Saturday, August 22, 2009

Aromatic Umbellifers

Hogweed Heracleum sphondyliumSweet cicely Myrrhis odorata

The carrot family (Umbelliferae) includes several species with seeds that contain aromatic compounds that are used as flavourings – cumin, fennel , celery and caraway are notable examples. The bottom picture here shows the ripe seeds of sweet cicely Myrrhis odorata, an umbellifer which was once cultivated for its aniseed flavour and used to sweeten puddings, in the days before sugar was a cheap, easily available commodity. The species is widely naturalised in North East England and every part of the plant has an aniseed aroma. Apparently, the seeds were also once used to make a pleasantly aromatic floor polish. The top photo is of hogweed Heracleum sphondylium seeds, which are not edible but do contain a fruity, aromatic oil that has a very refreshing scent – try crushing some ripe seeds between finger and thumb and you’ll see what I mean. The oil is concentrated in those four dark brown stripes, which are oil glands.

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