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Alexanders

Edible Edible Spring Spring Summer Summer Winter Winter

Mainly a plant that likes a coastal breeze but once established seems fine growing inland.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Alexanders, Horse Parsley
Scientific Name Smyrnium olusatrum
Season Start Jan
Season End Sep
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.

Leaves

Vibrant, glossy, yellow/green to darker green leaves. Ovate and
bluntly toothed in groups of three, trifoliate.

Flowers

Small yellow flowers arranged in umbels, flowering from March to
June.

Seeds

Umbels of small green seeds.

Stem

Thick, succulent and resembling a rounded celery stalk. The base of the leaf stem is shrouded where it joins the main stem.

Habitat

Mainly coastal areas growing in great swathes along roadsides,
cliffs, sea walls and path edges but can be found inland
occasionally in meadows and the edges of woods.

Possible Confusion

Angelica leaves can look similar but are not as vibrant green and
not as shiny and they are found growing in a different habitat to
Alexanders. Wild Angelica is edible but very bitter and tough.

Smell

Fragrant and sweet, almost spicy.

Taste

A unique taste slightly reminiscent of celery and said to taste like
myrrh although I’m not sure what myrrh tastes like.

Frequency

Common in coastal areas.

Collecting

The new shoots can sometimes be picked through winter and
into spring but the most reliable time to collect them is from
February until they start to flower, when they become tough and woody.

When the shoots become tough the flowers and flower buds can
be used like broccoli or cooked in a light batter.

The seeds can be dried and used as a spice, a bit like black pepper.

The leaves can be collected when they are young and fresh at any
time of year and used sparingly in salads or as a green.

The roots can be scrubbed, peeled and sliced and roasted like parsnip.

Medicinal Uses

Alexanders were used in the past for the treatment of
asthma, menstrual problems and healing wounds, but are
not particularly used in medicine today.

Other Facts

Brought over by the Romans this edible was once much used in
British cooking but has now been very much replaced by celery.
The leaves were used as a fodder crop.

COMMENTS

11 comments for Alexanders

  1. Martin says:

    Have several plants along our ditch, they look lovely, and spread each year…
    We’re in Taunton Somerset….

  2. Willem Hiurkmans says:

    We have lived in Greece on the island of Crete for some years, and visited since 1975. Alexanders are one of the known ‘horta’; or wild edible greens. They are great in a salad, to be collected when freshly sprouting. Just giving them a thorough rinse will suffice.

  3. Susan says:

    Any one can help us how to get rid of this from our garden please?

    1. Charlie says:

      Dig up the roots after some rainfall? But you might want to have a few days or weeks eating off them first – salad leaves, then ‘celery’ stalks and finally roasting the roots? Invite some foragers or horses around to your garden otherwise??

  4. Socrates says:

    This could be easily confused with highly poisonous Umbelliferae e.g. Hemlock

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The leaves on Alexanders and Hemlock are completely different, it is the fern like leaved Apiaceae that can cause confusion among deadly poisonous and edible species.

  5. Pia StJohn says:

    The plant we have does seem to be this one there’s no mention of a distinctive feature which is when it has gone to seed the seed pods go black. Does this correspond? That and that it is so vigorous it has taken over our entice neighbourhood. Thanks

  6. Ronald says:

    I’ve got what I think are Alexanders but the plant is dead and I’m trying to identify it by the seeds. Do any other members of the Apiaceae family have black seeds?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Many of the Apiaceae seeds darken when mature so I’m not sure if Alexanders are the only black ones. Plant them and see what comes up.

      1. Ronald says:

        Thanks. Definitely won’t be taking any risks with them but there’s just so many around and it would be great to be able to use the seeds. I’ve heard members of Apiaceae can often be identified definitively by seeds but there is a real dearth of information on the internet (or, at leas, where I’m looking). Guess I’ll have to wait until next summer to use the seeds and just keep an eye on their lifecycle over the course of a year.

  7. Christina Glyn-Woods says:

    I also have seed that I collects from what looked like a very large fennel plant growing by the seaSide. The leaves did taste fennelesque,but not entirely….the seeds are presented on an umbilifera And are like large fennel seeds, 0.5mm, banana shape, ridges along the curve,…?internet search for black fennel come up with nigella…any ideas would be welcome

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