Smyrnium olusatrum, commonly known as Alexanders, horse parsley or alisanders is an edible flowering plant in the Smyrnium genus. This flowering plant thrives in uncultivated areas by the seaside, salt marshes, in hedgerows, woods, in lime soils and wastelands. Smyrnium, Alexander’s genus, derives its name from the Greek word smurna, meaning myrrh, probably because of its aromatic seeds. Basically, there are about 8 species in the genus. While some species are biennials, others are perennials.
[Note: The Right Flowers is not a medical site. Knowledge of and information about the therapeutic benefits and applications of flowers, while known through the ages, does not constitute medical advice. If you are having health issues, you should consult with a physician.]
Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean region, but it has become naturalized in other parts of the world. The plant was brought to Europe by Romans who fondly referred to it as ‘pot herb of Alexandria’.
The plant’s English name most likely refers to Alexander the Great, the ambitious general who founded Alexandria city in Egypt. Some schools of thought hold that the plant’s name is borrowed from the city it was brought from; Alexandria.
For years, Alexanders was grown as a vegetable and medicinal plant. With time, the plant was overtaken by celery as a vegetable. It is thought that celery replaced Alexanders because the former was gradually improved through selective cross-breeding of superior varieties. In spite of being considered inferior to celery, all parts of Alexanders are edible. Its flavor mildly resembles celery’s but has lingering bitter notes.
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Alexanders flowers between April and June. It brings forth yellow-green blossoms arranged in umbels. The flowers are small with egg-like ovaries at the center and inconspicuous sepals. Its blossoms are hermaphrodites and frequented by insect pollinators.
The plant was known to Pliny the Elder who recommended its leaves and flowers for healing cuts and its root as a diuretic. According to Pliny, chewing the herb with some honey and aniseed in the morning freshens the breath.
Apart from its use in oral health, Alexanders was used extensively by ancient people to cure scurvy, a condition caused by lack of vitamin C. Scurvy results in swollen and bleeding gums which also tend to be weak. Sailors normally stocked enough Alexanders in their vessels as a remedy against scurvy during their voyages.
Alexander is known to have emmenagogue properties. Emmenagogue refers to compounds that stimulate the flow of blood to the pelvic region. In addition, the leaves and flowers are said to have antimicrobial properties. They are crushed and applied as poultice over cuts and bruises to hasten healing.
Though Alexanders has long been overtaken by celery as a culinary delight and its fame as a medicinal herb has waned, it is still a great flowering plant to have in your backyard.