Grit Blogs > Wayward Spark



Camille head shotOkay, so it looks like Italian parsley, but it’s actually something you’ve probably never heard of, a leafy vegetable called alexanders. Alexanders (so named because it was allegedly a daily part of Alexander the Great’s diet) is a biennial (produces for two years before sexually reproducing) green that’s closely related to celery and parsley (Umbelliferae family). It’s native to the Mediterranean but was spread by the Romans and has naturalized in many parts of Europe and Great Britain, where it’s a common hedgerow plant.

A bunch of alexanders
A bunch of alexanders. 

Alexanders is still semi wild, having lost favor in the culinary world after the domestication of celery, so the taste is strong and somewhat bitter, though mellower when cooked. Plant breeders have never made serious efforts to breed for larger petioles (the botanical term for a celery stalk) or milder flavor, so it’s retained it’s original healthful properties.

Sun shining on alexanders
Sun shining on alexanders. 

Henry got alexanders seed from our friend Frank at Wild Garden Seed. It’s much hardier than parsley and can grow outdoors through the winter. Alexanders offers a fresh-flavored kick to cold-weather soups and hearty root-vegetable-and-meat dishes.

Alexanders growing in oak leaves
Alexanders growing in oak leaves. 

Gardeners should plant alexanders’ large, dark seeds in the fall (in Oregon) as the rains start and temperatures drop. They won’t grow much the first winter, and then plants will go dormant during warmer months. In November of the second year, the plants will start to produce prolifically, yielding significant quantities over the winter. By the second summer, alexanders will go to flower and die. This pungent pot herb is a good candidate for shady kitchen garden spots because it requires no watering and almost no maintenance. 

charles mallory
2/18/2012 3:58:48 AM

Alexanders. Who knew? Wish I had some!

nebraska dave
2/17/2012 7:56:18 PM

Camille, Welcome to the world of GRIT blogging. You first blog about Alexanders is very interesting. I probably would have considered it a weed if it was growing in the hedge row. I have learned many of my negative thoughts about certain plants have been unwarranted. Do you have to replant after two years or does this plant continue with a two year cycle after the initial two years? Last year was my first fall garden and my first salad garden. My initial planting of salad greens in the fall was Mesclun salad mix. At first glance, I thought I had planted weeds until a fellow blogger here on GRIT informed me otherwise. Huh, Chuck. :0) I discovered they were not as tender as Simson lettuce but were quite edible and are now on my list of things to grow. Have a great Alexanders day in the garden.

charles mallory
2/17/2012 2:14:28 PM

Wow! I've done all kinds of research on rare vegetables and edible plants and never came across this. You've certainly whetted my appetite to grow & try this. My great-aunt used to tell me, verbally listing, many, many kinds of greens and herbs they grew & gathered in northern Missouri when she was a child. I certainly wish I had kept a list, because no one remembers that list now. I wonder if this was on the list. Thanks for the enlightenment.