Queen-Anne’s–lace (Daucus carota) is found in many parts of the world. It bursts with large, delicate umbels of white to purple-tinged flowers in spring and summer. Each umbel possesses a tiny single red or purple spot in the center, and as the seeds begin to ripen in late summer, the umbels contract to resemble a bird’s nest. Queen-Anne’s-lace earned its common name from a legend that tells of Queen Anne of England (who died in 1714) pricking her finger—drawing a drop of blood—while sewing lace.
Queen-Anne’s-lace belongs to the carrot family (Umbelliferae) and contains beta-carotene and other properties that are used to treat bladder and kidney conditions. Also known as wild carrot, Queen-Anne’s-lace grows taller than today’s cultivated carrots and the stalks are rougher. The 17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper believed the roots to be “small, long and hard and unfit for meat, being somewhat sharp and strong.”
Nonetheless, early Europeans cultivated Queen-Anne’s-lace, and Romans ate it as a vegetable. American colonists boiled the taproots, sometimes in wine. They also mixed the leaves with honey and applied the poultice to sores or ulcers, to help heal and kill bacterial infections. Settlers also used the herb as a source of orange dye.
The seeds of Queen-Anne’s-lace have their own benefits. They are nearly flavorless and can be added to foods to help prevent flatulence. Historically, they were used as a form of contraception.
Throughout history, Queen-Anne’s-lace maintained its popularity in the home and garden. It was soaked in rainwater and used as a perfume. The flowers appeared frequently in cut and dried floral arrangements on dinner tables. Cooks prepared the young leaves in a green salad or tossed bits into soups as a spice, and the flower heads were sometimes dipped in batter and fried as fritters.
Wild carrot is high in sugar (second only to the beet among root vegetables); Irish, Hindus and Jews sometimes used the herb to sweeten puddings and other foods. The roots were roasted and used as a coffee substitute or infused as a mild diuretic tea. Queen-Anne’s-lace is native to Mediterranean regions, and grows in any well-drained soil. It blooms from May through August. In North America this plant is quite common in fields and landscapes, and because it grows without being cultivated, there are many colors, forms and varieties. Check with your county extension agent before you plant it, as this is designated a noxious weed in some states.
This biennial never forms a root mass, but it spreads rapidly and is a prolific seeder in well-drained soil. Gather handfuls of seeds in the fall to sow in early spring.
Anita B. Stone is a certified master gardener, horticultural therapist and partners an herb business in North Carolina.