Thursday, September 3, 2009

The wild Alexanders/Angelica

Plants of the Celery Order, which would be of some use for their form had we not so many fine hardy plants in the same family. A.Arch-angelica is a well-known plant in most kitchen gardens. Used for conserves; as a vegetable in the north; the roots in medicine and the seeds in making liquer. to quote W.Robinson in the English Flower Garden.

This plant led me a merry dance through books, when I had photographed it (see below) my mind had absentmindedly said Angelica Alexanders the stem of which you candy, but on checking through The Illustrated Flora, Alexanders (smyriunum perfoliatum) and Angelicas (angelica sylvestris) were listed as separate plants - though they look very similar - Robinson provided the clue of course, they more or less all come from the same family and look very much like the cow parsleys, only that the angelicas like to grow in damp places and by rivers, but are edible.
Grigson (The Englishman's Flora) says of this plant that the Alexanders are a relic of old cultivation as a pot herb or vegetable (probably similar to lovage which also has celery tasting leaves and grows enormously in a true Alexandrian fashion) a naturalized plant from the Mediterranean. It was mentioned in 1562 as growing on Steep Holm in the Bristol Channel, where there had a small religious house in the middle ages, and it can often be found by the ruins of castles and abbeys both in England and Wales.
These 13th century monks on Steep Holm apparently left peonies, alexanders, both still growing there to this day, and caper spurge, garlic and red valerian, all must have been grown in their physics garden.
You can make a soup of the alexander, nettles and watercress apparently, so that should some terrible catastrophe befall the supermarkets, wild foraging of the plants will produce a meal, though perhaps a rabbit could be added to the pot as well.
The Lovage plant; which as can be seen from the following article has similar properties to the Alexanders.
Note; all these umbelliferae plants belong to a large family and some are poisonous, like mushrooms identification is crucial, hogweed is one of them, though it looks like a cow parsley; hogweed is identified by the spotting on the stalk.


  1. Interesting post, these are all attractive plants but a nightmare to identify. The only ones I'm sure of are Angelica and Sweet Cicely both because they have an identifiable smell. Alexanders was grown in cottage gardens in the Middle Ages and Tudor period and is apparently very nice though I haven't tried it. The one to be really wary of is hemlock - no second chances if you get that one wrong!

  2. Forgotten about hemlock, it sounds horrible from Grigson's description, but it has the same poisonous mark or spots on its stem, apparently even if you just use the stem as peashooter you can die!