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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

24 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

  8. B says:

    How to differentiate between alexanders and HWD? and fools watercress?

    Thanks.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hogweed has matt, hair covered leaves unlike Alexanders shiny, hair free leaves. Fools Watercress grows in ditches and streams and has different shaped leaves.

  9. Mary Watson says:

    I would be wary of this plant I appeared to come out in a rash and hives from contact.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      People react in different ways to plants, I get the same reaction from it’s close relative, common hogweed. It doesn’t stop me eating it, I just have to wear gloves to collect it.

  10. Steve says:

    Recently visited Blakeney, North Norfolk and the roadside all around seemed to be covered in this plant. Can anyone confirm this?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      If you can send photos to [email protected] we’ll try to confirm your ID.

    2. Allan Eaton says:

      Yes, very common on the coast of Norfolk & Suffolk

    3. Trisha says:

      I can confirm that Blakeney, Norfolk is full of this plant as I was born and bred there. We called it Horse Pepper not Horse Parsley and as kids we used to have “Horse Pepper fights”. We used to cut the thick stalks into cubes and throw it at each other!! we also used to feed it to horses and ponies who loved it.

      It grows all along the coast and a few miles inland but I live 10 miles inland and there is none here.

  11. R G says:

    My garden has turned into an Alexander jungle. Anything I do to discourage them just make more and more come. I do eat them but nobody could eat them all! The seeds are black by the way and I reckon anything growing and spreading the way people describe here are probably alexanders. I’ve dug them up by the roots/massive tuber like creatures, I’ve cut every stem and pulled off all flowers – nothing stops it. Now it’s coming up in the grass as well. The only thing I won’t do is use weed killer but if anyone has any ideas? I’d quite like to plant something else….

    1. Novak says:

      Hello, i guess they come in groups right? So, in an area that has Alexanders clumped up, cut them as low to the ground as possible, DO NOT pull them out of the ground. Cover the area with a thick layer of cardboard (plain. Not glossy, not glues) and add a thick layer of compost on top. After 1 month or even earlier, plant on top of them (cut little squares on the cardboard and add a 1month old plant) and you will be surprised by your success. The cardboard suffocates anything below, if you dont have access to it, add a thick polythene sheet, which you will remove after 3 months.

  12. Judith Elizabeth Chapman says:

    Any further info, please.? The plants that self-seeded in my garden have a thick root, broken it is fibrous creamy/white, that when split have an aroma. I couldn’t define it. Some time later all I could smell was a fungi-type aroma, possibly from the surrounding soil. Can any part be described by the taste? I usually have a nibble, of what I find but thought maybe that isn’t sensible. I am in rural Norwich.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Could you send photos to [email protected] and we’ll try to ID the plant for you.

  13. Judith Elizabeth Chapman says:

    I will have to enlist spouse! Will do it, thanks

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