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Cicely (Myrrhis odorata [L.] Scop.)


botanicalScandix odorata
DanishSpansk kørvel
DutchRoomse kervel, Vaste kervel
EnglishSweet cicely, Anise cicely, Spanish chervil, Sweet chervil, Anise chervil, Garden myrrh, Sweet scented myrrh
FrenchCerfeuil d’Espagne, Cerfeuil musqué, Cerfeuil odorant
GaelicCos uisge
German(Wohlriechende) Süßdolde, Spanischer Kerbel, Myrrhenkerbel
Greek (Old)Σέσελις
Hebrewסייסלי מתוק
Siseli metuk
HungarianSpanyol turbolya
ItalianCerfoglio di spagna, Felce muschiata, Finocchiella, Mirride odorosa
Japaneseミリス, シセリ, スイートシセリ
Mirisu, Shiseri, Suito-shiseri
Korean시슬리, 시실리
Sisulli, Sisilli
LithuanianKvapioji garduoklė
NorwegianSpansk kjørvel
PolishMarchewnik anyżowy
RussianМиррис душистая, Мускатный кервель
Mirris dushistaya, Muskatnyj kervel
SerbianЧехуља мирисава
Čehulja mirisava
SlovakČechrica voňavá
SlovenianDišeči kromač
SwedishSpansk körvel, Aniskål
Myrrhis odorata: Cicely leaf
Cicely leaf and unripe fruits
Used plant part

Leaves, mostly used fresh. The unripe fruits are a good sub­stitute for anise.

Plant family

Api­aceae (parsley family)

Sensory quality

Strong fra­grance, remi­niscent of licorice or anise, sweet taste (particu­larly, the stem). Both fragrance and taste are strongest in the unripe seeds. See also licorice for sweet spices.

Fruits and leaves of several aromatic plants from the parsley family share their fragrance, which might loosely be called anise-like. This impression is strongest in cicely, but anise as the best known example is only slightly weaker. On the other hand, the fragrance of fennel is slightly less pure. Chervil combines anise fragrance with parsley-like freshness. Remotely similar to anise is dill, whose aroma is nearer to caraway.

Spices with anise flavour are also known from other plant families. The best-known examples are star anise and licorice, furthermore some Thai basil varieties, tarragon and Mexican tarragon. More obscure spices that can be named in this context are Mexican pepper-leaves and some relatives of Sichuan pepper.

Main constituents

Cicely leaves contain an essential oil (0.05%), which is rich in the phenylpropanoids anethole (85%) and methyl chavicol.

Myrrhis odorata: Sweet cicely flowers
Sweet cicely flowers at the end of the flowering period
Myrrhis odorata: Cicely (plants with flowers and unripe fruits)
Cicely (plants with flowers and unripe fruits)

The plant is of Western European origin. It is a common garden plant in parts of Western Europe, mainly Scandi­navia.


English cicely goes back to the obscure Greek plant name seselis [σέσελις], which was apparently used as a collective term for a number of umbelli­ferous herbs including modern genera Seseli, Tordylium and Bupleurum. German Süßdolde sweet umbel refers to both the sweet taste and the umbel-shaped flower cluster.

The botanical genus name Myrrhis derives from Greek myrrhis [μυρρίς], which denotes both an unidentified plant and an aromatic oil from Western Asia; it is probably related to Greek myron [μύρον] balm (see also nutmeg). The scientific species name odoratus is Latin meaning scented.

Comparisons with chervil suggest themselves (e. g., German Myrrhenkerbel myrrh-chervil). Another common motive is Spanish chervil found in many languages of Western Europe, particularly Scandinavia, e. g., Italian cerfoglio di Spagna and Danish Spansk kørvel; this refers to the suspected Western Mediterranean origin of the plant. Some variation includes Dutch Roomse kervel Roman chervil and quite curiously Finnish saksankirveli German chervil.

Selected Links Anethol

Myrrhis odorata: Cicely young flowers
Umbel of cicely flowers
Cicely has only small impor­tance in today’s cooking. Since it is tolerant to cold, it is a useful herb for the in­habitants of Scandi­navia for it provides fresh fragrant leaves nearly all over the year, even in extremely cold places like Ice­land or the Faroe islands (Føroyar).

Because of the sweet fragrance, cicely fruits are a good substitute for anise, fennel of even licorice; the leaves may be used instead of chervil, although it will probably take some time to get used to their much more dominant aroma. Yet who comes to like the licorice-like taste, will want to combine cicely with the fines herbes of French cuisine (see chives).

In Scandinavia, cicely is common to flavour stewed fruits. Cicely fruits and stalks may, furthermore, help to save sugar because of their naturally sweet taste.

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