Some weeks ago I pre-mordanted a few skeins of wool with Alum, storing it dry for when the Sweet Cicely came into flower.
However, the continuing cold weather, this Spring, has checked the growth of many tender wild plants. They don’t make up for it later : their time is up! It’s mid April, and usually, by now, the Sweet Cicely would have grown tall and luxuriant with abundant flowers, responding to the longer hours of light. But not this year.
The ideal time to pick the leaves is just before the flowers become abundant, after which the depth and vibrancy of colour starts to diminish. I’ve waited and waited for the flowering surge, but there’s still no sign that it is imminent, so I’ve picked had to pick now before it is too late.
In previous years, the colour would have been more lively than this. The quality of the leaves must have been deteriorating already : in fact, you can see, in the photo, some leaves which are turning yellow and with browned edges. I’m disappointed- and yet not entirely. This soft creamy yellow will do something that a more vivid yellow would not ; and that is to be the foil to another more dominant colour, perhaps a Cochineal pink.
Incidentally, the fresh tender leaves live up to their name : they are, indeed, sweet. The fresh leaves can be added to salads. They can also be added, chopped, to cooked dishes containing rhubarb, gooseberries and other fruits ; or uncooked (but very finely chopped) in fruit salads and drinks. When baking fish, we have used sweet cicely leaves in place of fennel or dill. The flavor is similar to anise, but lighter. The crushed dried seed pods have a stronger scent and flavour, so are used sparingly : these have the advantage that they can be stored.