the other useful Umbellifers in the Apiaceae Family!

the Wild Carrot is a typical Umbellifer

Last week the Ground-elder was fully covered in my blog for all its useful attributes and this week I hope to tackle all the remaining ones in the last family of all the Dicot families in Stace.

This is Family 138. Family 139 starts with the Monocots.

It is a large family with 50 genera although many genera have just the one native species and only a few having a small number. 

Several of our root vegetables and herbs belong to this family, although these are cultivated varieties, not always native (NN in list below) to the British Isles. I would as an exception like to talk about those towards the end of the blog as they are fascinating to me and hopefully to you too. You can also follow the links below their names to find out more about their edibility (often as flavouring or herb) and medicinal uses. I’ve used Wikipedia a lot again as they have such valuable information about the individual species about their uses.

I’ve always liked this family, it is easily recognisable, especially the second subfamily, which are the true ‘Umbels’.

The whole plant is attractive in my opinion. The foliage can be very delicate and sometimes the first greenery to be witnessed in late winter. Then the umbels themselves can be like lace, giving food to many insects and later when all foil has gone a statuesque reminder of what has been.

With a bit of practice or using the keys in either ‘The New Flora of the British Isles’ by Clive Stace or ‘The Wild Flower Key’ by Francis Rose, it is not difficult to identify them in the field. It is easier if you can find some ripe fruit and look through a magnifying glass, as these are one of their main diagnostic features.

Some are poisonous and as many genera can look a bit similar, you must be very sure, before you use any as food or medicine!

Now for the more scientific stuff:

Eryngium maritimum or Sea Holly

This family is split into 2 subfamilies and the first subfamily; called Saniculoideae, has got 3 genera of which the first and third genera have native species. At first glance these don’t look like Umbels although once known they are certainly distinct. Sanicula europaea or Sanicle and Eryngium maritimum or the Sea-Holly are the only two useful natives.

 There are 47 different genera in the subfamily Apioidea and I will list all native or archeophytes below (from Stace) with their scientific (always in italic, which is the rule in nomenclature) as well  as one common name. There may be several to many common names, which you can find through the link. This family has many edible as well as medicinal uses! About the more useful ones I will write in more detail below the long list.

The links below the name give you a nice picture + description. The pink background tells you it is poisonous. But the poisonous ones are frequently, although mostly in the past, used as Herbal Medicine.

Chaerophyllum temulum or Rough Chervil

Anthriscus sylvestris or Cow Parsley

Scandix  pecten-veneris or Shepard’s-needle

Myrrhis odorata
 or Sweet Cicely

Coriandrum sativum or Coriander

Smyrnium olusatrum or Alexander

Bunium bulbocastanum or Great Pignut

Conopodium majus or PignutPimpinella major & P. saxifraga or Burnet-saxifrage

Berula erecta or Lesser Water-parsnip

Crithmum maritimum or Rock Samphire

Seseli libanotis or Moon Carrot

Oenanthe spp. (7 native) Water-dropworts

Aethusa cynapium or Fool’s Parsley

Foeniculum vulgare var. sativum or Fennel (Arch)

Anethum graveolens or Dill (bird seed or grain-alien)

Silaum silaus or Pepper-saxifrage

Meum athamanticum or Spignel has interesting uses in the past as a food and medicinal!

Physospermum cornubiense or Bladderseed

Conium maculatum or Hemlock (Archaeophyte, very poisonous!!)

Bupleurum spp. or Hare’s-ears; several native, Bupleurum falcatum B. tenuissimum B. baldense and B. rotundifolium

Trinia glauca or Honewort

Cuminum cymimum or Cumin is a bird-seed alien and from use as a spice.

Apium graveolens or Wild Celery

Apium repens or Creeping Marshwort

Apium nodiflorum or Fool’s -water-cress. It is not a poisonous plant, but it could be easily confused with the allegedly poisonous lesser water parsnip – Berula erecta.

Apium inundatum or Lesser Marshwort

Trachyspermum ammi or Ajowan

Petroselinum segetum or Corn Parsley

Ridolfia segetum or False Fennel: highly rated by Sarah Raven for its useful flowers for flower arranging as well as good bee plant.

Sison amomum or Stone Parsley

Cicuta virosa or Cowbane: very poisenous!

Ammi spp. or Bullworts not native but grown as cutflowers

Falcaria vulgaris or Longleaf (Introduced in 1726 as a garden plant)

Carum carvi or Caraway NN

C. verticillatum or Whorled caraway

Selinum carvifolia or Cambridge Milk-parsley

Ligusticum scoticum or Scots Lovage

Angelica sylvestris or Wild Angelica

Levisticum officinale or Lovage NN

Ferula NN (170 species) for example the Giant Fennel or Ferula communis

Peucedanum officinale or Hog’s Fennel

Thyselium palustre or Milk-parsley

Imperatoria sp. NN

Pastinaca sativa ssp. sylvestris (Wild Parsnip) This is the wild, non edible form of Pastinaca sativa or Parsnip. In Europe, various subspecies have been named based on characteristics such as the hairiness of the leaves, the extent to which the stems are angled or rounded, and the size and shape of the terminal umbel.[

Heracleum spondylium or Hogweed H. montegazinnum

Tordylium maximum or Hartwort

Torilis spp. or Hedge-parsleys e.g. Torilis japonica

Daucus carota ssp. carota or Wild Carrot D. c. ssp. sativus is domesticated Carrot.

Skin contact with the foliage of Daucus carota, especially wet foliage, can cause skin irritation. “Sensitized photosensitive persons may get an exact reproduction of the leaf on the skin by placing the leaf on the skin for a while, followed by exposure to sunshine.”]Contact with the cell sap of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) can cause skin irritation and blistering.[

Some more uses of the Umbellifers:

Edible Uses: leaves:

Anthriscus sylvestris or Cow Parsley  or Wild Chervil and Wild Parsleyshould be picked  as soon as you can identify it properly. Later in the year it will get too bitter. Dries well! Good for salads, part. Cold potato, tomato, and cucumber. Flavouring for hot haricot beans, and herb omelettes. Don’t pick along roads (car-fumes!)

Apium graveolens or Wild Celery: use dried leaves (dry for 3 weeks) in soup or sparingly fresh in salads Richard Mabey in ‘Food for Free’

Fennel; whole plant is edible and have a fresh , nutty flavour. Seeds gathered late in October strong smell dried. Fennel was one of the Anglo-Saxon herbalists’ nine sacred herbs, and later writers credit it with astonishingly versatile powers: (The Englishman’s Doctor, 160B)

Angelica sylvestris or Wild Angelica is a close relative of garden angelica or A. archangelica , thinner and more bitter than the cultivated variety, but good enough as a flavouring. Slice the stems into 4inch lengths, scrape off any tough outside fibres, and then simmer in sugar syrup until tender. Drain off the syrup, strew crushed sugar over the stems and simmer again until this thicker syrup is clear. Lift the stems on to a tray, boil up the syrup to sugar point, pour over the angelica; then drain, boil and pour again, repeating the cycle until the stems can be dried into firm, crystallised lengths.

Myrrhis odorata Sweet Cicely. This beautiful (ornamental!) plant has featherly leaves which have a distinctly sugary overtone to their mild aniseed flavour and are ideal for flavouring stewed fruits such as gooseberries and plums. Some experimenters have been able to halve the amount of sugar they would normally use for such dishes by the plentiful addition of the herb.

Gerard was much in favour of sweet cicely!

Parsley crispum: Garden Parsley: try frying your parsley for half a minute in hot oil and serve as vegetable. Extremely rich in Vit. C

Ligusticum scoticum Scots Lovage eaten occasionally against scurvy

The flavour of both Lovages the Scots Lovage as well as the cultivated Ligusticum officinale is curious (R. Mabey), basically resembling celery, but having quite strong yeasty overtones. Because of this lovage has been used to add body to the flavour of soups and casseroles when meat is short.

Smyrnium olustratum Alex. The Romans brought alexanders to this country from the Mediterranean, as a pot-herb. It thrived, became naturalised, and was still being planted in kitchen gardens in the early eighteenth century. Most parts of the plant have been used in the kitchen at one time or another. A seventeenth century botanists described a soup made of the upper part of the roots. The flower buds were used in medieval salads. And the young leaves make a spicy addition to modern green salads. The most succulent part of the plant is the lower blanched stem. Cook these stems in boiling water for not more than ten minutes. Then eat them like asparagus, with molten butter. They have a wonderfully delicate texture, and a pleasantly aromatic taste.

Crithmum maritimum or Rock samphire is frequent on rocky coasts in the south and west. Both leaves and stems are used for boiling. Boil for 15 minutes and serve with melted butter. Also known as a pickle. It was John Evelyn’s favourite vegetable!

Heracleum sphondylium: Hogweed or Cow parsnip: The young shoots are marvellously fleshy. (R. Mabey)

Medicinal Uses:  Med Flora by J. Barker

Sanicle or Sanicula europaea  The name comes from the Latin ‘to heal’ and ‘healthy’. It was a plant valued by the School of Salerno and throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Not used in modern medicine. Action is Astringent and haemostatic. Anti-inflammatory. Carminative. Expectorant and antitussive. Uses: Gastro-enteritis, especially with suspected ulceration or occoult bleeding. Flatulence. Diarrhoea. Respiratory and urinary infections. Leucorrhoea. Metritis and menorrhagia (In the past was fed to cows after calving to aid expulsion of afterbirth and to stop bleeding) Externally: for healing varicose and other ulcers, haemorrhoids, bruises, chilblains, skin rashes. As a mouthwash for sore gums, etc. or sre throat (gargle)

Sea-holly or Eryngium maritimum: interesting history aphrodisiac Action: Diuretic. Anti-lithic Uses: Cystitis, urethritis, urinary calculus; renal colic; haematuria. Benign prostatic hypertrophy. Prostatitis.

Garden Chervil or Anthriscus cerefolium

Undervalued as a culinary herb (at least in Britain), it can improve almost any dish. I would say it is better used in combination with others. With Dill, for instance,(new potatoes), with Sweet Marjoram (scrambled eggs), with Basil (tomato dishes), with thyme (soups and stews). Grow it behind something which will give it shade in summer and full sun in winter. Medicinally, it is said to be chloretic and, applied externally as a poultice to the breast, anti-galactogenic. In a number of instances I havewinessed a simple infusion of the herb dry up the mother’s milk and bring back menstruation within a day or two.

Scandix pectin-veneris is a salad-herb. Our species is aperitif and stomachic, also said to be aphrodisiac. The upper leaves are used and not the elongated fruit.

Sweet Cicely see Hedgerow Medicines

Coriandrum sativum Coriander

Both leaves and fruits are useful against flatulence and colic and may be given to children and babies over 6 months old.


Action: Aperitif. Expectorant. Carminative. Antiseptic. Anticatarrhal. Galactagogue. Uses: Sore throat, laryngitis, flatulent dyspepsia. Catarrh associated with upper respiratory tract infections. Said to be useful for asthma. Gargle- internal usage is uncertain so only use small doses for limited period.

Rock Samphire: Vitamin C

Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata

It has been used externally for warts and whitlows. Mrs Grieve says it has been taken for eruptive conditions of the skin. It would have to be a serious eruption recalcitrant to other treatment before one would conceive of administering so poisonous a plant

Oenanthe aquatic Fine leaved Water-dropwort: poisonous

Aethusa Fool’s Parsley can be mistaken for Garden Parsley but is poisonous


Action: Aromatic and carminative aperitif and metabolic aid. Diuretic. Galactagogue. Antimicrobial

Uses: Dyspepsia; flatulent colic in children. Topically: Blepharitis, conjunctivitis (compresses made from strong infusion)

Hemlock “If Hemlock has made the name of Socrates widely known, then the death of Socrates has made the reputation of Hemlock”. Much used in past not just for poson. Actions: Analgesic, antineuralgic, antispasmodic; anaphrodisiac.

Ammi visnaga

This non native has been cultivated since earliest times for medicine. More recently, it has been exploited as a drug for use in angina and asthma. The fruiting pedicels (ie the rays of the umbel) are sold in Egyptian markets as tooth picks.

Wild Celery

Parts used Fruits, fresh or dried. All other parts should be fresh, or as a specific tincture Action: Diuretic and urinary antiseptic. Antirheumatic.

Uses Rheumatism. Arthritis. Gout. Inflammation of urinary tract.


Action: Diuretic. Emmenagogue. Anti-galactogenic. Antispasmodic. Stomachic: action on digestive tract with high mineral and vitamin content make it anti-anaemic. Antimicrobial. Uses: Dysmenorrhoea. Amenorrhoea. Dysuria. Cystitis. Chronic oedema of metabolic or cardiac origin. Anaemia. Flatulent dyspepsia. Nausea.

Caraway or Carum carvi

It is by far the most popular of the Umbeliferous carminatives in Central and Eastern Europe. I would say that it loses favour to Fennel and Aniseed as you travel west. Large amounts of the fruits are used, especially for baked goods but also for charcuterie and savoury dishes like sauerkraut. It flavours various liquers like Kummel. The plant, which is mentioned in the Bible, has been known medicinally for at least 5000 years. It came to Western Europe, along with its name kharwayia from the great Arab medical tradition of the 10th-12th centuries. Pigeon-fanciers will keep their birds faithful if they include a bit of caraway in the feed.

Action: Antispasmodic and carminative. Expectorant. Antimicrobial. Galactagogue. Said to be emmenagogue. Uses Flatulent dyspepsia. Intestinal colic. Anorexia. Respiratory tract infections; laryngitis (gargle). Said to be useful for painful periods.

Scots Lovage is a culinary herb which is, on account of its vitamin C content antiscorbutic, carminative and diuretic, mostly from the volatile oil which it contains. Used like Lovage.

Wild Angelica

The leaves make a reasonable carminative and stomachic drink, the root and fruit are stimulant and antispasmodic. The pulverised fruits have been used to get rid of and deter nits from the heads of children. The volatile oil content is considerably less than the following species, but that can be anadvantage when a gentler remedy is needed, for instance with children.

Garden Angelica


Action; Aromatic bitter. Gastric stimulant. Antispasmodic and carminative. Diaphoretic. Antiseptic. Said to be diuretic

Uses: flatulent dyspepsia associated with hypoacidity. Anorexia nervosa. Bronchial catarrh. Of great value in asthma and some types of migraine. Peripheral vascular disorders. The leaf is carminative and anti-inflammatory and is made into compresses to relieve thoracic pain.


Action: Stomachic, carminative and cholagogue. Diuretic. Antidiaphoretic. Mild expectorant. Emmenagogue. Uses: In soup (it has an unusual flavour and should be used sparingly). Said to be useful for rheumatism and painful periods. The fruit has been used for migraine. Caution: not to be taken during pregnancy, nor where there is kidney impairment or disease.

Peucedanum ostruthium Masterwort, Imperatoria

This was a most important medicinal plant in Gerard’s day and was cultivated on some scale.

The heyday use of this plant has retired from these parts but it and several others of the 170 species in this genus are used in Central and Eastern Europe and also in Africa and India.

What was itused for? Chronic bronchial cataeeh. It is also aperitif and stomachic (an aromatic bitter rather similar to Angelica). It was considered useful as an anti-venom, an indication still recognised in Switzerland today.

Peucedanum officinale Hog’s Fennel, Sulphurweed

Very rare native. One cannot be sure whether this was the peukedanos that Dioscorides valued so highly. The strong sulphurous contents give it expectorant, antispasmodic and diaphoretic properties. Whether it has the claimed antimicrobial activity ascribed to it has not been put to the test in modern times.


Pigs do like the leaves and with the fleshy sprouting shoots reminiscent of asparagus, why shouldn’t they? The people of the Baltic use it much more than we: in Poland and Lithuania they make a potent fermented soup from the leaves and fruit called bartszcz.

The stem and leaf hairs are capable of producing a very nasty contact dermatitis with the possibility of subsequent photosensitivity. At its worse, this can lead to permanent purplish discoloration of the skin.

Wild Carrot:

Action Diuretic. Antilithic. Antirheumatic. Carminative. Uses: Gout. Polymyalgia rheumatic (in combination with a number of other remedies). Urinary gravel. Cystitis.

Cultivated Carrot:

The fleshy root of the cultivated carrot is a well-known and highly nutritious food. It is also, but only if taken raw daily, a gentle remedy for threadworms in children. The leaves of the carrot contain porphoryns which tend to stimulate pituitary release of the gonadatrophic hormones. The culyivated plant subsp. Sativus has been known for 2000 years and is derived from a Mediterranean ancestor and not from the native plant. Orinally it contained anthocyanin pigments which made it the colour of beetroot. The colour was bred out in Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Wide medicinal uses are claimed but, in practice, it is employed as a remedy for a number of urinary conditions and for gout, for which it often does well with Celery seed.

Sweet cicely  is a herbal tonic that restores energy, lifts the spirats and settles the digestion.

The fruits make tasty snacks!

The fruits or leaves and stems can be made into an aperitif against poor appetite, weak digestion, flatulence and indigestion. It is a god remedy for older people who have lost their enthusiasm for life, as it lifts the spirits and enkindles the digestive fire. It enables them to enjoy their food with good appetite, warming the digestion and improving absorption of nutrients. This plant is also beneficial for anyone who is weak or exhausted, perhaps after a chronic illness or caring for someone else. It will help them get back their energy and joie de vivre, slowly rebuilding their strength and gently warming the whole system.

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