Saturday, August 17, 2013

Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot)

Flowers of Queen Anne's Lace - note the single red flower in the center of each cluster.
Queen Anne's Lace (daucus carota), also known as Wild Carrot, is a plant that can be used in a variety of ways. The roots can be eaten when the plant is young, older plants can be used in herbal preparations, and it can also be used to create dye. Queen Anne's Lace is often found in fields, ditches, along road sides, and in other such areas. 

Queen Anne's Lace is so called because the flowers resemble lace. If you look closely, you can see a single red flower in the center of each cluster. In folklore, this is said to be a drop of blood from Queen Anne, who pricked herself with the needle while making the lace.
Queen Anne's Lace gone to seed.
Leaf of Queen Anne's Lace
  Queen Anne's Lace takes two years to fully mature. During the beginning of the first year the root can be harvested and eaten much like a carrot, however, after that small window the root becomes too tough and woody to eat. The young leaves are also edible. During the second year the plant will grow taller, often around three to five feet, and produce flowers.  The flowers are edible as well, and can be eaten raw, or cooked in a variety of ways (such as dipped in batter and fried like a fritter). Later in the second year the plant's flower clusters will turn to seed, and the cycle begins again.
The leaves of the plant can be used as a diuretic, used to aid stomach upsets, and can be taken as a preventative for kidney stones. The leaves of Queen Anne's Lace can cause the skin to become very sensitive to sunlight, so take care when picking or handling the plant. The seed of the plant can cause uterine contractions, and has traditional uses as birth control. The root can have similar effects.
The flowers, and some also use the stem and leaves, can be turned into a dye that ranges from yellow to deep green.
Ritually, the plant can be used to promote fertility, sexual stamina, and to attract love and passion. The roots can be used to keep one grounded and balanced. Forked roots are considered to be lucky.  

Stem of Queen Anne's Lace
It is very important to correctly identify Queen Anne's Lace, as it closely resembles water hemlock, and poison hemlock - both quite toxic, and both can make you very sick, or even kill you. There are a few key ways to tell the plants apart. First, the stems of Queen Anne's Lace will be covered in fine hairs, and as was mentioned earlier, when the flowers are in bloom a single red flower can be found near the center of the flower cluster. The stems of poison hemlock will be smooth, hollow, and covered in purplish splotches. With Queen Anne's Lace, a bit of crushed leaf or root will smell like carrot, where poison hemlock has a different odor - sometimes described as more earthy. As always, please do your homework if you're going to be foraging or engaging in herbalism - be sure you're picking the right plant, and be sure you're using it correctly.

Queen Anne's Lace is not native to North America, and is often considered a pest plant due to how aggressively it can spread, which can cause it to take over areas and coke out native plants. It's my understanding that in some states of the US it is even illegal to plant or transport Queen Anne's Lace, so it's best to check your local laws if you wish to cultivate it.

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