When you are foraging for wild carrot, be very careful to identify that it is wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), and not its look-alike, the poisonous hemlock. It’s easy to make a mistake, so I am providing the best tips to avoid hemlock/poison parsley (Conium maculatum).
Nature has a really cool way of tricking us. We are all familiar with ladybird beetles (ladybugs), and now we see a bug that looks similar, but is brown instead of red. Why does Nature play with us? Sometimes to confuse predators. Sometimes to draw in a pollinator, or to invite predators to eat them – and die!
To protect you from a similar fate, let’s do Show and Tell. I’m going to show you these two plants that look alike. And yes, one is poisonous. Very poisonous. CAUTION: WEAR GLOVES UNTIL YOU ARE SURE.
Do you remember Socrates, and how he died from consuming hemlock? This plant is just as potent now as it was then. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and to many animals. If not treated quickly, it can lead to paralysis and death. Even touching the plants with bare hands can be dangerous.
Wild carrot looks very similar to hemlock, yet is edible, so let’s look at the differences. As always, never pick a plant you don’t know, and certainly don’t eat it if you’re not sure!
Here is a summary of what you can learn about Queen Anne’s Lace and hemlock.
Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace in year 2) Hemlock
Hairy green stems with no spots Purple spots on bare stems
Can have purple or red spot in the middle No spots in white flowers
of white flowers
When crushed, leaves smell like carrots When crushed, leaves smell bad
Flowers create a flatter top and Flowers create a curved top
dry into a “bird’s nest”
Leaves have hairs Leaves are hairless
Flower clusters are close together Flower clusters can be separated
Plant usually grows to a maximum of 3′ Plant can grow to 8′
To summarize, stems with purple splotches and no hairs, no purple spot in the flowers, are DANGEROUS. They smell musky or just plain bad when crushed. Don’t touch these plants without gloves, as poisons can enter through your skin.
Queen Anne’s Lace is easier. Picture the Queen with green, hairy legs and a purple spot in her flat white hair that looks turns into a bird’s nest in the fall!
THIS: NOT THAT:
Wild carrots are edible! If you catch them at the end of the first year, when the leaves still look a bit like parsley, the roots are mildly tasty, and VERY nutritious. If they are woody, strip off the outer layer and try again. Using boiled roots in a veggie broth gives nutrients and carrot taste, even if the roots are too chewy. In addition, the leaves can be chopped and added to stew or soup to mimic the flavour of carrots.
As always, have cautious fun out there!