Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum
This robust member of the carrot family arrived with the
Romans but has long since gone native. Although all-parts of the plant are edible its the stems that are it’s real delicacy.
What to look for:
A large, fleshy stemmed plant similar in form to Angelica or Hog weed with bright green shiny leaves and pale yellow flowers. All parts have an aroma of celery / carrot.
Where to find it:
Alexanders is most abundant in the east of England especially near the coast. It prefers light sandy soils and can form large colonies in hedgerows, on waste ground and around field margins.
When is it about:
The bright glossy leaves can be seen as early as December or January. The thick fleshy stems are present from February with the flowers emerging in April. The seeds ripen in the summer (turning black) and persist until winter.
Recipe: Alexanders Pickle
250g (9oz) Alexanders stems (approx. six 15cm long sections)
300ml (10fl oz) Cyder Vinegar
10g salt (2 teaspoons)
1 small onion (about 100g / 4oz)
50g (2oz) soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper corns
2 young Fennel leaves (divided into small sprigs)
2 Bay leaves
First peel off the shiny green outer layer of the stems. With a peeler carefully take off the fibrous inner layer to end up with a soft thin fleshed pale-green tube. Lay the peeled stems in a container and cover evenly with the salt (leave for several hours to cure). Finely slice the onion, heat a sauce pan and place coriander seeds and peppercorns in the pan heat to release aroma. Add vinegar, onions, sugar and bay leaves. Bring to simmer. Meanwhile rinse and dry the Alexanders tubes, then thinly slice (to resemble spaghetti hoops). When the vinegar mixture has reached a simmer add the Alexanders and take off the heat. Divide the mixture evenly into two (250ml) jars, then place 2 or 3 fennel leaf sprigs in each of the jars and top up with any remaining vinegar from the pan. Leave for at least three weeks to mature. The pickle will keep for a least a year and will improve in flavour the longer it is kept. Delicious with smoked fish on rye bread or pumpernickel; also goes well with mature hard cheeses.
Note: Do not eat any wild foods unless you are 100% certain about your identification.