Smyrnium olusatrum / Zwartmoeskervel / Alexander

Zwartmoeskervel is een hoge schermbloemige plant met donkergroene bladeren, lichtgroene bloemen en zwarte zaden. Het is een subtropisch gewas dat in onze streken alleen kan groeien op plaatsen met een mild zeeklimaat. Eeuwen lang werd zwartmoeskervel langs de kusten van west-Europa als groente geteeld. Bij het koken worden de bladeren zwart, vandaar de naam. Hoewel alle delen van de plant een lekkere, wat selder-achtige smaak hebben is de groente toch in onbruik geraakt. 

Zwartmoeskervel groeit als wilde plant in het Middellandse Zeegebied, langs de Frans-Atlantische kust en in de gematigde kuststreken van Zuid-Engeland en Zuid-Ierland. De Romeinen zouden hem naar Engeland gebracht hebben.

Smyrnium is een koudekiemer. Dit zijn soorten die een periode van kou nodig hebben om te kunnen kiemen met meestal vooraf een periode van warmte. Veelal zijn dit zaden die al vroeg in het jaar afrijpen en in of op de grond vallen. Om te voorkomen dat de zaden als kwetsbare zaailingen de winter in gaan, zullen ze niet eerder kiemen dan in het volgende voorjaar. De zaden moeten eerst vocht op kunnen nemen in een warme periode (2 tot 5 weken). Waarna een periode van kou (temperaturen +5 tot -5) de kiemrust doorbreekt. Hoe lang zo'n periode moet zijn is per soort verschillend. Temperaturen lager dan -5 verlengen de periode omdat dan het proces stil komt te staan. De natuurlijke winteromstandigheden zijn meestal het meest effectief voor het doorbreken van de kiemrustperiode.

Smyrnium olusatrum - Zwartmoeskervel
Kleur: Geelgroen
Hoogte: 60 t/m 125 cm.
Bloeitijd: mei t/m juni
Planttype: Vast
Gram voor 1000 planten: 80 gram
1000-zadengewicht: 4,5 gram
Licht: zon, halfschaduw
Vocht: vochtig
Voedselrijkheid: voedselrijke grond

Food Chem. 2012 Dec 15;135(4):2852-62. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.07.027. Epub 2012 Jul 16.
A forgotten vegetable (Smyrnium olusatrum L., Apiaceae) as a rich source of isofuranodieneMaggi F, Barboni L, Papa F, Caprioli G, Ricciutelli M, Sagratini G, Vittori S.School of Pharmacy, University of Camerino, Italy.
Smyrnium olusatrum, well known as wild celery or Alexanders, is a biennial herb belonging to the Apiaceae and used for many centuries as an edible vegetable because of the aromatic flavour of its parts. Its use on the table has decreased since the Middle Ages when it was replaced by common celery (Apium graveolens). In the present work the composition of the essential oils obtained by hydrodistillation of various plant parts was investigated by gas chromatography (GC-FID and GC-MS), while quantitation of a heat-sensitive compound, isofuranodiene, known for its anticancer activity, and of its Cope rearrangement product curzerene, was achieved by HPLC-DAD. All essential oils were composed mainly of furanosesquiterpenoids (54.1-76.2%) with isofuranodiene (19.5-45.8%) as the main constituent. Results showed that GC analysis provides underestimation (up to five times) of isofuranodiene levels in essential oils and that curzerene could be considered an artifact since it is produced during heating of plant material, occurring during hydrodistillation.

Phytochemistry. 1998 Nov 20;49(6):1709-1714. Essential oil composition of smyrnium olusatrum. Mölleken U, Sinnwell V, Kubeczka KH.
Department of Pharmaceutical Biology, University of Hamburg, Bundesstrasse 43, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
The essential oils obtained by hydrodistillation of green and ripe fruits, herb, flowers and roots of Smyrnium olusatrum (alexanders), have been analyzed by means of GC, GC-MS, and NMR spectroscopic methods. Roots, herb and flowers are characterized by a high content of oxygenated sesquiterpenoids, most of them furanosesquiterpenoids, while green and ripe fruits are dominated by monoterpene hydrocarbons with beta-phellandrene and alpha-pinene as major constituents. The furanosesquiterpenoids, comprising a high proportion of furanodiene and isofuranogermacrene, are present in all parts of the plant. In roots and herbs furanoeremophil-1-one is the second important furanosesquiterpenoid, whereas 1beta-acetoxyfurano-4(15)-eudesmene was detected as a prominent component in green and ripe fruits. Additionally a new furanoeudesmane derivative has been isolated from the fruits. With the aid of (13)C, (1)H and 2D NMR the structure has been established as furano-4(15)-eudesmen-1-one.

AbstractFitoterapia 97: 2014 Sep pg 133-41
Smyrnium olusatrum (Apiaceae), well known as wild celery, is a biennal celery-scented plant used for many centuries as a vegetable, then abandoned after the introduction of celery. In the present work, the essential oil obtained from inflorescences and the amounts of its main constituents isofuranodiene, curzerene and germacrone were analyzed by GC as well as by HPLC because of their degradation (Cope rearrangement) occurring at high temperatures. The oil and the main constituents were assayed for cytotoxic activity on the human colon cancer cell line (HCT116) by MTT assay. Flower oil and isofuranodiene showed noteworthy activity on tumor cells with IC50 of 10.71 and 15.06 μg/ml, respectively. Analysis of the cytotoxic activity showed that wild celery oil and isofuranodiene are able to induce apoptosis in colon cancer cells in a time and concentration-dependent manner suggesting a potential role as models for the development of chemopreventive agents.

Food Chem. 2016 Feb 1;192:782-7. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.07.079. Epub 2015 Jul 21. Isofuranodiene: A neuritogenic compound isolated from wild celery (Smyrnium olusatrum L., Apiaceae). Mustafa AM1, Maggi F2, Papa F3, Kaya E4, Dikmen M4, Öztürk Y4.
In the search for neuroactive compounds that mimic the nerve growth factor (NGF) activity for the protection against neurodegenerative diseases, the potential medicinal values of foods and plants attracts intense interest. Isofuranodiene is the major constituent of the essential oil of wild celery (Smyrnium olusatrum L., Apiaceae). The cytotoxic effects of isofuranodiene towards rat neuronal PC-12 pheochromocytoma cells were determined by MTT assay, while the cell differentiation was evaluated with xCELLigence real time cell analysis system (RTCA DP), and the neuritogenic activity was assessed by neurite outgrowth image analysis. Isofuranodiene at concentrations of 25 and 12.5 μM alone, or in combination with 50 nM NGF, showed a marked stimulation of neuritogenesis, but it was more effective at 12.5 μM with or without NGF. The present study reports the first evidence of the neuritogenic effects of isofuranodiene, which appears to be a promising neurotrophic and neuroprotective agent deserving further investigation.

Antifungal activity and chemical composition of essential oils from Smyrnium olusatrum L. (Apiaceae) from Italy and Portugal.

The essential oils and supercritical CO₂ extracts of wild Smyrnium olusatrum L. growing in Sardinia (Italy) and in Portugal were investigated. For the study, oils were isolated from total plant aerial part (umbels containing seeds). The content of β-phellandrene (67.3% vs. 42.7%) and α-pinene (31.9% vs. 1.2%), respectively, the main components of Portuguese and Italian essential oils, declined during the maturation stage of the umbels. Contrarily, some other important components, particularly curzerene, germacrene B, germacrone, alexandrofuran, 1-β-acetoxyfurano-4(15)-eudesmene and 1-β-acetoxyfurano-3-eudesmene, increased in fruiting umbels. The chemical composition of the Sardinian oil is rather different from those of other origin. The composition of the supercritical extracts and the essential oils is markedly different, particularly due to the high amount of furanosesquiterpenoids in the supercritical fluid extraction. The minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) and the minimal lethal concentration were used to evaluate the antifungal activity of the oils against Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, Candida krusei, Candida guillermondii, Candida parapsilosis, Cryptococcus neoformans, Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum, Epidermophyton floccosum, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus. The oils were particularly active against dermatophyte strains and C. neoformans, with MIC values in the range of 0.32-0.64 µL mL⁻¹.

Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Flowers;  Leaves;  Root;  Stem.
Edible Uses: Condiment
Leaves and young shoots - raw in salads or cooked in soups, stews etc. The plant comes into growth in the autumn and the leaves are often available throughout the winter. They have a rather strong celery-like flavour and are often blanched (by excluding light from the growing plant) before use[183]. Leafy seedlings can be used as a parsley substitute. Stem - raw or cooked. It tastes somewhat like celery, but is more pungent. The stem is often blanched (by excluding light from the growing plant) before use[183]. Flower buds - raw. Added to salads, they have a celery-like flavour[K]. The spicy seeds are used as a pepper substitute. Root - cooked. Boiled and used in soups, its flavour is somewhat like celery. The root is said to be more tender if it has been kept in a cool place all winter.

Medicinal Uses
Bitter;  Digestive.
The whole plant is bitter and digestive. It has been used in the past in the treatment of asthma, menstrual problems and wounds, but is generally considered to be obsolete as a medicinal plant[238] Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses

Dodonaeus over Smyrnium ; 
Van Grote Eppe, kap. XLIII 
Hipposelinon of grote eppe. 
(Smyrnium olusatrum)
De grote eppe heeft grote, brede en bruine bladeren die veel op de bladeren van de gewone peterselie lijken, maar veel groter en bruiner zijn en veel op de bladeren van Angelica lijken. Zijn steel is rond en groeit negentig of honderd twintig cm hoog en daarop groeien ronde schermen die kleine witte bloempjes voort brengen en daarna lang zwart zaad dat geurend en van smaak bitterachtig is. De wortel is wit, redelijk lang en dik.

‘Deze eppe is ook verwarmend en verdrogend van aard net zoals de hofeppe of gewone peterselie en vooral haar zaad en wortel die een zuiver makende en dun makende kracht hebben en warm en droog zijn wel tot in de derde graad.
Dioscorides zegt dat de bladeren en stelen van dit gewas gekookt en hetzij alleen, hetzij met vis gegeten worden en hij voegt er ook noch bij dat die rauw weg gelegd en in pekel bewaard worden. De wortel, zegt hij, wordt ook rauw en gekookt gegeten en zo genoten is ze de maag of de mond aangenaam.
Tegenwoordig wordt de rauwe wortel van deze grote eppe ook op tafel gebracht en in plaats van ander salade op het brood gegeten.
Het zaad van deze grote eppe alleen of met honigwater ingenomen verwekt de maandstonden van de vrouwen en jaagt de nageboorte en dode vruchten af, scheidt alle winden, verdrijft en verzoet de pijn en krampen van de buik, laat de plas rijzen en is zeer goed tegen de druppelplas.

De wortel van grote eppe en vooral in wijn gekookt en gedronken heeft ook dezelfde kracht met het zaad, want ze laat ook de plas lossen en rijzen en breekt en jaagt de steen af en is goed tegen de pijn van de lenden en de zijden.
Men eet de jonge stelen van dit gewas met peper en zout zoals de artisjokken en kardoens, want ze zijn aangenaam en lieflijk van smaak. Zo gegeten is de grote eppe een zeer goed moeskruid, voedt goed en doet dezelfde werken die peterselie doet, maar krachtiger. In het kort gezegd, ze kan al hetzelfde dat het Smyrnium van de ouders toegeschreven wordt.
Het zaad en ook de wortel met zeer zoete wijn gedronken is niet alleen goed om de koude plas te genezen, maar verwarmt ook diegene die huiverachtig zijn en koude koortsen hebben.
Dit zaad met wijn gedronken en de wortels in wijn gekookt en de rook hiervan van onder opwaarts gelaten beneemt de pijn van de baarmoeder.
De wortel pleistervormig opgelegd lost de verse gezwellen en hardheden op en gekookt op de vrouwelijkheid gelegd laat de vrouwen misvallen’.

Botanical name: Smyrnium olusatrum L. / FAO
Family: Apiaceae = Umbelliferae
Common names. English: alexanders, alisander, maceron; Spanish: apio caballar, apio equino, apio macedónico, perejil macedónico, esmirnio, olosatro, cañarejo; Portuguese and Galician: salsa de cavalo, cegudes, apio dos cavalos, roses de pé de piolho; Catalan: api cavallar, abil de siquia, julivert de moro, cugul, aleixandri

Origin of the name
This is the hipposelinon of the Greeks, a word which means parsley or "horse celery". In Arabic, during the Andalusian period, it was called karats barri, one of the various karats (celeries) known by Hispano-Arab agronomists, different from cultivated celery (Apium graveolens), aquatic celery (A. nudiflorum) and mountain or rock celery (the Greek and Latin petroselinum or oreoselinon). Alexanders has always been identified as oriental or Macedonian, very possibly as a reference to its geographical origin and its allochthonous character.

Properties, uses and cultivation
Its use as a medicinal plant is very old. The Greek botanist Theophrastus (fourth century BC) made reference to the plant. Dioscorides (first century) also included it in his Materia medica, commenting that its roots and leaves were edible. According to this author, its seed, taken with wine, is an emmenagogue. However, Galen said that it was less active than celery. In the Córdoba of the caliphs, Maimonides also spoke of its powers. During the Middle Ages, it was constantly considered as a plant with diuretic, depurative and aperient properties, particularly through its root. However, its most outstanding quality was perhaps as an antiscorbutic because of its high vitamin C content. The fruit has carminative and stomachic properties. In the eighteenth century, it continued to maintain its reputation as a medicinal plant, as the Flore économique des plantes qui croissent aux environs de Paris described it in 1799.

The plant, and especially the leaves, have a smell and flavour similar to myrrh. Hence the origin of the word smyrnion, its generic name. Columela (first century) refers to the plant as "myrrh of Achaea", because it was grown in Greece, which the Romans called Achaica or Achaea. It is also because of its characteristic flavour and smell that it is used as a condiment; it is used to season food in a similar way to parsley, giving flavour to soups and stews, and to prepare sauces accompanying meat and fish. However, its commonest use has been as a fresh vegetable, with a preference being shown for its leaves, young shoots and leaf stalks, which impart a pleasant flavour similar to celery, although somewhat sharper. It has also been eaten cooked. The Latin word olusatrum, which means "black vegetable", reflects these uses. The roots were used preserved in a sweet-and-sour pickle. The fruit contains an essential oil, cuminal, which is reminiscent of cumin.

The history of its cultivation is surprising. Of all the Umbelliferae used as vegetables, alexanders has been one of the commonest in gardens for many centuries, although in the nineteenth century it was almost completely forgotten. It was probably being gathered before the Neolithic period and was already being grown as early as the Iron Age. It became very popular during the time of Alexander the Great (fourth century BC) and was widely grown by the Romans, who certainly introduced it into western and central Europe, including the British Isles. It is now naturalized in these regions and on the Iberian Peninsula.

Columela elaborates on its cultivation and methods of consumption: "Before alexanders puts out stems, pull up its root in January or February and, after shaking it gently to remove any soil, place it in vinegar and salt; after 30 days, take it out and peel off its skin; otherwise, place its chopped pith into a new glass container or jar and add juice to it as described below. Take some mint, raisins and a small dry onion and grind them together with toasted wheat and a little honey; when all this is well ground, mix with it two parts of syrup and one of vinegar and put it like this into the aforementioned jar and, after covering it with a lid, place a skin over it; later, when you wish to use it, remove the pieces of root with their own juice and add oil to them."

Isidoro de Sevilla (sixth century [1982]) seems to attach less importance to alexanders.

In France, it was an important vegetable, and was grown on the estates of the Carolingian kings. Thus, in the Capitular de Villis, promulgated by Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne (around AD 795), alexanders appears among the plants which should be cultivated. In the eighteenth century, in Versailles, it was used blanched to accompany winter salads. In the early nineteenth century, Rozier, in his Dictionnaire universel d'agriculture pratique, writes: "The leaves of alexanders can appear among cooking condiments, like parsley. Its roots and young shoots are still eaten in England after blanching in the same way as celery."

There is documentation on its cultivation in Belgium in the fifteenth century and on its abundance in English gardens in the sixteenth century. The Italians also traditionally used this plant. However, by about the eighteenth century its cultivation was only very occasional or had fallen into disuse. In Spain, Font Quer (eighteenth century [1990]) says that its root was eaten in many countries as a salad, raw and cooked, as were the stems and young leaves. By the nineteenth century, Spanish agronomists were no longer making any reference to it. Thus, Boutelou and Boutelou (1801) do not mention it, an omission which contrasts with the 13 pages devoted to celery cultivation.

Alexanders was falling into disuse as from the seventeenth century, in direct competition with the "celery of the Italians", an improved form of wild celery (Apium graveolens). This is a case of marginalization in which one plant, doubtless widely used since prehistory, is replaced by another one improved later.

Botanical description Alexander
Alexanders is a biennial herbaceous plant with a thick elongated root. The stems grow up to 150 cm and hollow on fruiting. It has large, pinnatisect, basal leaves, with ovate to subrhombic terminal segments; the caulinar leaves are pinnatisect. The umbels have seven to 22 rays, with black, didymous fruit measuring 5.5 to 7.5 x 4 to 7.5 mm. Alexanders flowers from April to June and propagates well from seed. Its chromosome structure is 2n = 2x = 22.

Ecology and phytogeography
Wild populations of alexanders grow abundantly in salt-marshes and uncultivated land near the sea, nominally in lime soils. It is also found in hedges, woods and on waysides.
It is spontaneous throughout southern Europe, North Africa (Algeria) and in the Near East. In former times it was very abundant in the area around Alexandria. Vavilov (1951) places this crop in the Mediterranean gene centre.
It also occurs on the Canary Islands and in the rest of the Macronesian region.

Genetic diversity
Perfoliate alexanders (Smyrnium perfoliatum L.) has smaller fruit (3.5 mm long) and is distributed through central and southern Europe and southwest Asia. The blanched stems and leaves are used in salads. Its cultivation is documented in the sixteenth century. According to Mathon (1986), this species is of superior quality.
Nowadays it is very difficult to find cultivars of alexanders. However, several cultivated varieties must have existed. For example, in England in 1570, Petrus Pena and Mathius Lobel wrote: "...the cultivated form is far better than the wild plant...". It seems that the plant is still occasionally grown in Great Britain.
Accessions of this species are kept only in the gene bank of the Córdoba Botanical Garden. They are from wild populations in Andalusia.

Cultivation practices
According to Columela, "alexanders must be grown from seed in ground dug out with a pastino, particularly close to walls because it likes shade and thrives on any kind of ground: so once you have sown it, if you do not uproot it fully but leave its stems for seed instead, it lasts forever and requires only light hoeing. It is sown from the feast day of Vulcan (August) until the calends of September, but also in January...".
Nowadays, since cultivation has been relegated to a few family gardens, similar practices are frequently seen. The stem is left to seed, and sowing and spontaneous cultivation takes place. Something like this usually occurs with chard: weeds are removed and a little fertilizer is applied.
Modernization of this crop will depend on techniques similar to those used for celery, including blanching, taking into account the fact that alexanders requires less soil and water.

Prospects for improvement
Celery was also known from antiquity but was considered to be an inedible plant of ill omen. The Greeks, who called it apion, used it in funeral ceremonies. It appears to have been grown early in our era by the Latins. Columela refers to it: "...after the ides of May, nothing must be put in the earth when summer approaches, except for celery seed, which must nevertheless be watered, since in this way it does very well...". Paladio also mentions it, probably basing himself on the earlier source. Likewise, in the Capitular de Villis (eighth century) reference is made to both apium and olisatum. Throughout this period, cultivation of alexanders seems to be predominant.

Around the seventeenth century, types of celery appeared which were derived through breeding to obtain a better size and improved succulence of the leaf stalks (var. dulce (Mill.) Gaud.-Beaup.) or fuller leaf development (var. secalinum Mill.) and which were clearly differentiated from the wild plant. These types are actually different vegetables requiring specific cultivation practices. Thus sweet-leaved celery ("celery of the Italians") is well suited to "blanching", which enables a milder, more tender. product to be obtained.

The marginalization or disuse of many vegetables used since ancient times in Europe may be connected with the changing tastes in the Western world. The trend has been away from dishes rich in spices and hot ingredients towards milder dishes, which respect the flavour of the food itself or enhance it. This is perhaps the case with celery vis-à-vis alexanders. Alexanders is more bitter and pungent and not as tender as sweet celery.

It is significant in this respect that the last agronomic references to the cultivation of alexanders mention the introduction of the blanching technique. It appears thus in the reports by Versailles and Abbot Rozier: "...after they have been blanched in the same way as celery..."; and Barral and Sagnier, in Diccionario de agricultura (1889), write: " Turkey the cultivation of this plant is still an honour. The leaf is eaten after it has been blanched...". The blanching technique also used to be employed in North America. It is obvious that the smaller plant, celery, had asserted itself and now served as a reference, making it necessary to adopt the same cultivation practice for alexanders, evidently with little success.

While cultivation of alexanders is waning, cultivation of celery is by contrast on the increase, as is its importance in cool subtropical and tropical areas of Latin America and the Far East. Petiolate cultivars with big leaves are chiefly used.
The recovery of alexanders would be achieved via the derivation of plant materials with a specific typology, for specific uses, and the development of associated agronomic techniques; this seems very unlikely.