Thursday, December 1, 2016


                                                          Kestaneci-a chestnut vendor in Istanbul with his brazier.

Roasting chestnuts dates back centuries. Chestnuts can be peeled and eaten raw, but it is difficult to peel off the pellicle-the crusty, hairy skin inside the leather-like outer skin of the nut. The pellicle closely adheres to the seed itself, following the grooves present on the surface of the fruit. The poorer the quality of the nut, the more difficult this is to peel. Removing the outer shell and the pellicle is easier if the nut is boiled or roasted. Also, roasting sweetens the nut's raw, harsh flavor.

Chestnut is the edible seed of the chestnut tree.

The chestnut fruit has a pointed end with a small tuft at its tip called fiamma (flame in Italian), and at the other end, a hilum-a pale brown attachment scar. In many varieties, the fruit is flattened on one side.

The three common groupings of chestnuts according to species are European, Asian (Chinese and Japanese), and American chestnuts. Sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa, is the only European species.

Chestnuts should not be confused with horse chestnuts (genus Aesculus), which are not related to Castanea and are named for producing nuts of similar appearance, but which are mildly poisonous to humans, nor should they be confused with water chestnut (family Cyperaceae), which are also unrelated to Castanea and are tubers of similar taste from an aquatic herbaceous plant (

Castanea sativa is a species of flowering plant in the oak and beech family Fagaceae and it is native to Europe and Asia Minor. A long-lived deciduous tree, chestnut is cultivated throughout the temperate world.

The Latin sativa means ‘cultivated by humans’.

Chestnut flavors vary slightly from one species to the next and can vary with growing conditions, but in general the flavor is somewhat sweet and rather similar. Chestnut-based recipes and preparations are making a comeback it seems.

C. sativa attains a height of 20–35 m and has a wide trunk. The bark often has deep furrows running spirally in both directions up the trunk. The tree requires a mild climate and adequate moisture for good growth and a good nut harvest. Would you believe that it can live more than 2,000 years in natural settings?

                                                                                  Photograph:Dieter Simon, 16 January 2006

Chestnut wood which is used to make furniture is of light color, hard and strong.

                                                                      A chestnut tree in Istanbul

The oblong-lanceolate, boldly toothed leaves are 16-28 cm long and 5-9 cm broad.


The flowers of both sexes are borne in 10-20 cm long, upright catkins, the male flowers in the upper part and female flowers in the lower part.

In the northern hemisphere, they appear in late June to July, and by autumn, the female flowers develop into spiny cupules-burs that deter predators during growth and maturation of single to multiple brownish nuts and are shed during autumn.


Chestnut is one of those plants that has a long and complex history. Once again we rely on Wikipedia for the following interesting information.  (

The sweet chestnut was introduced into Europe from Sardis in Asia Minor (today Sart in the Manisa Province of Turkey). Evidence of its cultivation by man is found since around 2000 BC. Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe while on their various campaigns. It was introduced into more northerly regions, and later was also cultivated in monastery gardens by monks. A Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401–399 BC thanks to their stores of chestnuts. Communities which had scarce access to wheat flour relied on chestnuts as their main source of carbohydrates.

The tree was a popular choice for landscaping in England, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. C. sativa was probably introduced to the region during the Roman occupation. More recently, the tree has been planted as a street tree in England, and examples can be seen particularly in the London Borough of Islington.

With a tree grown from seed, maximum production of fruit may begin after 10 to 20 years depending on genetic material, but a grafted cultivar may start production within five years of being planted.

Chestnuts need to be picked when they are still sweet, when their burs have turned brown and have opened enough to expose the nuts inside them. A tarp can be laid under the chestnut tree. The chestnuts still in their burs can be knocked off the tree with a wooden pole if necessary.

For the best quality and size, chestnuts should ripen on the tree until they fall, and then be picked up/harvested promptly. If they stay on the ground too long they may dry excessively. Nut drop usually occurs from mid-September through mid-October.


Chestnuts are packed with minerals-manganese, potassium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, iron-and vitamins, mainly vitamin C, but also vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, and riboflavin. Unlike other culinary nuts, they have very little protein or fat, their calories coming chiefly from carbohydrates. They have no gluten and they are high in fiber.

We can’t talk about chestnuts and not mention marron glacé-candied chestnut. This sweet appeared in chestnut-growing areas in northern Italy and southern France shortly after the crusaders returned to Europe with sugar. Cooking with sugar allowed creation of new confectioneries.

A candied chestnut confection is thought to have been made around the beginning of the 15th century in Piedmont, among other places. But marrons glacés as such, with the last touch of glazing, may have been created only in the 16th century. Marrons glacés are an ingredient in many desserts and are also eaten on their own.

The French refer to chestnuts as ‘châtaigne’ or ‘marron’. Both terms refer to the fruit of the C. sativa. However, marron tends to denote a higher quality, larger fruit that is more easily peeled.

Marron glacé is not easy to make. The first step is to blanch the chestnuts and peel them. Next, a syrup is prepared with fine sugar and water. The peeled chestnuts are added to the syrup and simmered for 7-8 minutes. Then they are left in the syrup overnight. The following day the chestnuts are boiled in the syrup for 1 minute, then cooled and this boiling and cooling process is repeated 2 or 3 times over the next couple of days until all the syrup is absorbed. It doesn’t end there. They are then spread on a tray covered with baking paper and popped into a preheated oven (70°C) with the oven door open for 2 hours or until they are firm.

This is all easier said than done. That is why marrons glacés need to be bought from a very reputable maker.

Candied chestnuts are a specialty of Bursa, Turkey, where they are called ‘kestane şekeri’-chestnut candy.

Today, China is the top grower of chestnuts followed by Turkey, Italy, South Korea and Bolivia.

Surprisingly, I did not come across any definitive information on how the tradition of eating chestnuts during the Holidays and on New Year’s Eve came about.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Even if they didn’t amaze me like many other plants, I was nonetheless lovingly aware of zinnias as a child. Mostly, I noticed their variety of colors when I came across them; white, yellow, green, orange, red, purple, or lilac and more.

Zinnias are popular garden flowers because of their wide range of colors and shapes and they are easy to grow from seeds. They will also reseed themselves each year. The garden zinnia was bred via hybridisation from the wild form. Zinnias bloom throughout the summer months and they are drought tolerant.

The more blossoms are cut, the more they grow and re-bloom.

     Zinnia elegans

double fire Zahara zinnia

Photographs: Gülçin Kori

These days, zinnias have become very trendy. They have been to space too. On Jan. 16, 2016 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly revealed to the world that his bright orange zinnias had blossomed on board the International Space Station.

Robert Z. Pearlman ( Editor, January 21, 2016) posted that just a few weeks earlier, the zinnias, which were part of the NASA plant growth experiment had come close to dying due to a break out of mold. With the revised care plan by NASA botanists on the ground and Kelly's own green thumb in orbit, things turned out well.

Kelly’s blooming zinnias were not the first flowers grown in space though. Four years ago, astronaut Don Pettit had grown some vegetables and his sunflower had bloomed modestly. There have been numerous prior attempts at growing things in space.

Zinnia is a genus of plants of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family Asteraceae. They are native to scrub and dry grasslands in an area stretching from the Southwestern United States to South America, with most diversity in Mexico.

The genus was named by Carl von Linné after the German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, 1727–59 (who described the species now known as Zinnia peruviana in 1757 as Rudbeckia but Linné realized that it was not a Rudbeckia, another genus also in the sunflower tribe).

Zinnia peruviana was introduced to Europe in the early 1700s. Around 1790 Zinnia elegans was introduced and those plants had a single row of ray florets which were violet. In 1829, scarlet flowering plants were available under the name 'Coccinea'. Double flowering types were available in 1858 from India and they were in a range of colors including shades of reds, rose, purple, orange, buff, and rose. Over 100 cultivars have been produced since selective breeding started in the 19th century.

Zinnia elegans or elegant zinnia is one of the best known zinnias. It is native to Mexico but it is grown as an ornamental in many places and naturalized in many parts of the world. Its height ranges from 15 cm to 1 meter. It has solitary flower heads about (5 cm) across.

Zinnia angustifolia is another Mexican species. It has more delicate flowers than Z. elegans-usually single, and in shades of yellow, orange or white.

Zinnias are annuals, shrubs, and sub-shrubs. Most species have upright stems. They typically range in height from 10 to 100 cm tall. The leaves are opposite and usually stalkless (sessile), with a shape ranging from linear to ovate, and a color ranging from pale to medium green. Zinnia flowers have a range of appearances, from a single row of petals to a dome shape.

This is ‘Zinnia’, a beautiful spring driven kinetic sculpture by Clayton Boyer that will quietly run about 40 minutes on a full wind.

All butterflies and hummingbirds love zinnias and many gardeners add zinnias to their gardens specifically to attract them.

My brother Aydın’s zinnias look lovely. Swallow tail and monarch butterflies visit his zinnias as well as birds and hummingbirds. Zinnias are edible so we could all try some.

Monday, October 3, 2016


Ayvayı yedim!

‘Ayvayı yemek’, literally ‘to eat the quince-ayva’ in Turkish, is a sarcastic slang term used to indicate any troublesome situation or malevolent incident that may have already occurred or to be avoided in the future. This usage refers to the rather dry and sour aftertaste the quince may leave in the mouth.

I’m expressing that ‘I’ve already eaten the quince’, that is, I’m intimidated by the task of talking about the quince which I find intriguing like all the other wonderful fruits nature offers us.


To enjoy eating raw quince, one has to have acquired the taste and also, be able to discern the good tasting quince from the unpleasant tasting one so as not to experience what the expression ‘I ate the quince’ implies. The quinces are too astringent before they are sufficiently bletted.

High in pectin (a polysaccharide made of multiple chains of sugars that make up carbohydrates), in many countries around the world the quince is eaten cooked. They are peeled and roasted, baked or stewed. Quinces are also used to make jam, jelly and quince pudding. The term marmalade, originally meaning quince jam, derives from ‘marmelo’, the Portuguese word for the quince. Quince marmalade is one of my favorite fruit preserves.

Here is a recipe for the delicious desert called the ‘quince sweet’ from Turkey.

Ingredients: 3 quinces, ½ cup or a little less sugar, a stick of cinnamon, ½ cup or a little more water to cook in and a large bowl of water to immerse the uncooked quince during preparation, juice of half lemon.
Directions: To prevent the quinces from browning during preparation, add plenty of water and the lemon juice into a deep bowl. Halve the quinces and hallow out the middle parts with the pits and place the halves in the bowl of lemon water as you go along. Save the pits to be used during cooking to give the quince an attractive red color.

When all the halves are peeled, arrange them in a wide pan with the smooth sides facing up. Add the cinnamon stick and the pits into the pan. Pour in the ½ c water. Distribute the sugar evenly on each piece of quince. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat and cook for 1-1.5 hours until the quinces soften and change color. Do not open the lid until the cooking is done. Let the quinces cool for 3-4 hours before serving.

Kaymak-a creamy dairy product, and grated pistachio nuts go well with the quince sweet. Walnuts or hazelnuts are favored also. Author:E4024

Kaymak: “Kaymak is customarily made in Central Asia, some Balkan countries, Turkic regions, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The traditional method of making kaymak is to boil the milk slowly, then simmer it for two hours over a very low heat. After the heat source is turned off, the cream is skimmed and left to chill (and mildly ferment) for several hours or days. Kaymak has a high percentage of milk fat, and it has a thick, creamy consistency.

The word kaymak has Central Asian Turkic origins. Shops in Turkey have been devoted to kaymak production and consumption for centuries. Kaymak is mainly consumed today for breakfast along with the traditional Turkish breakfast. It is traditionally eaten with baklava and other Turkish desserts, fruit preserves and honey.” (

Back to our fruit; the quince is native to rocky slopes and woodlands in South West Asia, Turkey and Iran, yet it can be grown successfully at latitudes as far north as Scotland. Turkey is the top producer followed by China.

The quince-Cydonia oblonga is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears, among other fruits). The quince tree is a small deciduous tree that bears what is called a ‘pome fruit’ in botany, after the Latin word for ‘fruit-pōmum’. Pome fruits have a core of several small seeds, surrounded by a tough membrane. Apples, pears, loquat, medlar are also examples of pome fruits, grown from spring blossom and harvested from late summer through to late autumn.

The immature fruit is green with dense grey-white pubescence, most of which rubs off before maturity in late autumn when the fruit changes color to yellow and acquires a hard and perfumed flesh.

The quince is bright golden-yellow when mature and 7 to 12 centimeters long and 6 to 9 centimeters across. It is similar in appearance to an apple (Cydonia oblonga v. maliformis) or to a pear (Cydonia oblonga v. piriformis). Most quinces grown in Turkey are of the second kind (with names like Limon, Demir, Ekmek or Bardak).


The quince tree is also grown for its attractive blossoms and other ornamental qualities. The tree grows 5 to 8 meters high and 4 to 6 meters wide.


The flowers, produced in spring after the leaves, are white or pale pink, 5 cm across, with five petals. The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, 6–11 cm long, with an entire margin and densely pubescent with fine white hairs.

Here are some interesting facts Wikipedia gives us about the quince:

The quince requires a cold period which is called vernalization* (below 7 °C) to flower properly. The tree is self-fertile; however, its yield can benefit from cross-fertilization. The fruit can be left on the tree to ripen further, which softens the fruit to the point where it can be eaten raw, but if that is the case they should be picked before the first frosts.

Among the many cultivars grown in Turkey, ‘Smyrna’ was first recognized in 1887. It stores longer than other varieties.

Cultivation of the quince may have preceded the apple culture. Among the ancient Greeks, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her. It was with a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite.

Plenty more is told about the past of this fabled fruit.


* Vernalization (from the Latin ‘vernus’-of the spring) is the acquisition of a plant's ability to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


I remember getting fresh hazelnuts in the summer months and eating them right out of the paper bag the street vendor or the green grocer provided. Thus, I decided to be on the lookout for them this summer and finally, towards the end of July, I found a green grocer displaying some in front of his store in our neighborhood in Istanbul.

You can bite into fresh hazelnuts and easily break their shells with your teeth. They are oh so sweet, moist and meaty.

Now, after having rejoiced about my memories of eating fresh hazelnuts, I need to take a pause here so that I can explain my misconception about them; these are in fact a poorer quality of hazelnuts not worthy of commercial exploit which are therefore consumed only as appetizers while they are fresh. I am aghast!  I only found out about this distinction while writing this post and there will be more about it further down.

Ordinarily, hazelnuts ripen in August. They are harvested by shaking the nuts off the branches and gathering them from the ground by hand, or picking them directly off the tree.

Fresh hazelnuts are sometimes sold in their green sheaths or involucre. Often the vendors un-sheath the nuts before presenting them to the customers.


The shape and structure of the involucre, and also whether the plant grows into a tree or a shrub are important in the identification of the different species of hazel.

The first three of the following examples of hazelnuts categorized according to their involucre, grow in Turkey:
• Nut surrounded by a soft, leafy involucre, multiple-stemmed, suckering shrubs to 12 m tall.
         Involucre short, about the same length as the nut
            -Corylus avellana: Common hazel, Europe and western Asia.
         Involucre long, twice the length of the nut or more, forming a 'beak'
            -Corylus maxima: Filbert, southeastern Europe and southwest Asia
• Nut surrounded by a stiff, spiny involucre, single-stemmed trees to 20–35 m tall.
         Involucre moderately spiny and also with glandular hairs
            -Corylus colurna: Turkish hazel, southeastern Europe and Asia Minor
         Involucre densely spiny, resembling a chestnut burr
            -Corylus ferox: Himalayan hazel

Also, when we look into the characteristics of culinary nuts-dry, edible fruits or seeds that usually have a high fat content-we learn that hazelnuts are placed under the category labeled ‘true nuts’ or ‘botanical nuts’. The other three culinary nut categories are 'drupes' (e.g. almonds), 'gymnosperm seeds' (e.g. pine nuts) and 'angiosperm seeds' (e.g. peanuts).

Hazel trees (Corylus) are a genus of about 20 species, mainly deciduous trees and some large shrubs, that are all native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Hazelnut is their seed. The nuts of all species of Corylus are edible, however the species Corylus avellana is grown the most due to its higher production rate, and the fact that it has many cultivars.

The genus name Corylus comes from the Greek ‘krylos’, the word for hazelnut. “The scientific name avellana derives from the town of Avella in Italy, and was selected by Linnaeus from Leonhart Fuchs's De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes (1542), where the species was described as ‘Avellana nux sylvestris’-‘wild nut of Avella’.” (

The genus is usually placed in the birch family Betulaceae. Wikipedia tells us that some botanists split the hazels with allied genera into a separate family Corylaceae.

Here are some interesting facts about the leaves, flowers and the nuts of the hazel plants.

Corylus avellana

Leaves: Hazels are deciduous. This means the leaves drop off in the fall and new leaves emerge in the spring. The leaves are rounded, about 6-12 cm long and 4-10 broad, with soft hairs on both sides, and they also have a coarsely doubly-serrate margin, meaning the leaves have forward pointing teeth (serrations), and each tooth has smaller serrations on it.

Flowers: Hazelnut trees are one of the few trees that bloom and pollinate in the late winter before the leaves emerge. The flowers on the hazelnut are monoecious, that is they have both male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers on a hazelnut are long, pale yellow catkins 5-12 cm long. The female hazelnut flowers are tiny red flowers that hide in the buds of the leaves and only their 1-3 mm long styles peak out. Wind carries the pollen from male catkins to a tiny red female flower, where it stays dormant until May when the nut begins to form.

Fruit/Nuts: The fruit of the hazelnut tree is actually the nut. Hazelnuts are cross pollinated. So, just as I think I’m getting a grasp of the facts about hazelnuts, I come across this matter of cross pollination. In the case of hazelnuts, cross pollination means two different varieties of trees are needed for the tree to produce nuts. About 6-10% of the trees in an orchard are pollinizer trees.

All varieties of hazelnuts require cross pollination in order to produce nuts, consequently, every planting requires two or more varieties. The cultivars are self-incompatible. There must be enough genetic difference between the pollen providing variety (male), and the main nut producer (female) for fertilization of the flower, and subsequent production of a nut, to occur. Thus pollinizer selection is very important.

I’m thinking, for the growers to keep track of which varieties of trees to keep and what genetic changes take place when the trees are pollinated by varieties of pollinizers, must require a resident geneticist on the farm.

The nuts grow in clusters and are about 1-2.5 cm long and 1-2 cm in diameter. Each nut has a protective involucre-husk that covers all or part of the nut, depending on the variety. The nuts are borne in tight clusters of 3-8 together, with the involucres fused at the base.

The nuts mature late August, early September. The developing nuts are green. When they mature, the nuts turn a chocolate brown or hazel color. The nut falls out of the husk-when ripe, about 7–8 months after pollination.

Two popular cultivars-variety of a plant that has been created or selected intentionally and maintained through cultivation-of hazelnuts are,
Corylus avellana var. avellana, distribution: Europe to Causasus
Corylus avellana var. pontica, distribution: N. Turkey, W. Trancaucasus

Hazelnut is one of the most important nut crops in the world and has its origins in central Anatolia or Asia Minor (alternate geographical names for the Asian territories of Turkey). Wild species are found in Anatolia which have provided the source for today's cultivated varieties.

Research into hazelnut production in Turkey indicates categorization according to shape.


Round Hazelnuts (Corylus Avellana):These are spherical hazelnuts with approximately the same length, width and thickness. They are high quality hazelnuts. They have high seed yields, as well as high fat and protein rates. All types that can be easily separated from skin and whitened belong to this group.

In this group, ‘Giresun Fat Hazelnut’ (Black Sea Region) is the highest quality type in the world.

Pointed Hazelnuts: This is the type with the length a little longer than the width and the thickness. These hazelnuts produce more scrap when breaking. Therefore, they are mostly marketed in shells. They have types called Sivri and İncekara.

Almond Hazelnuts: This is the type with the length much longer than the width and the thickness. These are generally big and showy but have low quality. They have two types called Circular Almond and Flat Almond. They are not suitable for shelling, therefore they are not dried and are mostly consumed fresh domestically.

Apparently, what I have been eating and loving when fresh are of this kind.

Turkish hazelnuts are yet again categorized into two groups for quality: Giresun and Levant.

Giresun Quality: In the Black Sea Region of Turkey, fat hazelnuts are grown in the entire province of Giresun and in several towns of the province of Trabzon. These are the highest quality hazelnuts in the world. They have the highest level of skin separation among the types.

Levant Quality: This is the common name given to all hazelnuts that are grown in regions other than the region of Giresun and specific towns of Trabzon. Called Levant Akçakoca, Levant Ordu, Levant Trabzon or Levant Samsun depending on the place they are grown, these hazelnuts have a lower level of fat than the Giresun quality hazelnuts but still a higher level of fat and a better taste than those grown in the other hazelnut growing countries.

The top countries producing hazelnuts are Turkey (70% of world production) followed by Italy (18% of world production), Spain, USA and Greece. Turkey is the number one world exporter.


Hazelnut is an important nut crop in the world. Besides protein, hazelnuts are a good source of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Despite their limited commercial growing area, hazelnuts are the 4th largest tree nut crop in the world, behind cashews, almonds, and walnuts.

Not based on the amount of production necessarily but according to preference around the world, I would call almond the diamond of nuts. Next, the most appreciated nuts would be hazelnut, peanut, and walnut-the ruby, emerald and sapphire of nuts.  Duly, this would place all the other nuts in the category of semi-precious nuts/gem stones. Wouldn’t you agree?

Monday, August 1, 2016


Freesia flowers used to enchant me as a child with their sideway form. So out of the ordinary, so unusual they looked. So exotic.

Freesia is native to the eastern side of southern Africa, from Kenya down to South Africa. There are about 14 species of freesias.

Freesia is a genus of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Iridaceae, first described as a genus in 1866 by the Danish botanist Christian Friedrich Ecklon (1795-1868) and named in honor of the German botanist and physician Friedrich Freese (1794-1878 /I have not been able to confirm the dates).

The flowers are zygomorphic which means that they grow along one side of the stem, in a single plane. How do they all end up facing upwards? Freesia stems have the unusual habit of turning at a right angle where the flowers begin. This causes the upper portion of the stem to grow almost parallel with the ground. The flowers bloom along the top side of the stalk, facing upwards. The fragrant funnel shaped flowers that are typically white or yellow bloom in the spring. As many as 8 of them bloom on a stem. The plants have 10-40 cm tall stems and just as tall sword shaped light green leaves.

The plants usually called freesias are derived from crosses made in the 19th century between F. refracta and F. leichtlinii. Today, cultivated hybrid forms of a number of Freesia species are the most common. They are named Freesia x hybrida syn. Freesia x kewensis.

The family is currently divided into four subfamilies but the results from DNA analysis apparently suggest that several more should be recognized. The subfamily Ixioideae, which contains nearly two thirds of the species, is mostly African and it contains most of the familiar genera including Freesia, Ixia, Gladiolus, Crocus and Watsonia. Species of the former genus Anomatheca are now included in Freesia.


Members of the family are perennial plants growing from a bulb, corm or rhizome. Freesias grow from a conical corm-a short thick solid food-storing underground stem-1-2.5 cm in diameter. Corms, bulbs and tubers of plants resemble each other.

There is not a lot of information on the internet about freesias and what I could find was too specialized.

All this leaves us with the idea that we can only enjoy them just as I did when I was a child.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Daucus carota

Recognized as Queen Anne’s lace or Bishop’s lace by its common names, Daucus carota flowers do indeed look as if they were lace. In fact, each of the flowers have a slightly different look as though different maidens worked on them.

The genus name Daucus comes from daukos, name given by the Greeks to some members of plants having multi flowers in umbels-with short flower stalks which spread from a common point. The species name, carota originates from the Greek word carotos meaning carrot.

Daucus carota is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), native to temperate regions of Europe and Southwest Asia, and naturalized to North America and Australia. Domesticated carrots are cultivars of a subspecies, Daucus carota subsp. sativus. In the 15th century, Dutch horticulturalists developed a thicker, sweeter root and exported the carrot to England where it became a popular vegetable.

Like the cultivated carrot, the D. carota root is edible while young, but it quickly becomes too woody to consume. The seeds are said to have a strong taste if used as a seasoning. Some say the flower clusters can be French-fried as a gourmet treat.

The wild carrot is an herbaceous, biennial plant that grows between 30 and 60 cm tall. It has a stiff, solid stem. The leaves are tripinnate-having three pinnate-ferny looking divisions. Hundreds of tiny white flowers are produced in flat-topped, two to four-inch umbel clusters. They may have a red or dark blue central flower. The function of this tiny central flower colored by anthocyanin-any of various soluble glycoside pigments producing blue to red coloring in flowers and plants-is to attract insects.

As the seeds develop, the whole flower curls up at the edges, becomes more congested, and acquires a concave surface. Gradually it turns brown. The fruits are oval and flattened seeds and they have hooked spines. The dried flowers detach from the plant, becoming tumbleweeds.

Queen Anne’s Lace has a cousin: Ammi majus looks almost identical but it is more delicate and less weedy. The flowers lack the dark central dot. We are told that it’s easier for gardeners to grow and fits more easily into a cultivated garden border.

Ammi majus, Johann Georg Sturm, 1796

Queen Anne’s Lace is also similar in appearance to 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 (

A 19th century illustration of poison hemlock

In addition, the leaves of the wild carrot itself can cause phytophotodermatitis, so caution should be used when handling the plant.

Phytophotodermatitis, also known as "Lime Disease" (not to be confused with Lyme Disease), is a chemical reaction which makes skin hypersensitive to ultraviolet light. Sometimes mistaken for hereditary conditions such as atopic dermatitis or chemical burns, the reaction is caused by contact with the photosensitizing compounds found naturally in some plants and vegetables. Symptoms can be burning, itching, stinging, and large blisters that slowly accumulate over time.

The reaction typically begins within 24 hours of exposure and peaks at 48–72 hours after the exposure.

Daucus carota is a common sight in dry fields, roadside ditches and open areas. It is a natural addition to a wildflower meadow. Like most members of its family, D. carota attracts wasps to its small flowers in its native land; however, where it has been introduced, this does not seem to occur often enough. Some sources indicate that D. carota can be used as a companion plant to crops. This species is documented to boost tomato plant production when planted nearby, and it can provide a microclimate of cooler, moister air for lettuce, when intercropped-grown together-with it.

Old herbal books tell us that the whole plant was traditionally used for numerous ailments from gout to contraception.

However, the USDA (USA Department of Agriculture) lists it as a noxious weed, and it is considered a serious pest in pastures. It persists in the soil seed bank for two to five years.

There are many explanations for the origin of the common name Queen Anne's Lace. Both Anne, Queen of Great Britain 1665-1714, and her great grandmother Anne of Denmark are taken to be the Queen Anne for which the plant is named. One legend has it that the red flower in the center is thought to represent a blood droplet where Queen Anne, the British monarch, pricked herself with a needle when she was making the lace (

The fairy tale Snow White begins in a similar fashion, doesn’t it? A beautiful young queen sits sewing at an open window during a winter snowfall when she pricks her finger with her needle, causing three drops of red blood to drip onto the freshly fallen white snow on the black windowsill.

John Parkinson (1567–1650 perhaps the last of the great English herbalists writes in his Paradisus Terrestris, published in 1629, that the roots of D. carota boiled in salted beef broth are eaten with great pleasure because of the sweetness of them. “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” (

The entire plant can be harvested in July when flowers bloom, and dried for later herbal use. The edible roots and shoots need to be collected in spring when they are tender. The seeds form in autumn.