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.