Some native species in the Apiaceae Family and their uses!

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.

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

Several of our root vegetables and herbs belong to this family, although these are cultivated forms and the wild species of which they originated are mostly not native (NN in list below) to the British Isles.

I’ve used Wikipedia, PFAF or other websites a lot again as they have such valuable information about the individual species and their uses.

Also links with the online atlas of the British and Irish Flora of the Biological Records Centre in order to find out the natural habitats of the plants.

Medicinal Uses mostly came from the  Med Flora by J. Barker

Pictures by Matt Summers unless stated.

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

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 (pink background colour!) 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:

This family is split into 2 subfamilies and the first subfamily; called

Saniculoideae

At first glance these don’t look like Umbels.

It has got 3 genera of which the first and third genera have a native species.

Sanicle or Sanicula europaea  flower by Kristian Peters (Wikipedia)

Sanicula europaea  or Sanicle

This is a perennial herb of moist soil in deciduous woodland, often where  FagusFraxinus or Quercus spp. predominate.

 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. It is not much used in modern medicine.

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 sore throat (gargle)

The useful as well as very attractive Eryngium maritimum or Sea-holly

Eryngium maritimum or Sea-holly

A very attractive coastal plant found all around our coast on sand dunes and shingle.

It has an interesting history as an aphrodisiac.

Uses: Cystitis, urethritis, urinary calculus; renal colic; haematuria. Benign prostatic hypertrophy. Prostatitis.

Subfamily Apioidea

 There are 47 different genera in the subfamily Apioidea or 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 flowering umbels themselves can be like lace, providing food to many insects and later when all foil has gone a statuesque reminder of what has been.

I will list below all the natives, neophytes or archeophytes and occasional non natives (NN) below (from Stace) with their scientific (always in italic, which is the rule in nomenclature) as well  as one or more common names.

Chaerophyllum temulum or Rough Chervil

A native biennial herb, especially characteristic of rank grassland on roadside verges, by hedges and along wood-borders and forest rides; also found on railway banks and in waste places.

Anthriscus sylvestris or Cow Parsley, Wild Chervil or Wild Parsley (!)

A very common and robust perennial herb, characteristic of roadsides and hedgerows, but also occurring in abandoned pastures and under-managed hay meadows, in woodland rides and edges, on railway banks, and on waste and cultivated ground.

This should be picked  as soon as you can identify it properly. Later in the year it will get too bitter. It 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!)

Scandix  pecten-veneris or Shepard’s-needle

An archaeophyte and annual of arable fields, particularly on calcareous clay soils.

This 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.

Myrrhis odorata or Sweet Cicely

A neophyte perennial herb of hedge banks, woodland margins, roadside verges, river banks and other grassy places.

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. The fruits make tasty snacks!

Gerard was much in favour of sweet cicely!

Sweet cicely  is a herbal tonic that restores energy, lifts the spirats and settles the digestion. The fruits or leaves and stems can be made into an aperitif against poor appetite, weak digestion, flatulence and indigestion. It is a good 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. (from Hedgerow Madicine)

Coriandrum sativum or Coriander (NN)

Often grown and seen on our allotment site!

Leaves used raw or cooked as a flavouring in salads, soups etc and seeds in cakes, bread and curries. The fresh leaves are probably the most widely used flavouring herb in the world.

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

Smyrnium olusatrum or Alexander

An archaeophyte and a robust perennial herb naturalised in hedge banks, on cliffs, at the base of walls, and on grassy roadsides, pathsides and waste ground, mainly near the sea. Lowland.

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.

Bunium bulbocastanum or Great Pignut

A tuberous perennial herb of dry chalk soils, most frequent in arable fields, especially where cultivation has ceased, and sometimes dominant in arable reverting to pasture.

The small, rounded taproot is edible raw or cooked, and said to taste like sweet chestnuts. The leaf can be used as an herb or garnish similar to parsley.

Conopodium majus or Pignut (See a field of them at the top of this post!)

Conopodium majus or Pignut

A perennial herb, found in damp or shaded meadows and pastures, hedgerows, roadside verges, copses and woodlands; especially characteristic of some types of northern hay meadow (Rodwell, 1992).

Pimpinella major  or Greater Burnet Saxifrage

A perennial herb, mainly on basic soils derived from chalk and limestone, but also on clay, and most often found on roadsides, hedge banks, railway banks and wood edges, sometimes persisting on roadsides when neighbouring woods have been removed. Generally lowland, reaching 320 m in Derbyshire.

 Pimpinella saxifraga or Burnet-saxifrage

A perennial herb of grassy habitats on well-drained soils, favouring those which are calcareous or otherwise base-rich, but also on acidic sands.

It is highly nutritious for sheep and cattle, and in the past was cultivated on calcareous soils for fodder.

John Gerard‘s Herball (1597) commends the plant’s properties, and states that it is: “A speciall helpe to defend the heart from noysome vapours and from the infection of the Plague or Pestilence, and all other contagious diseases for which purpose it is of great effect, the juice thereof being taken in some drink…it is a capital wound herb for all sorts of wounds, both of the head and body, either inward or outward, used either in juice or decoction of the herb, or by the powder of the herb or root…”

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.

Berula erecta or Lesser Water-parsnip

This stoloniferous perennial occurs as a submerged aquatic in rivers and streams, and as an emergent species at the edges of lakes, ponds, rivers, ditches and canals, and in marshes.

Some Uses:

  • The Zuni people use Berula erecta as an ingredient of “schumaakwe cakes” and used it externally for rheumatism.
  • An infusion of the whole plant is used as wash for rashes and athlete’s foot infection.
  • Some Native American peoples have been known to use Berula erecta for medicinal purposes.
  • Berula erecta has been studied for its essential oil that has been believed to possibly have medicinal uses.
Crithmum maritimum or Rock Samphire at Chesil Beach in Dorset.

Crithmum maritimum or Rock Samphire.

A fleshy perennial herb of spray-drenched rock crevices and ledges on sea-cliffs, coastal rocks and on stabilised shingle; also in maritime grassland and artificial habitats like harbour walls and stone sea defences.

This 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! Has got much Vitamin C.

Seseli libanotis or Moon Carrot

This herb is usually biennial, though it is sometimes a short-lived monocarpic perennial.

Edible Uses:

  • The leaves and root are edible.
  • S. libanotis is useful in honey production

Medicinal Uses:

Used in folk medicine. Several studies suggest that S. libanotis and other members of Seseli have natural antimicrobial and antioxidant properties

Oenanthe spp. (7 native) Water-dropworts

Oenanthe crocata or Hemlock Water-dropwort

A tuberous perennial herb of shallow water in ditches, the banks of streams, rivers, canals, lakes and ponds, roadside culverts, marshes and wet woodland, among boulders at the top of beaches and on dripping or flushed sea-cliffs.

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 aquatica or Fine leaved Water-dropwort

A tuberous perennial herb of still or slow-moving water, usually occurring on deep, silty, often eutrophic, substrates in shallow ponds and ditches, often where water fluctuates in depth.

It is a poisonous plant! In overdose the fruits cause vertigo, intoxication and other narcotic effects.

Medicinal Uses:

It is used in the treatment of chronic pectoral affections, dyspepsia, intermittent fevers, obstinate ulcers etc.

Aethusa cynapium or Fool’s Parsley.

An annual of hedge banks, waste places, arable fields and other cultivated ground.

This can be mistaken for Garden Parsley but is poisonous!

Foeniculum vulgare var. sativum or Fennel (Arch).

A perennial herb found in marshes, on sea-walls, in gravel-pits, on roadsides and waste ground and on rubbish tips.

The whole plant is edible and have a fresh , nutty flavour. Seeds gathered late in October have a 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)

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).

Anethum graveolens or Dill

An aromatic annual thriving on light, well-drained soils, occurring as a casual in habitats associated with man, including in and near gardens, waste places and rubbish dumps. Also mentioned as a bird seed or grain-alien.

Edible Uses:

Used to flavour many foods such as gravlax (cured salmon) and other fish dishes, borscht, and other soups, as well as pickles (where the dill flower is sometimes used).

Other Uses:

The oil from the seeds is distilled and used in the manufacturing of soaps.

Silaum silaus or Pepper-saxifrage

S. silaus is found in damp, unimproved neutral grassland, usually on clay soils.

Meum athamanticum or Spignel

A perennial herb of deep brown-earth neutral or mildly acidic soils occurring in dry, unimproved grassland in pastures, hay meadows and on roadside-banks

It has interesting uses in the past both as a food and medicinal! Meum has been cultivated in Scotland, where the roots were eaten as a root vegetable.

Physospermum cornubiense or Bladderseed

This rhizomatous perennial herb is often found in substantial, loose colonies in open woodland, in Ulex scrub on heaths, on rough grassy slopes (often in stream valleys), in Molinia grassland, and on shaded roadside banks.

Conium maculatum or Hemlock

A biennial of damp places, such as ditches and river banks, and of drier habitats, including rough grassland, waste ground, rubbish tips and roadsides. 

Hemlock is a very poisonous plant that has a long history of medicinal use, though it is very rarely used in modern herbalism.

“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 and not just for poison. Actions: Analgesic, antineuralgic, antispasmodic; anaphrodisiac.

Bupleurum spp. or Hare’s-ears

Bupleurum falcatum or Sickle-leaved Hare’s-ear

A Neophyte. This biennial or short-lived perennial herb has been recorded in hedge banks and field-borders, on ditch banks and on roadside verges, but only recently in the latter habitat.

Edible Uses:

Leaves and young shoots – cooked.T he new growth in spring and autumn is used. It is a good source of rutin.

Medicinal Uses:

There are lots of uses according to PFAF

  • A paste of the plant is applied to boils.
  • The juice of the roots, mixed with the juice of Centella asiatica, is used in the treatment of liver diseases. This species is closely related to B. chinense and quite possibly has the same uses. It is certainly worthy of some research. The uses of B. chinense are as follows:- Bei chai hu root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years.
  • It is a bitter herb that is used to harmonize the body, balancing the different organs and energies within the body.
  • It strengthens the digestive tract, acts as a tonic for the liver and circulatory system, lowers fevers and has anti-viral effects.
  • It is taken internally in the treatment of malaria, blackwater fever, uterine and rectal prolapse, haemorrhoids, sluggish liver, menstrual disorders, abdominal bloating etc.
  • The root contains saikosides. These saponin-like substances have been shown to protect the liver from toxicity whilst also strengthening its function, even in people with immune system disorders.
  • These saikosides also stimulate the body’s production of corticosteroids and increase their anti-inflammatory affect.
  • The plant is often used in preparations with other herbs to treat the side effects of steroids.

B. tenuissimum or Slender Hare’s-ear

This slender, often diminutive, annual is primarily a colonist of thinly vegetated or disturbed coastal sites, including coastal banks, sea walls, drained estuarine marshes and the margins of brackish ditches.

B. baldense or Small Hare’s ear

This diminutive annual is found in rabbit-grazed coastal grassland over calcareous substrates.

B. rotundifolium or Hare’s ear 

An Archaeophyte. This annual was formerly an arable weed of chalk and limestone soils, but it is now a rare bird-seed casual.

Edible Uses:

Leaves – raw or cooked. Added to salads or used as a pot-herb. The leaves are also used as a spice.

Trinia glauca or Honewort

This monocarpic, dioecious perennial herb is restricted to dry limestone sites, typically occurring in short-grazed, open, species-rich turf on S.-facing slopes. 

Cuminum cymimum or Cumin

A casual herb. An annual which occurs on rubbish tips and waste ground, arising from bird-seed and food refuse.

This a bird-seed alien and from use as a spice.

Apium graveolens or Wild Celery

A biennial or monocarpic perennial herb found on sea-walls, beside brackish ditches, on tidal river banks and drift lines, and the uppermost parts of saltmarshes.

Edible Use:

Use the dried leaves (dry for 3 weeks) in soup or sparingly fresh in salads Richard Mabey in ‘Food for Free’


Wild celery has a long history of medicinal and food use. it is an aromatic bitter tonic herb that reduces blood pressure, relieves indigestion, stimulates the uterus and is anti-inflammatory. See for more uses here.

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.

Apium repens or Creeping Marshwort

Apium nodiflorum or Fool’s -water-cress. This 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 is not native: 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 an ornamental/cutflowers

Ammi visnaga (NN)

This 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.

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

Carum carvi or Caraway (NN)

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.

Carum verticillatum or Whorled caraway

Selinum carvifolia or Cambridge Milk-parsley

Ligusticum scoticum or Scots Lovage. The flavour of both Lovages the Scots Lovage as well as the cultivated Levisticum 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.

On account of its vitamin C content antiscorbutic, carminative and diuretic, mostly from the volatile oil which it contains.

Ligusticum scoticum or Scots Lovage eaten occasionally against scurvy!

Levisticum officinale or Lovage NN

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.

Angelica sylvestris or Wild Angelica.

This is a close relative of garden angelica or A. archangelica. It is 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.

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.

Angelica archangelica Garden Angelica or Archangelica

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.

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

In Sardinia two different chemotypes of Ferula communis have been identified: poisonous (especially to animals like sheep, goats, cattle, and horses) and non-poisonous.

Peucedanum officinale or Hog’s Fennel

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.

Thyselium palustre or Milk-parsley

Imperatoria sp. NN

Peucedanum ostruthium Masterwort or 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.

Pastinaca sativa ssp. sylvestris or 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 or Cow parsnip: The young shoots are marvellously fleshy. (R. Mabey) 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.

H. montegazinnum or Giant Hogweed (NN or Neophyte). The sap of giant hogweed is phototoxic and causes phytophotodermatitis in humans, resulting in blisters and scars. 

Tordylium maximum or Hartwort (Neophyte)

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

Daucus carota ssp. carota or Wild Carrot

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

D. c. ssp. sativus is the domesticated 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. 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.

The cultivated plant subsp. Sativus has been known for 2000 years and is derived from a Mediterranean ancestor and not from the native plant. Originally it contained anthocyanin pigments which made it the colour of beetroot. The colour was bred out in Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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.

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

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.

Anthriscus cerefolium or Garden Chervil (NN)

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.

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