Monday, January 13, 2020

Stone Parsley (Sison amomum)

My floral companion over the darkest time of the year was a specimen of Stone Parsley (Sison amomum) that made a very belated decision to throw up a flowering stem, when we were already well into autumn. In the spring I had transplanted two Stone Parsley plants from a nearby verge. (The other one had flowered at midsummer and was long gone.)

The carrot family (Apiaceae, formerly called Umbelliferae) contains many species that make wonderful subjects for photographs, but Stone Parsley isn't one of them. The adult plant consists almost entirely of narrow, divergent, stems making a zigzag network in the air. They terminate in small, widely separated, white flowers, which mature into small dark fruits. There's just nothing for the camera to focus on.

But that didn't stop me trying, and I took hundreds of snaps of this plant and of others (Stone Parsley is very common in Swindon). The photos here, for what it's worth, were the best.

One cobwebby morning.

From Dioscorides' De Materia Medica (50 - 70 CE). This is from the translation available online by Tess Anne Osbaldeston (2000). As ever, a degree of doubt exists about which species Dioscorides (a physican in Cilicia, SE Turkey) was referring to. 

3-64. SISON

Sison is a little seed similar to apium [3-77] that grows in
Syria — somewhat long, black, with an acrid taste. It
is taken in a drink for the spleen, painful urination, and
retention of the menstrual flow. The inhabitants use it for
a sauce, eating it with cucurbita [2-164] boiled with
vinegar. It has (as it were) many little grains on the tops.

[SUGGESTED: Sison amomumSium amomumSium aromaticum
— Hedge Sison, Bastard Stone Parsley]

The most frequently repeated fact about Stone Parsley is that the crushed plant has a nauseating smell of petroleum. I'm sure this is true, but my own sense of smell is so fitful that I've yet to experience it.

Despite the smell, it's apparently edible and the seeds have been used as a condiment. The stems are said to taste like celery.

The 1684 sex and midwifery manual known as Aristotle's Masterpiece talks about Stone Parsley's usefulness for cleansing the womb, suggesting that it may be abortifacient.

Stone Parsley doesn't occur in Sweden. It's considered sub-Atlantic / sub-Mediterranean. In the UK it mostly occurs SE of a line from Lincolnshire to Glamorgan, but even within that region its frequency varies greatly. I never noticed it around Hastings (E. Sussex), nor do I ever see it around Frome (Somerset), but in residential West Swindon it grows all along the footpaths and shelter-belts, often in large numbers.

Small snails on the upper part of the main stem, January 2020.

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