A native of Mediterranean Europe and naturalised in Britain since the days of the Romans, alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) was the parsley of Alexandria, or petroselinum Alexandrinum, in Medieval Latin.
This forgotten herb once popular in ancient kitchen gardens now thrives in abundance by the sea.
It was cultivated for centuries as a common table vegetable until it was eventually replaced by the milder-tasting celery.
Like many Apiaceae plants, alexanders exudes aromatic oils with a pungent, sweet smell that attracts a wide range of pollinating insects.
According to Pliny (70 AD) it gained the name Smyrnium because of its distinctive myrrh-like fragrance.
Scientific name: Smyrnium olusatrum
How to Use Alexanders
Young leaf stalks and shoots are blanched then fried in butter, as a delicious celery substitute.
Thicker stems (before they turn woody) can be peeled and make a delicious cooked vegetable. They can also be eaten raw, thinely sliced and dipped in salt as a fantastic pre-dinner snack.
The roots are best peeled, then boiled and added to stews and casseroles. Note: It is illegal to dig up roots without landowner’s consent.
The black dried seeds are used as a pepper substitute. They are pungent without the heat of pepper.