Sweet Cicely (Anise Root)

Osmorhiza claytonii and O. longistylis

woolly_sweet_cicely_12-30-13.jpg

Photo of woolly sweet cicely flower clusters
Woolly sweet cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii)
Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org
Edible
Other Common Name
Clayton's Sweetroot; Woolly Sweet Cicely; Sweet Anise; Aniseroot; Long-Styled Sweet Cicely
Family

Apiaceae (carrots)

Description

Missouri has two species of sweet cicely, which can be hard to tell apart. Both are perennial herbs with umbels of small white flowers, fernlike leaves, and sweetly aromatic, carrotlike roots. Flowers minute, white, massed on simple umbels. Blooms April–June. Leaves fernlike: twice ternately compound (in 3 sections, 2 lateral, 1 terminal, all 3 divided again into 3 sections), coarsely toothed, the lateral leaflets on a short stalk, the terminal on a longer one; aromatic. Root carrotlike, often aromatic with an anise or licorice scent.

Anise root (O. longistylis) is our most common sweet cicely. Its roots are strongly anise-scented, and the styles of the flowers are longer than the petals at flowering time. It is scattered to common nearly statewide.

Woolly sweet cicely (O. claytonii) apparently is far less common in our state. It usually smells much less strongly of anise, and although the stamens often protrude from the flowers, the styles are shorter than the petals. It is most commonly found north of the Missouri River.

Size

Height: to 3 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs on rich wooded slopes, bottomland forests, banks of streams, and often in ravines.

image of Sweet Cicely Woolly Sweet Cicely Anise Root Sweet Anise distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide except Southeast Lowlands.

Human connections

Anise root has sometimes been used as a substitute for anise oil in cooking. This is done by extracting the oils from the roots or by grating the roots. Members of the celery family (such as this plant) tend to be rich in aromatic oils, and many species are very important culinarily.

Ecosystem connections

Like other members of the celery or parsley family, some butterflies use this species as a food plant for their larvae. The flowers provide nectar to several more types of insects.