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Smyrnium olustratum, or just known as Alexanders is a beautiful, lime green plant that was introduced to the UK by the Romans, who called it the ‘pot herb of Alexandria’, because every part of it is edible. These stout plants resembling and related to angelica grow to 150cm high, with a solid stem which becomes hollow and grooved with age. People say it tastes similar to angelica and parsley, with a hint of fennel and the great thing is that it springs forth, bright and new, in November and December, great timing to make a really superb Gin – just marinade the fresh leaves in the liquor for a few days and serve with tonic and a slice.
Bringing Alexanders to our shores is one of those things the Romans did for us, employing its unlikely enthusiasm for winter to provide food for the legions and fodder for their horses. Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean but is able to thrive much farther north. The flowers are yellow-green in colour and arranged in umbels and appear from April to June. Alexanders was once used in many dishes, either blanched, or raw. Its stems can be candied like angelica and the stems cooked as celery. The seeds can be ground to make a peppery spice, and the roots enjoyed like parsnips. It is now almost forgotten as a food source, although it still grows wild in many parts of Europe, including Britain.
Quite apart from its culinary prowess, it is a delightful garden ornamental.