Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum is the first of the large umbellifers to bloom and drifts of this naturalised garden escape - a native of continental Europe - are  currently in bloom on the banks of the river Tyne at Tynemouth. 

There was a time when it was cultivated as a vegetable, for its young shoots, leaves and stems that were blanched like celery. I've never met anyone who has actually eaten it but the smell of its flowers - described politely by Michael Proctor and Peter Yeo in The Pollination of Flowers (Collins New Naturalist) as resembling 'stale human dung' may go some way towards explaining why it's more popular with flies than with people. As long ago as 1776 Thomas Withering, in his Botanical Arrangement, wrote that "It was formerly cultivated in our gardens, but its place is now better supplied by celery" so it clearly fell out of favour as a garden vegetable a long time ago.


  1. Arghh! I have eaten this plant. Actually, I found the flower buds quite pleasant in a cheese sandwich, but whether I'll be able to eat it again after reading this I'm not sure!

  2. Yes Rob, it's quite put me off my food!
    The side shoots can be eaten like asparagus, and the chopped flowers are a fine flavouring to salads.
    It's flourishing this year, so there's plenty to eat.
    Fortunately I've never eaten stale human dung, so I can't make a comparison.
    Thanks a bunch, Phil.

  3. Hi Rob,

    I have to say that they do look quite appetising in the picture on your blog .... best with a really pungent cheese like stilton?

  4. Sorry Steve, Maybe I'll pluck up courage to try some .... I've never eaten stale human dung either but, come to think of it, there has been the occasional dodgy burger....

  5. I have often wondered what it looks like, never having been aware of seeing it locally but perhaps I shall not bother looking anymore...

  6. It seems to be mainly confined to coastal areas toffeeapple. Its seeds are large, black and very conspicuous.