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Smyrnium olusatrum - L.

Common Name Alexanders
Family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Hedges and waste places, often near the sea[17].
Range Europe to Asia. Naturalized in Britain[17].
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (1 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Smyrnium olusatrum Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum Alexanders


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Smyrnium olusatrum is a BIENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 0.7 m (2ft 4in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from June to August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Hedgerow;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves  Root  Shoots  Stem
Edible Uses: Condiment

Leaves and young shoots - raw in salads or cooked in soups, stews etc[2, 5, 8, 12, 27, 37, 115, 183]. The plant comes into growth in the autumn and the leaves are often available throughout the winter[5, 52]. They have a rather strong celery-like flavour and are often blanched (by excluding light from the growing plant) before use[183]. Leafy seedlings can be used as a parsley substitute[183]. Stem - raw or cooked[2, 5, 8, 12, 27, 37, 53, 115]. It tastes somewhat like celery, but is more pungent[17, 244]. The stem is often blanched (by excluding light from the growing plant) before use[183]. Flower buds - raw[12, 52]. Added to salads, they have a celery-like flavour[K]. The spicy seeds are used as a pepper substitute[52, 183]. Root - cooked. Boiled and used in soups, its flavour is somewhat like celery. The root is said to be more tender if it has been kept in a cool place all winter[183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Bitter  Digestive

The whole plant is bitter and digestive. It has been used in the past in the treatment of asthma, menstrual problems and wounds, but is generally considered to be obsolete as a medicinal plant[238].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

A good wildlife plant. Scented. A good plant for food forests/forest gardens.

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Succeeds in most soils but prefers an open sunny position in a well-drained moisture retentive soil[200]. Hardy to about -15°c[200]. At one time this plant was extensively grown for its edible leaves and stems but it has now fallen into virtual disuse, having been replaced by celery[1, 2, 27, 37, 61, 183]. The seeds are highly aromatic with a myrrh-like scent[245]. A good bee plant. In garden design, as well as the above-ground architecture of a plant, root structure considerations help in choosing plants that work together for their optimal soil requirements including nutrients and water. The root pattern is fleshy. Thick or swollen - fibrous or tap root [2-1].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown in an outdoor seedbed in autumn and planted into its permanent position in late spring[1, 200]. Germination can be slow[200]. The seed can also be sown in situ in spring.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Smyrnium perfoliatum Biennial1.5 5-9  LMHSNM30 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment



Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Paul Jinks   Wed Aug 3 18:46:13 2005

Alexanders attracts many interesting insects, in particular hover flies and shield bugs. The flowers have an aromatic smell not unlike honey. A few plants in the garden will look lush and green in late winter when nothing else has yet appeared. Around a pond it can provide good early spring cover for frogs. However - take care it can dominate a small garden.

Peter C Horn   Sat Jan 28 2006

Alexanders can become invasive in the garden. Kew Gardens are at the present (Jan 2006) having problems with the plant smothering out their bluebells. But this should be fairly easily solved. In my experience cutting the plants before they seed, if carried out annually for a few years, will get rid of it.

Adrian Bull   Tue Feb 19 2008

In our village it is becoming invasive and threatens our primroses. What is an effective way of controlling it in gardens and verges, please?

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future   Tue Feb 19 2008

The most effective way I know of controlling this plant, without the use of poisonous sprays which would also harm the primroses and other plants, is by cutting it down to ground level with a scythe or other cutting tool. The timing of this is very important. The most effective time to cut is towards the end of the plants flowering, but before the seeds have set. It is better to cut a little early rather than late, since the cut off plant is still capable of putting its last energies into ripening the seed and thus producing new plants the following autumn - if in doubt remove the cut tops and put them in the centre of a well made compost heap where the heat produced will destroy any seeds. Some of the plants might also put out short new growth from the base and try to flower and seed a few weeks later, so keep an eye out for this and cut them back again if need be. At least some of the plants will usually survive this treatment and come into growth again in the autumn, plus there will also be young plants that had not flowered in the current year that will try and flower in the following year, so it is important to cut again in the following year. By this time, populations of the plant will have greatly reduced, but there should still be survivors. At this stage I would suggest that you allow the reduced population to survive, but monitor them to make sure they do not get out of control. Although they can be aggressive growers, they do also have their beauty, bringing welcome green growth in the winter and providing a very valuable food source for pollinating insects.

Edward Hopkin   Wed May 28 2008

Reference 17: Please correct the spelling of the second author's name "Tutin". In juvenile days the book was known to us as 'Clapham, Tooting and Wimbledon'.

Michelle Salmons   Tue Aug 12 2008

Hello, What do the seeds of this plant look like and what colour are they? Thank you, Michelle

J. R. Johnstone   Sat Jun 20 2009

In reference to Peter C. Horn's posting above, Smyrnium perfoliatum L., not Smyrnium olusatrum L. was becoming invasive at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Smyrnium perfoliatum - Telegraph

   Mar 19 2015 12:00AM

'The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.' I can't believe it - this is the first time I've seen something factually wrong on this wonderful website! Alexanders grows right by the sea! Excuse exclamation marks but after years of using your website and Ken Fern's book and recommending them to as many people as possible I still can't believe you can have made a mistake but I know - I've just seen alexanders next to the sea today (and every time I go near the sea here on the Isle of Wight).

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