Also known as Horse Parsley and Black Lovage. Frost hardy culinary herb originating from continental Europe and used since ancient times – It was highly popular during the time of Alexander the Great (hence the name) and was introduced to Britain by the Romans. (Some sources say the Romans brought it to use as fodder for their horses, and many sources concur that most stock enjoy it). It is still commonly found on the sites of medieval monastery gardens as a relic of former cultivation. We believe it’s time for a revival!
The whole plant is edible, with a taste between celery and parsley – it is related to both – with a hint of lemon. The leaves, stems and young shoots can be used like celery, raw in salads or cooked in soups, though they benefit from blanching (mulching to prevent light) to reduce bitterness. We use the young leaves mostly in salads and to make pesto. The flower buds can used raw and the mature flowers used for tempura, and the seeds can be used as a pepper substitute. The roots can be boiled and used in soups, and are also apparently excellent grated in coleslaw or tossed in salads, roasted like parsnips or deep fried. All parts can also be used to make syrups, wine and beer.
As a biennial Alexanders produces leaves in the first year and then flowers and seed in the second, however we find it is almost dormant in summer (very sensible!) only to pop up again everywhere in Autumn. It self-seeds, becoming easily perennialised in a garden or food forest and providing good ground cover. Producing a heap of biomass from Autumn through to spring, Alexanders is a great candidate for ‘chop and drop’ in a food forest system.
The Biological Husbandry Unit at Lincoln University uses Cow Parsley, a close relative, in their orchards to trap fungal spores from floating up in spring from the leaf litter layer, and my feeling is that Alexanders, with its larger leaves, would be at least as good (and a lot tastier!). Also, with its umbelliferous flowers, Alexanders is great for attracting beneficial insects including bees and predators of aphids, codling moth and leafroller. A mass of Alexanders flower heads is also a beautiful sight in the garden or food forest.
Medicinally, Alexanders is used as a bitter herb to aid digestion. In former times the juice was also used to clean wounds.
Definitely time for a revival!
Certified organic plant. 9cm pot.
Photos: Kahikatea Farm