Daucus carota, Queen Anne's Lace, is a common sight in dry fields, roadside ditches and open areas. It is at home in informal settings and is a natural addition to a wildflower meadow. It is also called the Wild Carrot, because this European plant is the progenitor (wild ancestor) of the domestic carrot.
Up to a thousand tiny white flowers are produced in delicate, lacy, flat-topped, two- to four-inch clusters, sometimes with a solitary dark, purple flower in the centre. As the seeds ripen, the seed head curls inward to form a “bird’s nest” shape and turns brown. A small bristly seed is produced at the end of each flower stalk, and once dry they readily latch onto fur or feathers to be disseminated beyond where the seeds would otherwise fall.
The flowers of this plant make good cut flowers and a lovely filler in arrangements with other flowers. They do not dry well when hung up, but can be pressed to preserve the blooms.
If you are a gardener Queen Anne’s Lace has a cousin worth knowing. Ammi Majus looks almost identical if more delicate and less weedy. Though the flowers lack the dark central dot, it’s easier to grow and fits more easily into a cultivated garden border.
Sowing: Sow in Early spring to early summer or in Autumn
Daucus carota is easy to grow from seed. Grows well in well-drained to dry soils, with low to moderate soil fertility.
Sow directly where they are to grow, either in autumn or spring, as, with its long taproot, this plant does not transplant well. The seedlings might be mistaken for grass seedlings at first, as the cotyledons are linear, but the next set of leaves is more distinctive.
This biennial plant forms a basal rosette of leaves in its first year and an erect flowering stalk the second, flowering occurs from July to September. Plants die after flowering. Some plants may act as an annual and flower in the first year.
Carrot leaves can be eaten raw, though with some moderation. The first year roots can be prepared and eaten like cultivated carrots. After the first year the plant has used all of the energy stored in the root to produce the large flower stalk, leaving the root fairly woody and inedible. This woody root can still be added to soups and stews to provide a carrot like flavour. Seeds have a very strong taste and can be used as a seasoning.
Try French-frying the flower clusters as these are said to be a gourmet treat.
Old herbal books tell us that the whole plant was traditionally used for numerous ailments from gout to contraception. In the late 1980s scientists began studying Queen Anne’s lace and found that, in mice it blocked the production of progesterone and inhibited foetal and ovarian growth.
It is interesting to note that this plant is the closest living relative (on the basis of family and medicinal activity) to Silphion, which was picked and used by the Romans as a culinary spice and contraceptive until it became extinct in the first century AD. Apparently it was extremely effective. The Emperor Nero was supposed to have been given the last remaining root.
The dried seed heads can be used as the core of a tinder bundle due to the many fine hairs on each seed
Although this plant is not poisonous it closely resembles many other plants in the Parsley family, some of which are highly poisonous. Water hemlock (cicuta maculata), poison hemlock (conium maculatum) and fool's parsley (aethusa cynapium). It was poison hemlock, that Socrates was compelled to take. Be absolutely sure you have identified this plant correctly before using.
There are two simple way to tell the difference. Both poison hemlock and fool\'s parsley have foul smelling foliage when crushed; just roll some leaves between your thumb and forefinger, and smell. Wild carrot, especially the root, smells like carrots.
Wild Carrot's stems are hairy its poisonous look-a-likes all have smooth stems. Poison Hemlock's stems may be spotted with purple.
Harvest entire plant in July when flowers bloom, and dry for later herb use. Collect edible roots and shoots in spring when tender. Gather seed in autumn.
Queen Anne's Lace is a host plant for Swallowtail caterpillars. Many butterflies, adult bees and beneficial insects utilise the flower nectar. Starlings are known for selecting vegetation with which to line their nests, and the wild carrot is one of their choices - it contains the steroid B-sitosterol, which kills off fowl mite. How the starlings know this is a mystery!
Known as Daucus carota, Queen Anne’s Lace is actually a wild carrot; a quick glance shows the similarity in the ferny foliage. Dig one up and crush the root and you’ll also smell the similarity.
In the 15th century, Dutch horticulturalists developed a thicker, sweeter root and exported the carrot to England where it became a popular vegetable. Today it’s known as Daucus carota var. sativus to distinguish it from its wild relative.
John Parkinson’s famed “Paradisus Terrestris,” published in 1629, says the roots boiled in salted beef broth “are eaten with great pleasure because of the sweetness of them.” Sounds like the beginnings of beef stew to me!
Parkinson goes on to talk about the fashion of wearing the foliage of Daucus carota in place of feathers on sleeves and hats. Since Parkinson was herbalist to Queen Anne’s husband, James I, the link between the plant and the Queen seems clear. And paintings of the era show Anne wearing lace as exquisite as the flowers that bear her name.
Like many of our native plants, Daucus carota is truly beautiful in a wildflower meadow, but does self seed readily. Do not plant in areas where farmers produce carrot seed because it hybridises with the crop and ruins the seed.
The genus name Daucus derives from daukos, the name given by the Greeks to some members of the the Umbelliferae family. It seems to derive from daîo meaning 'I overheat' .
The species name, carota originates from the Greek word carotos meaning carrot.
There are many different common names, including: Birds Nest Weed, Bees Nest, Devils Plague, Garden Carrot, Bird's Nest Root, Fools Parsley, Lace Flower, Gaizar, Havuc, Hung Lo Po, Jezar, Mohrrube, Peen, Philtron, Queen Anne's lace, Queen Anne's-lace, Wild Carrot, Yarkuki, Zanahoria
Legends and Folklore:
There are many explanations for the origin of the common name 'Queen Anne's Lace' including the flower’s resemblance to the lace that was fashionable around the time of the British monarch, Queen Anne (1665-1714), wife of King James I, because people thought it resembled the Queen's lace headdress;
18th-century English courtiers used the flowers as 'living lace'; and supposedly because Queen Anne challenged her ladies-in-waiting to a contest to see who could produce a piece of lace as beautiful as the flower, but none could rival her own efforts.
Another legend refers to the purple flower in the centre, being that Queen Anne pricked her finger with a needle and shed a drop of blood on the plant.
A more gruesome story refers to the earlier Anne Boleyn (1507–1536), the beheaded wife of King Henry VIII of England. The white flower cluster representing the lace around her neck and the tiny purple flower in the centre representing the point of decapitation!
- Additional Information
Family Apiaceae Genus Daucus Species carota Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Fools Parsley, Wild Carrot.
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Common Names Lace Flower, Birds Nest, Bees Nest, Devils Plague, Garden Carrot. Other Language Names IR. Mealbhacán Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers White Natural Flower Time June to August Height to 1 metre (3ft) Spread 50cm (20in) Position Full sun to part shade Soil Grows well in well-drained to dry soils with low to moderate soil fertility Time to Sow Sow direct in early spring to early summer or in autumn Notes Herb