I first read about Alexanders (Horse Parsley or Black Lovage) at lovelygreens.com which is a very lovely green blog written by Tanya, a hand made soap maker of many talents, from the Isle of Man. The post is about using this plant as a steamed vegetable. I was very intrigued by this tall, leafy, strange plant that I was sure I had never seen before. It was a favourite herb in Roman times and apparently got it's name from Alexander the Great. It usually grows near the sea in the UK.
I was very surprised when I discovered it growing nearby, as I don't live near the sea, about six plants were growing outside a very old church. Tanya says that it is often found growing outside old churches ...."the story goes that after the Romans left (UK) Alexanders were further cultivated in monasteries and eventually established themselves in the wild. The practice of growing them as a garden vegetable died out long ago but you will often find Alexanders growing at old churches and the ruins of former monastic sites".
I haven't seen it growing in the nearby hedgerows, only outside that one church in an area that usually gets cut down at this time of the year.
Up until now I have steered clear of all umbelliferae as I just didn't trust my identification skills enough, seen as there are quite a few very toxic and potentially deadly ones out there. There are also plenty of easy to identify plants which don't have poisonous lookalikes to keep me busy. My home spice collection however is full of umbel bearing plants; coriander, parsley, wild fennel, anise, dill, caraway, etc.
It had such an unknown, strange flavour. An acquired taste? The taste was pungent, slightly bitter, celery, parsley but more aromatic. I haven't tried it cooked yet, it would be better earlier in the year as it's very strong tasting now and the stalks are quite stringy.
I have used it chopped as a condiment in salads. I intend to collect the seeds, which will turn black, later on in the summer. I think they will be a great addition crushed and added to curries and spicy dishes. I also may try to plant some seeds in my garden.
I decided that it was perfect, however, for an infusion with gin, inspired by this article from John Wright @the Guardian.co.uk/how-to-make-gin-alexanders
Cover leaves, stems and umbels with gin.
Leave to infuse for 3/4 weeks in a dark place.
Add a little sugar if you have a sweet tooth.
Filter and bottle.
Serve with tonic, ice and a slice of lemon.
John Wright ......was right.....it's a gin and tonic with wings :-)
Further reading and recipes @
edenproject.com/edible-wild-food-alexanders (+how to use)
eatweeds.co.uk/alexanders (+many recipes)