance to other species Flowers provide an early food source for pollinators. It is eaten by the larvae of the Walker's Lanark Tortrix moth.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!