Uniquely identifiable characteristics
Distinguishing Feature :
Not to be semantically confused with :
Angelica or Garden Angelica, which are also umbellifers beginning with the letter 'A'.
In the home counties, but very few other hectads,
Perfoliate Alexaders (Smyrnium perfoliatum) is found (as well as Alexanders). At only 60cm (1m maximum) it grows to half the height of Alexanders and has yellowish-green leaves rather than the dark glossy green of Alexanders. It was introduced and naturalised in grassy places and flower borders. However, another huge difference is that the leaves strongly clasp the stem, encircling it, which is not the case with some of the photos above taken on the St. Helens Canal, although they certainly have yellowish-green leaves.
When crushed, both leaves and stem smell (and taste) of
Myrrh, hence the scientific name 'smyrnium'. It has a taste similar to that of
Celery, another umbellifer.
There are not many yellow-flowered umbellifers, only about seven, the others being Wild Parsnip, Fennel,
Pepper-saxifrage, Rock Samphire, Garden Parsley and
Hog's Fennel which is quite rare. Alexanders can not be mistaken for any of these because it has glossy large dark-green leaves which are in threes like the Ace of Clubs. Its solid stem is also stouter stem than most others. The flower umbels lack bracts.
Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean, but now well established in the UK, almost always not far from the sea. It used to be cultivated, but is now almost forgotten as a foodstuff. In taste it is intermediate in flavour between
Celery. The latter has now replaced it culinarily. It is common around mediaeval monasteries around which it was once cultivated. The
parsnip-flavoured root is boiled before eating and is mildly diuretic. The roots can be candied.
In the first year it is low and bushy with many leaves, in the second year it sprouts tall flowering stems.
The brown fruit contains an essential oil,
cuminal, with an odour reminiscent of
cumin which also contains cuminal, its main aroma compound. Cuminal is another name for
Cumaldehyde or 4-isopropylbenzaldehyde, which is contained in the essential oils of
Cumin and some other plants. Cuminaldehyde is related to
Cumene (isopropylbenzene) which is not a component of Cumin (nor of Alexanders).