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Queen Anne's Carrot

By Audrey Stallsmith

Queen Anne's Lace

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne's lace!

"Portrait by a Neighbor" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The delicate-looking flower that we know as Queen Anne's Lace is nothing more romantic than a wild carrot. It is, in fact, the species from which our garden carrots was derived and to which they apparently revert when forced to fend for themselves. And, as any farmer can tell you, that fragile appearance lies. Lacey or not, Anne is very good at fending!

Nor only is the biennial flower an invasive weed, but livestock that graze on it may produce milk flavored like bitter carrots. So Anne has sometimes been known as devil's plague, as well as wild carrot, bird's nest, crow's nest, and bee's nest. The latter names refer to the bloom's habit of curling into a cup shape to protect its seeds.

Those flowers are not generally as large as the one which I allowed to remain in the more fertile soil of my flowerbed. I might have done so from some vague recollection that it was attractive to butterflies. (The caterpillars of black swallowtail eat it up.) Or I may simply have been, as usual, lamentably behind on my weeding!

The original Queen Anne, wife of James I, was an avid lace-maker. So the purplish dot at the center of the wildflower's otherwise white bloom supposedly represents a drop of blood from a needle-pricked royal finger. The superstitious once believed that dot could prevent epileptic seizures.

Although daucus carota is an ancient vegetable, it reached England--with Protestant refugees from Spain--only shortly before James' reign. So the ladies in his court took to garnishing their headdresses with the frilly greens of the exciting "new" plant.

Daucus derives from dais "to burn" and carota "red of color," but only part of that name is really accurate. Although the original carrot remains more acrid than its domesticated offspring, the root of the wildflower is generally white or a pale orange at best. The garden carrots derived from it, however, originally varied in hue from black to purple to red. Dutch botanists developed the current most popular color in 16th-century Holland to celebrate the royal House of Orange.

Carrots of any sort are, as your mother no doubt informed you, very nutritious-being rich in Vitamin A. In this case, though, you're probably better off opting for the modern variety.

As Pamela Jones points out in Just Weeds, although Queen Anne's Lace roots can be boiled and consumed like carrots, they are "pungent, bitter, and tough." They have even been used, dried and ground like chicory, to brew a coffee substitute.

The carotenoids in carrots have proved effective at preventing cancer, heart problems, and cataracts, as well as improving skin health and night vision. The vegetable also lowers blood cholesterol and blood pressure and helps detoxify the liver.

Carrot greens are antiseptic, so they have been added to mouthwashes and, mixed with honey, to disinfect sores. They are also diuretic (increase urine flow), and can help treat kidney disease and edema.

In his Encyclopedia of Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs, John Heinerman reports that "English theologian, Reverend John Wesley, who founded the Methodist church, recommended eating boiled carrots and drinking the warm broth thereof as a 'seldom fail' remedy for relieving asthma." Duke agrees that there are four anti-asthma compounds in carrots, but tea, fennel, and cayenne-which each have six of those compounds--may be even more effective.

Although the original carrot, Queen Anne's Lace, is not all that tasty, it remains quite pretty. My sister once made me some Christmas tree decorations by drying and pressing heads of the plant and adding ribbons for hanging them. Looking very much like large white snowflakes themselves, they went very well with my crocheted ornaments.

There is an old superstition that bringing Queen Anne's Lace into the house will doom your mother to death. But, so far, mine has proved as resilient as the flower itself!

Image is from Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz by Otto Wilhelm Thone, courtesy of Digital Flora of Texas Vascular Plant Image Library.