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Wild Carrots, Queen Anne’s Lace, And Deadly Hemlock

>22 June 2012
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**UPDATE: Due to copyright laws, I have unfortunately had to remove some of the very helpful photos in this post. I’ll leave links to the photos so you can go check them out for your reference.

As I was weeding my flower bed one day, I noticed that one particular weed looked remarkably like a carrot top. I even questioned whether it was possible for some of the seeds from my garden to have been carried over and dropped in with my flowers. And then when I pulled the weed and smelled the thin root, it smelled exactly like a carrot!

Was it a carrot?

I took it inside and googled “wild carrots”. Sure enough, that’s what it was! And yes, they are edible!

But it surprised me to learn that these are actually immature Queen Anne’s Lace plants. First year growth doesn’t develop a flower head, and the whole plant is good to eat. Once they get their distinct umbrella shaped white flowers on top, the flavor becomes woody and is no longer desirable.


I recognized these flowers from being all around our property. My dad always called them Chigger Bushes, because of the little chigger bugs that jump off of them and cause itchy bites. We were always warned to stay far away from these blooms. But hey, if they’re edible I’ll take my chances! Besides, a little clear nail polish over the bites is all it takes to kill the burrowing insect.

Hemlock Photo

In my reading, I also learned a very important tip. Queen Anne’s Lace has a deadly look-alike, Hemlock. Even touching Hemlock can poison you, and ingestion means almost certain death unless treated immediately. As the toxins from the plant absorb into your system, you slowly become paralyzed, your respiratory system fails, and you die.

Terrible. I know. So you definitely need to know how to distinguish between the two plants.

Fortunately, there are several very clear differences between Queen Anne’s Lace and Hemlock. It’s pretty easy to tell them apart once you learn what to spot, so don’t be afraid to try!

Yesterday, I took the kids on a nature walk so that I could teach them how to properly identify Queen Anne’s Lace and to be able to distinguish it from Poison Hemlock. It would be terrible if the kids spotted some hemlock and picked the flowers thinking they were beautiful. We weren’t able to find any on our property, thankfully, but it’s always good for them (and myself!) to know the difference.

Queen Anne’s Lace: Photo

Although they both have umbrella shaped tiny white (or sometimes pale pink) clusters of flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace has a teeny tiny purple or crimson colored flower in the center of its blooms. See it in the picture? It isn’t always there, sometimes it has already withered, or hasn’t developed yet. But if you see this, you know for sure it’s Queen Anne’s Lace. The story goes that Queen Anne was making lace when she pricked her finger and a drop of blood fell into the middle of her work, this is how the plant got its name. Telling the story is a good way for kids to remember which plant is supposed to have the purple flower.

Hemlock looks a bit different, when you get close enough to really get a good look. Though it would be hard to accurately tell the difference every time by only looking at the blooms. Thankfully, the stems are a dead giveaway.

Queen Anne’s Lace Stem: Photo

Queen Anne’s Lace has a hairy, completely green stem. Poison Hemlock is smooth, and has purple or black spots, or streaks on the stem.

Another identifier is the way the plants look when the blooms are dying back. Queen Anne’s Lace will fold up like a bird’s nest.

Hemlock Dying: Photo

Hemlock will not fold up as it goes to seed, but will just turn brown instead.

But the REAL test is the smell. If you’ve found a flower and you are fairly certain that you’ve identified it as a Queen Anne’s Lace, the final test is to crush the stem a little then smell. If it smells like a carrot, you can know for sure that it’s Queen Anne’s Lace, and it’s safe to eat. If it stinks, or has a musty/yucky smell, go wash your hands, it’s possible that the plant is Hemlock.

So, once you’ve determined you do in fact have Queen Anne’s Lace, or “wild carrot”, how do you use it?

In Linda Runyon’s book, The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide, I found the following information:

“Stems may be cut into sections and used for flavoring in stews and soups. Buds may be sauteed in oil. The brown dried seeds are an excellent salt substitute.”

And according to Linda’s Wild Cards…

  • Roots: Use in soups, stews. Freeze; dry.
  • Leaves: Eat raw; steam; boil; saute; drink liquid used for cooking. Use in soups and stews. Freeze.
  • Flower Heads: Eat raw; fry.
  • Seeds: Collect in autumn and dry for salt substitute.

Here are a couple of recipes you might like to try:

Wild Carrot & Mint

Cream Wild Carrot Soup

Don’t forget to try making Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly!!

Would you be interested in foraging for wild carrots? Do you know if you have any Queen Anne’s Lace growing in your area?

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29 Comments »

  • Doug@thesimplefarm said:

    We have wild onion, raspberries, strawberries, and herbs galore. No wild carrots. Too bad. Sounds delightful.

  • Jessica K. said:

    Awesome, I’m pretty sure (going to double and triple check now!) that we have a bunch of queen anne’s lace around. This is great to know! I always wondered if they were edible, now I know :)

  • Sarah said:

    My plants teacher taught us to remember the difference of the stems by pulling up her pants leg to show her calf, which she had not shaved. She smiled and said, “Queen Anne has hairy legs.” My kind of lady!

    Now I will never forget!

    Do be careful everyone out there. Hemlock means serious business, just ask Socrates.
    Sarah

  • Ellen said:

    I’ve had those wild carrots growing and left them alone just because they were pretty! Thanks for the tutorial!

  • Brenda said:

    I really appreciate the information on how to identify Hemlock, compared to Queen Anne’s Lace! I’ll be checking our property very carefully!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Sarah,

    Oh my goodness, that is too funny!!
    My oldest daughter and I were just reading about Socrates’ death by Hemlock. I’d never heard that story before. It’s a great way to reinforce the danger of this plant and the importance of being able to confidently tell the difference.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    You are most welcome!! I figured this was too important not to share.

  • Missy Steiger said:

    Thank you. My kids were pulling up wild carrots yesterday. I made them read this with me so they know the difference. And I’m going to make the jelly!

  • LindaG said:

    I’ve bookmarked this post. Thanks!

  • Andi said:

    We actually have a lot of hemlock in my neck of the woods… this is a very informative post and one I need to share with my child. Have you ever studied out deathcamas, it can sometimes be mistaken for garlic or onion, except without the smell. Link:

  • Tiffani said:

    We have lots of Queen Anne’s Lace in our yard. Thanks for pointing out the differences with Hemlock.

    On a side note, chiggers. They don’t actually burrow into your skin so putting nail polish on will not help you. The larval mites inject digestive enzymes into you and form something like a straw to drink from. Once they get full they fall off and continue through their life cycle. By the time you notice the itchy spot the mite is already gone. The best way to try to prevent this is to shower and wash your clothes immediately after being in a place they live, the yard, woods, etc.

    I have really sensitive skin. When I get a chigger bite it looks like a giant purple hive. Some have been as big as oranges. Now I make sure to shower if I’ve been out in the yard. They are particularly bad here in WV this Summer.

  • Lorie said:

    Thanks! We have these all over the place! (Not sure which ones they are yet, I’ll have to go check the stems!)

  • Crayl said:

    I read this post, walked outside, and gave a lesson to my son, because lo and behold, Queen Anne’s lace/ wild carrots showed up this year on my property. I had no idea they were edible. Thanks for the lesson!
    They are quite near our wild blackberries.

  • Amanda said:

    My mother and I used Queen Annes Lace for a wedding ,it was beautiful!She used to arrange flowers and the couple didnt have alot of money to spend for flowers so they ask her to do it.

  • Paula said:

    I went on a walk out behind our property today to check on the blackberries and saw some Queen Anne’s Lace and thought of your post. I never knew its name or anything about it until I read your post. Thanks for the info. Also the blackberries have started to ripen and bright and early Monday morning I will be out picking.

  • Melissa said:

    Thanks for your post. Just a few days ago the kids had picked a queen ann’s lace flower and put it on the table in a vase. Later I was dishing out soup for lunch and some pollen got knocked into my daughter’s soup bowl. My husband and I both had recollections about something poisonous (probably we were thinking of hemlock) so we threw her soup out. I guess we’ll know better for next time. I was thinking it’s just a wild carrot, it should be fine. We’re actually trying to save carrot seed for the first time this year – we planted some carrots that managed to overwinter in the garden and their flower looks like queen ann’s lace!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Melissa,

    Well, better safe than sorry for sure! But at least now you know ;) Interesting that your carrots look like Queen Anne’s Lace. I hope saving seed works out well for you guys!

  • Herbwifemama said:

    QAL seeds are also being studied as a natural birth control: http://robinrosebennett.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=44&Itemid=11

  • barb said:

    seeds should NOT be eaten by pregnant women.

  • Elaine said:

    Thanks!! Your article describes and pictures the two better than any I’ve seen!! Chickens coming soon and needed to know the difference!! I sure hope we have an abundance of the GOOD stuff!!!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Glad to help, Elaine! Enjoy those new chickens :)

  • Melonie said:

    Great article!! I planted carrots from seed this year (first time, not realizing how small they were) on a windy day, next thing I know I have carrots everywhere in my garden, coming up with the weeds. Then I started realizing they were not quite the same!! Most, I am finding out, are wild carrots, not from the seed that I have planted. I am glad to have found your article because I did not realize hemlock looked so much like the wild carrots!! Now I know and I will be on the lookout, Thanks for the great information.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    I’m glad to have been some help, Melonie :) Too bad your garden carrots didn’t spread and pop up everywhere, that would have been GREAT, LOL!

  • Erin said:

    I went out to look for edible plants in the field behind the house and boy am I glad I didn’t just yank up what I thought was a wild carrot. Hemlock is growing EVERYWHERE back there. But there are also some Queen Anne’s Lace, wild mulberries, and wild grapes. I’ve been studying the differences for awhile now and this is the best post on them I’ve seen. Thanks :)

    PS. Sarah, that’s hilarious XD

    Erin

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Oh gosh, Erin! I’m glad you took the time to research the plants first. Yikes. Thank you for the reminder that it’s so important that we always research thoroughly before foraging :)

  • todd said:

    Great post, it was very informative and helpful.

  • Amos said:

    Great article! I did not know about what to look for in the stems. My son recently had a burn/rash from contacting what I believe was either poison hemlock or water hemlock so I have been doing some research.

    One thing your readers may want to know is that even Queen Ann’s lace can cause phytophotodermatitis (the rash/burn caused by skin-contact with phototoxic sap plus exposure to sunlight), as can, strangely, celery and parsnips. Several other wildflowers in the same family also have this attribute. (See medscape link for more info.)

    Per Wikipedia… “the leaves of the wild carrot can cause phytophotodermatitis,[3] so caution should also be used when handling the plant.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daucus_carota#cite_note-3

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Great info to add. Thanks, Amos!

  • Linda Dougherty said:

    5/19/14 Poison Hemlock
    We have poison hemlock close to our garden. Our garden is called “Seeds of Harmony”. It is across the field. For years we had that in our garden. I was in charge to take of the poison hemlock. one summer day I had a workshop on poison hemlock. Myself, I am aware how dangerous plant it is. I told the gardeners if they see that plant in their gardens. Please let me know A.S.P. I will care of the hemlock. I read up on the poison hemlock. Like yesterday we go to a mtg with new gardeners. I gave them a lot of information.

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