A wild ancestor of the cultivated carrot, Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) was introduced from Eurasia and is now well established throughout North America. Growing in old pastures, fields and other disturbed areas, Queen Anne’s lace is often considered a weed. I prefer to think of it as a wildflower.
Queen Anne’s lace, also known as wild carrot, is a biennial that grows from a whitish, bitter taproot. The stems grow 2 to 4 feet tall and are erect, hollow and have stiff hairs. The alternate leaves of Queen Anne’s lace are stalked near the base of the stem and sessile (unstalked) above. Twice pinnately divided, the leaves are fernlike and lacy with short hairs on the veins and margins. The five-petaled flowers are white or yellowish. Twenty or more flowers in small heads (umblets) are aggregated into a showy, compound , flat-topped umbel. In the center of the compound umbel is a single red/purple flower. The umbel is surrounded by prominent, branching, finger-like bracts. As the fruits (seeds) develop, the umbel closes, resulting in a bird’s nest effect. The gray-brown seeds are flattened on one side and rounded on the other. The seed has stiff hairs. The entire Queen Anne’s lace plant has a strong carrot odor.
The pigment, anthocyanin, colors the central flower red. It is assumed the function of the contrasting flower is to attract insects. Folklore says that the red flower represents a blood droplet that fell on the lace Queen Anne was making when she pricked herself with a needle – thus the common name, Queen Anne’s lace.
The seeds, dried or fresh, can be used as a fair substitute for anise or caraway seeds in cooking. Occasionally I will nibble a few Queen Anne’s lace seeds while hiking but have not used them in cooking. The stems and leaves are also used as a potherb. To me the stems seem fibrous and woody so I have never bothered to cook them.
For over 2,500 years the crushed seeds of Queen Anne’s lace have been used as a contraceptive or “morning after pill”. Laboratory studies with mice indicate some success as a contraceptive. Although in some areas Queen Anne’s lace seeds are still employed as a contraceptive, other methods probably are more reliable.
Yampah (Perideridia bolanderi) looks almost like Queen Anne’s lace and is often given that name.
When placed in colored water, the white Queen Anne’s lace flowers will take on the water’s color. When I was young I spent all summer putting food colors in water and watching the white Queen Anne’s lace flowers change color. I would have my “experiments” scattered throughout the house. My mother, not one to appreciate or encourage all the other creepy, crawly things I came home with, was always happy to see me return home with “only” Queen Anne’s lace to color.
These specimens were photographed along the North Umpqua Trail in Oregon.