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  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet


Updated: Mar 22

I bet you've never heard of Alexanders even if you do live in Norfolk! So it came as a great shock to the County when in 2002 it's favoured emblem of the blood-red field poppy was cheekily swapped by Plantsman magazine, and declared henceforth to be Alexanders!

Well, apparently horses like it! (Another name for it is Horse Parsley), and it prefers the coast... Apart from that it's pretty nondescript and indeed where I live in South Norfolk, not seen very frequently hereabouts.

It is an invasive herb plant principally of cliff-tops and hedgerows. Originally from the Mediterranean regions it doesn't much like the cold, so salty coastal regions with milder winters seem to suit it well.

It is a pretty unremarkable plant unless you were a medieval cook when you might have used it for culinary purposes. The 'pot herb of Alexandria' was brought here by the Romans and can often be found around the ruins of old priories.

All parts of the plant are edible and it is said to taste like a cross between celery and flat-leaved parsley both of which which it resembles with its yellowy-green tri-foliate leaves and umbels of cream flowers. It's seeds are black and peppery.

You can forage for Alexanders, treating tender stems like asparagus as well as roast roots like parsnips.

Flower-heads can be treated like broccoli or tossed and fried in a light batter while the seeds can be dried and used as a spice, a bit like black pepper.

Tender leaves can be picked at any time of year and used sparingly in salads or as greens.

Remember though to check you are not confusing the plant with similar but toxic varieties.

Plant and foraging expert Richard Mabey warns in his book Food for Free,

Indigestion brought on by uncertainty about whether you have done yourself in, can be just as uncomfortable as real food poisoning!’

Other Facts:

​In the past, Alexanders was used medically in treatments for asthma, menstrual problems and for healing wounds, though it is rarely used in medicine today.

Smyrnuim indicates the plants distinct myrrh-like aromatics. While Olusatrum comes from Olus meaning garden herb and Atrum from the Latin ater, atrum, adjective atro, meaning black or dark (in this case a reference to the mature black seeds).

The Black Seed Capsules of Alexanders

I am so glad that public opinion seems to have reinstated the beautiful red common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) as Norfolk's flower of choice. After all, poppies and *Poppyland are indelibly linked with our county.

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