Chilean Sweet-cicely

Osmorhiza berteroi

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Foliage, immature seeds, and roots smell like anise
  • Needle-like fruits with a pointed beak at the tip
  • Few small, white flowers in loose, flat-topped cluster
  • Bracts below flower clusters are inconspicuous or lacking
  • Leaves with 9 deeply-cleft leaflets

Family Characteristics: 

  • Small flowers in “umbels,” which are clusters that radiate from a single point at the end of a stalk
  • Flowers have 5 petals, 5 sepals, and 5 stamens
  • All plant parts contain aromatic, volatile oils
  • Two-celled fruits with halves joined face-to-face
  • Stems are hollow between leaf joints and often have vertical ribs
  • Many plants in this family are culinary spices (e.g., dill, cilantro/coriander, fennel, caraway)
  • This family includes some of North America’s most poisonous plants

Growth habitat: 

Perennial, 30–100 cm tall, with slender stems. 

Leaves and stems: 

Sparsely hairy foliage has an anise-like smell.  Slender stems are branched and leafy near the tips.  Basal leaves have long stalks.  One to 3 stalkless or short-stalked stem leaves are triangular in outline.  Stem leaves are divided into 3s and a total of 9 deeply cleft leaflets, 1–7 cm long, are in each group.  Leaflets have coarse-teeth on the edges and attach by stalks that sheath the stem.  

Flowers: 

Few small white to greenish-white flowers in a loose, flat-topped cluster (umbel) with 3–8 main branches.  Umbel is inconspicuous and short-stalked during flowering, but open and long-stalked during fruiting.  Bracts below flower clusters are inconspicuous or lacking.

Roots: 

Thick, brown taproot has a powerful anise-like aroma

Seeds: 

Dark brown fruits, 12–18 mm long, split lengthwise from the base into stalked pairs of needle-like seeds with narrow ribs and a pointed beak at the tip.  Bristly hairy (at least near base) fruits occasionally stick to fur and clothing.  Immature green fruits have a powerful anise-like aroma when crushed and make a tasty trail snack. 

Habitat preferences: 

Dry to moist, open forests, thickets, meadows, and clearings at low to mid-elevations.  

Interesting facts: 

The pungent-smelling root is edible when steamed or boiled and is used medicinally as an antiviral and an expectorant.  It is also mildly laxative and useful for modifying blood sugar imbalances.  The Blackfoot people made a tea from the roots to treat colds, dry throat, and pneumonia. 

Biological Classification: