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The Monday Garden
Weeds of Summer: Queen Anne's Lace

Issue No. 169 - June 19, 2005
by Sue Sweeney

  
I am particularly drawn to the tough, urban-pioneer wildflowers that grow in the cracks in the sidewalk, along the roads, and behind the parking lots, reclaiming the land from so-called civilization. They are the true “streetscapers” of our modern sub/urban world. Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carotais) is a champion “street” flower, capable of enduring long periods of drought in the baking sun.
 
Picture: Queen Anne’s lace with a small, cute bee who probably preys on other insects when not being a useful pollinator. Bedford Street Stamford CT Summer 2004.
 
Queen Anne’s lace, though, is much more than a pretty face. With humans, it has a long, long history as a decorative, medicinal, and food plant. While the livestock don’t care much for Queen Anne’s lace (for example, Queen Anne’s lace is supposedly poisonous to rabbits), the birds eat the seeds, and small songbirds use the waving flower umbels as a song perch. Queen Anne’s lace also attracts and nurtures many, many beneficial insects (so named by farming and gardening humans because the insects are predators that keep other insects in check and/or help out in other ways e.g. by making silk).
  Food Uses: Queen Anne’s lace isn’t just a member of the carrot family (a/k/a parsley family); it is the parent of our garden carrot. Also called the “wild carrot”, Queen Anne’s lace has a long, pale, woody, finger-thin taproot to absorb and store water. While the young taproot has been used as food (in soup and stew) in Eurasia since time-out-of-mind, and in North America since Queen Anne’s lace came over with the Euro-settlers in the 1700’s, many call the Queen Anne’s lace root “unpalatable”.

So how do you get a nice, sweet, juicy, orange carrot from this stringy, reportedly-smelly, nasty-tasting yellowish root? The old fashion way; no gene splicing required. Grow thousands of the plant, save the seeds from the ones with the fleshiest roots, repeat. It is rumoured that the Afghanistans or the Pakistans might have done the original hybridizing, some time before 900 A.D.

 

pictures: Picture: These Queen Anne’s lace pictures were taken in downtown Stamford, CT, Summers 2002 and 2004 but they could have just as easily come from the alleyways of Afghanistan or Iraq.

 
Medicinal Uses: A bit earlier, in 400 or 500 B.C., Hippocrates himself wrote about the medical properties of Queen Anne’s lace. Historically, Queen Anne’s lace has been used to treat a wide variety of internal and external aliments, and apparently does have anti-bacterial and other medical properties. Now here’s a surprise: some modern studies seem to confirm something that Hippocrates is supposed to have mentioned: properly harvested and used, Queen Anne’s lace seeds provide a “Morning After” estrogen hit that prevents a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus.

I have always considered a mature carrot, eaten raw daily, to be the best possible aid for the complexion. I had thought, though, that it was the retina A, but now, I don’t know, perhaps it is the estrogen! (Keep in mind that these are potent herbs – don’t start the self-medication without thorough research, etc., etc. Too much estrogen has some nasty side effects like breast cancer, they think. If another word to the not-so-wise was needed: the plant’s scientific name supposedly comes from the Greek “dais”, meaning to burn.)

The Carrot-Parsley-Hemlock Family: As mentioned, Queen Anne’s lace family members include our breathe-freshening friend, parsley. Some other useful herbs from the overseas branch of the family are dill, chervil, celery, parsnips, caraway, and coriander. The native relatives including a form of angelica, water-hemlock (poisonous), water-pennywort, sanicle (black snakeroot), cow parsnip, bishop's-weed, golden Alexanders (looks like yellow-flowered dill), sea lovage, yellow pimpernel, and anise root (not related to anise). While many carrot family members are good to eat, know what you’re doing because there are deadly relatives, including not only our native water hemlock, but the poison hemlock of Socrates-killing fame, and its Euro-kin, fool’s parsley. And, there’s also that public health-hazard, the giant hogweed. Most family members start with a basal rosette of leaves, and grow a tall, hollow, round flower stalk which supports one or more flattish clusters (“umbels”) of tiny, 5-petal flowers.

 
Picture: Queen Anne’s lace’s foliage is almost indistinguishable from that of its child, the garden carrot. A biannual, Queen Anne’s lace makes a basal rosette of leaves the first year that stay green all winter in a mild year. Queen Anne’s lace sprouts more leaves and then flowers in the second year. Newly emerging spring leaves, Bedford Street and Hoyt Street Alley Stamford CT April 2005.
 
Distribution: Queen Anne’s lace started its career in Eurasia and North Africa, then hitchhiked around the world; first along the Silk Road, and later in the Tall Ships. It is said that Queen Anne’s lace can’t establish itself without a 4-month frost-free growing season, and about 30 inches of rain (for comparison, in Stamford, CT, we enjoy 5 to 6 frost-free months most years, and about 41 inches of rain). Accordingly, you can now find Queen Anne’s lace anywhere in North America, except the more arid central plains, and the extreme north. You can also find Queen Anne’s lace in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, China, much of the old USSR, the European Union, North Africa, and as well as many other places.

It is reported that there are more than 12 variety of Queen Anne’s lace worldwide. In North America, we mainly have the standard biannual form but we also have an annual variety. The biannual has been declared a noxious weed in a few states. In the view of the Army Corps of Engineers (even they worry about invasive plants): “Queen Anne’s lace displaces native species. It is particularly problematic in open fields and grasslands because it matures faster and grows larger than many native species. It can be persistent on heavy soils with a good clay content”. Carrot and herb farmers are said to dislike Queen Anne’s lace (hence the noxious weed tag) because it is very hard to isolate from their carrot-family crops.

The Flowers: And, oh, yeah, the flowers: Queen Anne’s lace does have them, and they are beautiful, as well as interesting. The plant blooms from late spring until mid-fall. Each flower cluster is made up of as many as a thousand tiny, prefect white flowers, with a single purplish flower in the cluster’s center. The flower cluster starts out curled up and opens with the flowers to allow pollination. The cluster then rolls itself shut again, like a reverse umbrella, into what’s called a "birds' nest". When the seeds are ripe, the umbel unfurls, and the tiny, spiny seeds hitchhike on passers-by, including hikers, mowers, and white-tailed deer.

 
Picture: Queen Anne’s lace flower detail, Bedford Street, Stamford, CT June 2005.
 
In The Garden: Queen Anne’s Lace tends to get tall (3 to 5 feet) and abundantly self-seeds. However, in the right spot, its attractive feathery leaves, that look just like those of its carrot children, and the giant snowflake flowers are wonderful and carefree (except for pulling up the seedlings). You can avoid most of the work part by deadheading the flowers, before the seed cluster opens, leaving just a few seed heads for the birds. Also, pull any unwanted youngsters early before the tap root gets too big.

Added garden benefits are the insects. They say that Queen Anne’s lace attracts over sixty kinds of insects. Not only do you get the beneficial insects that munch up your other bugs for you, and some cool pollinators like honey bees, black swallowtail butterflies are also a good possibility.

 
Picture: Queen Anne’s lace rolled into a bird’s nest, waiting for the seeds to ripen, my mother’s garden, Stamford CT Summer 2004.
 
Deer: Before I get the “will deer eat it” question in the email, the answer is: Some say that Queen Anne’s Lace is “deer proof” but there is no such thing for a starving animal. (Now, for a short but not sweet editorial comment: If I see one more advertisement for “deer resistant” plants or one more article on “home remedies to ward off deer”, I will vomit. When are humans going to learn that “just keep them out of my backyard” is the cruelest way to treat less our fortunate neighbors, deer or otherwise? If even a tiny bit of the money spent on keeping deer out of yards was spent, instead, on controlling the deer’s ability to reproduce, we won’t have “the deer problem”, including Lymes disease, a horrible neurological crippler that doesn’t spare human children. Unfortunately, in a capitalist country, the dollar rules; and the money is in selling you, the consumer, dumb stuff with a high-mark up – not in helping the states correct the deer over-population that humans created. Further, the irresponsibility of the horticultural press who pander to these commercial interests astounds me. Wise up guys!)

In The House: Queen Anne’s lace is great as a cut flower; commercial florists use it extensively. Queen Anne’s Lace is also great, if a bit messy, in dried arrangements, and is wonderful for pressed flower collages. The flower’s shape has inspired lace makers for centuries. Indeed, the local common name apparently refers to Queen Anne of England, who reigned in the early 1700’s. She was reputed to be an expert lace maker but there are several contradictory stories in circulation about the connection between her and the flower.

 
Picture: Queen Anne’s lace seed heads persist through the winter, Waterside, Stamford CT Winter 2005.
  
From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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