Nature on our doorsteps: Alexanders in bloom
One of the first of our wild Umbellifer plants to emerge along hedgerows and roadsides each spring is Alexanders.
This large plant is notable for its abundance of shiny green leaves and numerous heads of yellow-green flowers.
These flowerheads emerge as a tight ball of buds before opening out into the ‘umbrella’ that is typical for this group of plants.
Alexanders is a Mediterranean species. It was first brought to Britain by the Romans and from there, it spread into Ireland.
It is now naturalised along the east coast.
It is said to have a strong taste, similar to celery, and it was once widely grown as a vegetable.
Every part of the plant was used.
Even the unopened flower buds were pickled. The leaves and stems were served boiled or steamed, or they were added to soups to make a thick potage.
Alexanders would have been an important part of the medieval kitchen garden.
Because it often begins to produce new leafy greens by early February, it would have helped to fill the hungry gap between winter and spring.
It was also used as a folk medicine to treat stomach and blood complaints.
Its early flowering also means that Alexanders is also an important source of pollen and nectar for newly emerging pollinating insects.