If something happened to your way of life and you were on your own would you be able to feed yourself? Would you know what plants are edible? Which ones would kill you? Today we’re going to cover a plant that can bring back to comforts of a normal home but is tricky to ID, the wild carrot.
Sometimes called Queen Annes Lace, the wild carrot is a small, white, woody carrot. It is a common weed and likes growing in sandy soils. This week I found dozens of these growing through the cracks between the bricks of my patio; bricks layed on sand! I cooked them up in a stir-fry for dinner.
The wild carrot is often called Queen Anne’s Lace because the flower resembles lace. The red flower in the center is thought to represent a blood droplet where Queen Anne pricked herself with a needle when she was making the lace, but in reality it is meant to attract insects to the plant to help with pollination. Not all Queen Anne’s Lace has this specific type of flower, however.
The roots of the wild carrot look, smell and taste like a white carrot. They are much more wooden and stiff then a normal carrot and a touch more bitter, but still quite tasty. They require heavy boiling for older plants to become chewable. You can use the flowers to make a white dye as well. However, the leaves can cause pytophotodermatitis, and should be handled with care. I simply feed these to my rabbits. Basically this means that handling the plants causes you to be severely sensitive to sun and your skin will burn and rash easily. It’s best to harvest wild carrots on a cloudy day.
The problem with wild carrots is they are nearly identical to a similar plant called Poison Hemlock, a plant that can kill you if you eat it.
Poison Hemlock is famous for being what killed Socrates. It is an EXTREMELY potent neurotoxin that wreaks havoc on your nervous system causing paralysis from the bottom up. When it hits your lungs you stop breathing and die. Artificial ventilation and CPR can help keep oxygen going through the body for a few days while the toxin wears off… But even a tiny bit of any part of this plant can be fatal. Take a nibble of this to see if it’s a carrot and you could be dead that evening.
So how did my stir-fried wild carrots go? Neither myself, my guests, nor any of the animals that ate the tops have died of paralysis. There are a few tell-tale differences between death on a stick and a lovely, if chewy, carrot.
The first is the carrot itself smells like a carrot. Like punch-you-in-the-face-this-is-a-carrot type of smell. It’s overwhelmingly carroty. If someone made a carrot scented perfume it’d smell like this plant’s root. The leaves don’t smell like anything but the closer you get to the carrot itself the more it’ll smell like a carrot.
The poison hemlock smells bad. When you crush the leaves or the root the scent has been compared to parsnips. It does not have that fresh, herbaceous, carroty scent.
The second are the stems of the carrots are hairy. They are covered in dozens of fine hairs that are quite obvious The stems of the hemlock plant are smooth and often covered in purple spots.
If the plant you find looks and smells like a white carrot and has fuzzy stems, it is likely a Queen Anne’s Lace plant, and is safe to eat. If the stems are smooth and it does not have a powerful carroty scent to it, I suggest removing it and putting it in your trash before washing your hands.
Poison hemlock is also deadly to most animals, and the ones that survive often have severe birth defects in any offspring they produce.
So take care when harvesting your tasty white roots! As always, practice safe foraging techniques! Make a %100 positive ID on a plant before eating it, wear gloves while harvesting, and be aware of any wildlife.