Plants that look like queen anne’s lace

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Monday – May 13, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of Queen Anne’s Lace look-alike
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am trying to identify a plant/weed that grows here in Austin but I haven’t found an exact match in your databases. It looks very similar to Queen Anne’s lace and to your photos of yarrow but the leaves are not feathery. It has a long skinny stem topped by tiny snowflake shaped flowers. Few leaves that are serrated but not fern-like. Any ideas?

ANSWER:

My best guess would be the native, Daucus pusillus (American wild carrot). It is actually the same genus as Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s lace), the European and southwest Asian species that has been introduced into North America and it looks very similar to it. Here are more photos of Queen Anne’s lace and of American wild carrot (also called Rattlesnake Weed) for comparison’s sake. In case that isn’t the plant you’ve seen, here are some other possibilities:

One of the Hymenopappus spp. For instance, Hymenopappus artemisiifolius var. artemisiifolius (Oldplainsman), Hymenopappus scabiosaeus var. corymbosus (Carolina woollywhite) and Hymenopappus tenuifolius (Chalk hill hymenopappus) occur in Travis County.

Bifora americana (Prairie bishop)

Cicuta maculata (Spotted water hemlock)

Osmorhiza longistylis (Longstyle sweetroot)

One of the Parthenium spp. Parthenium confertum (Gray’s feverfew) and Parthenium hysterophorus (Ragweed parthenium), an introduced species. Here are more photos from Southeastern Flora.

One of the Valerianella spp. There are three species found in Travis County—Valerianella amarella (Hairy cornsalad), Valerianella radiata (Beaked cornsalad), and Valerianella stenocarpa (Narrowcell cornsalad).

If none of these are the plant you have seen and you do have photos of it, I suggest that you visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos for identification.

From the Image Gallery

American wild carrot
Daucus pusillus
American wild carrot
Daucus pusillus
American wild carrot
Daucus pusillus
Oldplainsman
Hymenopappus artemisiifolius
Carolina woollywhite
Hymenopappus scabiosaeus
Chalk hill hymenopappus
Hymenopappus tenuifolius
Prairie bishop
Bifora americana
Longstyle sweetroot
Osmorhiza longistylis
Gray’s feverfew
Parthenium confertum
Hairy cornsalad
Valerianella amarella
Beaked cornsalad
Valerianella radiata

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Despite being an invasive species, Queen Anne’s Lace is often grown in home gardens for its delicate and showy flowers. Check out our comprehensive guide which includes the different types of Queen Anne’s Lace flowers to learn more about this unique species.

Be it in salads, cakes, juice or simply on their own, everyone loves to eat carrots but are you aware of what a carrot plant or carrot flowers look like? Have you ever tried harvesting carrots in your own backyard? Or better yet have you ever thought about planting them for ornamental purpose?

While it is not really the flower of the edible carrots that you consume on a typical day, Queen Anne’s Lace is a truly fascinating species of flowers that are often used in floral decorations or even nurtured by skilled gardeners to give their backyard a unique touch.

Whether you are a garden enthusiast looking for new plants to add to your own collection or just a regular person who’s curious to explore more of the gifts provided by mother earth, you have come to just the right place.

Check out our detailed article covering everything you need to know about the natural beauty that Queen Anne’s Lace truly is. From the plant’s background information and related types to their growth, maintenance and more – we take you through various aspects of this lesser-known garden variety.

Read on to find out more.

What is Queen Anne’s Lace?

Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot whose scientific name is Daucus Carota, is a white flowering plant that belongs to the Apiaceae family – i.e., the same family that also produces edible carrots we so commonly use. It is a biennial herb which means that the plant produces blossoms in its second year of life and then withers away. Its root not only resembles a carrot but also produces a carrot-like smell when crushed. Plus, the taproot of Queen Anne’s Lace has often been consumed as a food item in the past whereas it is still sometimes used for medicinal purposes and other similar purposes.

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This species is native to the temperate regions of Southwest Asia and Europe but has spread to parts of North America and Australia as well. Daucus carota was introduced in the United States as far back as the 16th Century (or even earlier) and is a common sight in various wild areas of Illinois and Minnesota. Be it thickets, prairies, meadows, abandoned fields or vacant lots; you can easily spot Queen Anne’s Lace growing in vast numbers in such places. You will also find these delicate white flowers blooming beside railway tracks, highways and even in waste areas. Visit the countryside, and you are likely to see Queen Anne’s Lace lining the fences of many houses and cottages.

Queen Anne’s Lace is also known by other names such as Bird’s Nest and Bishop’s Lace.

Types of Queen Anne’s Lace

Many people confuse Wild Carrot, Bird’s Nest, and Bishop’s Lace to be a type of Queen Anne’s Lace. In reality, they are the different names given to the same plant.

Queen Anne’s Lace generally refers to different plant varieties provided that they belong to the Daucus carota family. However, expert gardeners and even florists recognize Queen Anne’s Lace as one and only one distinct plant while other’s like Ammi Majus and so on are said to be its relatives. Read on for a clearer explanation.

True Queen Anne’s Lace

Originating from Europe, the species is commonly found in Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia as well Minnesota and Illinois where it is considered to be a noxious weed. However, in various

other parts of North America, the plant is considered to be an exotic species and often grown in a controlled environment for ornamental uses. It requires partial shade and relatively dry soil to flourish. Queen Anne’s Lace is a very hardy species which means that it can thrive in various climate conditions although it generally prefers a dry environment.

This plant features pristine white flowers that bloom from June to September. The flowers grow in flat clusters known as umbels (an umbel is a flower composed of several ‘umbellets’ at the end of short flower stalks that are joined together at the base). The small white flower heads that spread upwards from the common point closely resemble the shape of an upturned umbrella, hence, the name ‘umbel.’

Each cluster or umbel (about 2-5 inches across) consists of 20 to 30 mini flowers that each have five petals and are as minute as about an eighth of an inch. The petals of the outer umbellets are slightly larger than those on the inner side. Also, these large outer petals are often ‘pinched’ at the tip giving the blossom a really fancier finish. More often than not, you will find a small dark reddish-purple umbellet in the middle of each cluster.

The showiness of Queen Anne’s Lace doesn’t end here. The stunning, delicate white flowers are supported by equally delicate and stunning bracts at the base. These are small leaves or ‘scales’ at the bottom of each umbel that comprise of long and narrow segments of lively greens. Further down the stalk, there are compounded fern-like leaves that each measure up to 10 inches long and are almost half as wide. These distinctive leaves are larger near the bottom of the plant and gradually shrink in size near the top beside the umbels. This exquisite arrangement of greens perfectly balances the exclusive white flowers whereas the hairy, fuzzy stems further accentuate the beauty that Queen Anne’s Lace truly is.

However, this dazzling beauty has more to offer. When the flowers begin to mature into seeds, you will notice the umbels fold upwards, creating a small cage-like structure that holds the fruit in the center. Gradually, this protective shell turns into a hard, ribbed seed with spikes covering the outer surface. You will notice a spectrum of colors as the flowers change shades from white to purplish-green before turning into stiff brown seeds. This hairy/ spiky structure helps in seed dispersal by the wind which is why the plant can find new breeding grounds and quickly populate on its own without any external help.

False Queen Anne’s Lace

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False Queen Anne’s Lace (scientific name Ammi Majus) is also known as Bishop’s Weed, Lady’s Lace, Bullwort or Laceflower. It belongs to the same carrot family that True Queen Anne’s Lace belongs to, i.e., Apiaceae and is often confused with the same because of the similarity between the two species.

Ammi majus originated from the Nile River Valley thousands of years ago. Today, it is commonly grown in home gardens for decoration while its cultivars are frequently spotted in various florist shops.

With flowers growing in umbels, pretty much in the same style as those of True Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus is also a fine choice to consider if you want to add some elegance and style in your backyard. However, the species is void of the rather ostentatious bracts that are a characteristic of Wild Carrot or True Queen Anne’s Lace only.

You might be surprised to know that Egyptians used the juice of Ammi majus in around 2000 B.C. to ‘treat’ people with vitiligo. However, according to research and modern science, an excess of the photosynthesizing agents in Ammi majus can not only worsen the condition but also cause severe skin inflammation – which is why you shouldn’t consider experimenting with the plant sap. Still, Ammi majus is often cultivated for the extractions of certain chemicals that are used to treat other skin diseases.

Anthriscus Sylvestris

Also known as Cow Parsley, Wild Beaked Parsley, Keck or Wild Chervil, Anthriscus Sylvestris is another biennial herbaceous plant that looks quite similar to Queen Anne’s Lace.

Native to Europe and Asia, this plant is also spotted in other parts of the world such as northwestern Africa, Mediterranean regions, as well as certain high-altitude parts of the United States. Wild Chervil, belongs to the same carrot family, Apiaceae, that the above two species of flowering plants belong to, but is closer to the subgenus of parsley, hogweed, and hemlock.

Blooming throughout spring and early summer, this plant also produces white or greenish-white delicate flowers that are consist of several minuscule florets. Cow Parsley grows rather aggressively and can prove to be quite troublesome for many farmers. The plant is edible although not a desirable option for humans (unless you are stuck in the wild) due to its unpleasant taste that seems like eating a really bitter carrot. However, cattle and farm animals don’t usually mind feasting on Cow Parsley, which is how it got its name. But you must note that the plant does resemble poisonous species known as fool’s parsley and poison hemlock.

How to Grow and Maintain Queen Anne’s Lace? 🔥 TIP: !

Queen Anne’s Lace typically grows in regions that experience a large number of sunny days and have moderate to low humidity. They thrive best in clay-loam soil that has either a neutral or slightly acidic pH level.

You can choose to grow this species in your home garden if you are looking for a low maintenance plant to add some beauty and style to the place. However, if you have a carefully thought-out and well-decorated backyard, it might be best to steer clear of Queen Anne’s Lace because the species is highly invasive and can be difficult to get rid of when you want. The reason behind this is that the plant’s taproot reaches a lot deeper into the soil and can easily grow back again even if you ‘pull’ the plant out from the flowerbed.

If the species has already invaded your garden, then you can dig up each plant using a spade. Loosen the soil around the main stem and then pull the entire plant out. If there are any seeds on the stalks, tightly seal the uprooted plant in a bag before discarding it. A dilute solution of glyphosate can be spread on the affected patches to kill any remnants of the invader. However, this can also affect other plants so make sure that you consult relevant expert professionals before treating the soil with any chemicals.

Interesting Facts about Queen Anne’s Lace

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If you are scratching your head in confusion as to where the plant got its strange name from, then you are not alone. Legend has it that the species was named after Queen Anne of England (1665-1714) who pricked her finger one day while sewing a white lace. When the drop of blood fell on the frail lace that she was holding, it resembled the flower of Daucus carota which features frail white flowers often with a dark reddish-

  • purple spot in the center. And this way, Daucus carota or wild carrot came to be known as Queen Anne’s Lace.
  • Although it is hardly grown as a food crop anymore, early records show that Romans, as well as American colonists, harvested Wild Carrot for edible means and medicinal purpose. Many Romans used it as a regular vegetable whereas others often boiled the roots of Queen Anne’s Lace in wine for a refreshing concoction. It has also been used by Hindus, Jews, and Irishmen to sweeten puddings and add a distinct flavor to other delicacies.
  • This species is abundantly found in temperate wild areas throughout the US. A major factor that contributes to its invasiveness is the fact that this species cannot be wiped out by wildfires either. A burnt land means soil composition is affected which in turn rarely supports plant growth unless the soil is treated. However, Queen Anne’s Lace has no trouble in regrowing and swiftly claiming the land back again.
  • Because the compounded leaves are common to most of the species of Daucus carota, it is easy to confuse Queen Anne’s Lace with other varieties especially when the plant is not flowering. However, if you are particular about plants and want to identify Queen Anne’s Lace like a champ, then look at the bracts. Fancy, showy bracts are the one feature that is completely unique to Queen Anne’s Lace.

Hopefully, this would have helped you understand this exclusive and unique plant variety better. Are you up for growing Queen Anne’s Lace in your garden? Keep a vigilant eye next time you go trekking or hiking in the wild or even when passing by a railroad because you are likely to come across lots of delicate and fancy white Queen Anne’s Lace dancing with the wind.

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Botanic Notables: Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace is a weed, but an undeniably beautiful one, whose botanic descendent is the domesticated carrot, and named for the royal lace-maker Queen Anne of Scotland. By Anna Laurent

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Flowers can evoke wonderfully vivid memories and for me, reliably, it is the August wildflowers that send me into the golden fields of my past—in particular, reminding me of a summer I spent on Nantucket and the flowers I met there.

Photo by: Flickr user vns2009.

As a “flower girl” apprentice at a wildflower farm, I would tend the gardens, make bouquets for market, and come up with mnemonic devices to learn the names of our flowers. Of all the flowers—hydrangeas, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed susans—the one that seems to signify everything I love about the island is Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). We often used the flower in our bouquet arrangements and I loved the way it accented our brightly-colored flowers with a dusting of white. It reminded me of a soft New England snow or the stark white ruffles of Elizabethan fashion.

Bouquets of hydrangea and Queen Anne’s Lace. Photo by: chenryflowershow, Flickr.

Hardy yet delicate, and predominantly white (with occasionally muted tones of pink and blue), the beautiful flower seems to me like a botanic emblem of New England. In this setting of harsh, yet redemptive weather and rugged, enduring landscapes, Queen Anne’s Lace is a perfect flower—a matching color palette of elegant whites, and a cautionary life cycle that seems to fit New England’s unrelenting seasons.

In its first year of growth, Queen Anne’s Lace develops a tap root and a rosette of basal leaves. Not until its second year does the plant send forth a flower stalk that blossoms, before attracting pollinators, dispersing seeds, and dying. This life cycle makes for an effective strategy to moderate resources for the flower and seed, as the developing tap root becomes a reserve of energy for the coming year, like canned preserves in the cellar.

The flower begins and ends in a saucer shape or “bird’s nest.” When the flowers are pollinated, the umbels turn inward, as they haver here, and will mature as they wait to cling onto a passer-by. Photo by: Flickr/Blue Ridge Kitties.

What we usually call a Queen Anne’s Lace blossom is, of course, not a single flower, but a colony of about 30 umbellets, all of which are complete flowers. A series of Queen Anne’s Lace macro images can be found here, including images of its life cycle timeline—from early umbrella to seeding “bird’s nest”—and some wonderful pictures of its architecturally spectacular underside bracts.

Photo by: Alvesgaspar / Wikipedia Commons.

Many umbels are adorned with a single dark purple flower in the center of the cluster. The flower is sterile, however, and botanists aren’t sure what purpose it serves—resembling an interloping insect, the tiny dark floret could either attract pollinators, or repel predatory insects. Royal folklorists. however, have an idea of why the flower is darkened with a small drop.

A dark red sterile flower at the center of the flower. Photo by: Flickr user Stephen Begin.

With its native origins in Europe, Queen Anne’s Lace was later naturalized in American gardens and with the seeds came their stories. The flower is named for Queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), apparently an expert lace maker. As the story goes, she once pricked her finger while sewing. And a drop of blood became forever embedded in her royal lace, and in the center of her namesake flower.

A profile of the plant would be remiss without several additional notes. First, while it’s often assailed as an invasive weed, the taproots of Queen Anne’s Lace are edible, and they smell like carrots, as the plant is a wild progenitor of the domesticated carrot (Daucus carota subspecies sativus). Second, beware of imitations! The flowers and leaves of the “wild carrot” closely resemble hemlock, which is, indeed, poisonous. Third, some people are allergic to the leaves of Queen’s Anne Lace.

And, finally, a poem:

Queen Anne’s Lace, by William Carlos Willliams

Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth-nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over-
or nothing.

Related: Texas Bluebonnets

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The Wild Carrot(Daucus carota) also known as queen anne’s lace is the direct descendant of our domesticated carrot. These plants are meadow flowers that tend to be biennial but can live for 1 to 5 years depending on weather and it’s genetic makeup. Once an individual plant flowers it dies that winter. Carrot is a native European species which has been cultivated for at least 4000 years. Some of the oldest cultivated carrot seeds were found in Switzerland and Germany. There is also good evidence that carrots were cultivated in Afghanistan very early on. The wild carrot was brought to the new world during the migration of Europeans to America. It’s likely that it was unintentionally brought over hidden within farming supplies and probably was intentionally brought over as an aromatic herb. It currently grows in the vast majority of the United States and is considered a noxious weed in many of those states.

Edibility and culinary use

First it must be mentioned that a notoriously poisonous plant is a close look a like to the wild carrot. There will be more on this later in the article under the subheadings, Identification and Cautions.

Wild carrot’s close relative the domesticated carrot is known for its sweet and tender root. The root of the wild carrot is not very sweet or very tender but it is edible cooked and does contain starch. I have eaten wild carrot root and it is reminiscent of a regular carrot but eating wild carrot root is a bit more of a rustic experience. Choosing the right plant at the right time of year is key to maximizing your dining experience with wild carrot. First of all its pointless to harvest this plant for it’s root any other time than fall or early winter. At this time the one year old plants that have not flowered will be storing large quantities of starch in the root to prepare itself for growth and flowering the next year. To harvest just look for an individual plant that has no flower and dig it up by the root. Many roots will be small but hopefully you’ll find a few larger roots. It may be the case that roots from different locations taste better or worse as a result of soil nutrients, so harvesting from different locations may be worthwhile.

Carrot greens also have a long history of being cultivated as an aromatic herb that can be added to foods for flavoring and fragrance. This part of the plant can be harvested any time of year. It is similar to parsley but has a tougher texture. This herb works well in soups and other cooked foods that tenderize the foliage.

Health benefits

Carrots are famous for being good for the eyes. This is mostly only true in developing countries where people might have vitamin A deficiencies which can lead to serious eye problems including blindness. Carrots contain beta-carotene which is used by the body to produce vitamin A. This is also true of carrot greens.

Besides for their benefits in producing vitamin A carrot roots and greens are a serious source of many beneficial vitamins and minerals including calcium and iron. Even if you don’t go foraging for wild carrot greens this article might inspire you to at least start using carrot greens from the grocery store when cooking.

Identification

Queen Anne’s Lace Flower (Photo By: Kurt Stuber/Wikimedia Commons)

Wild carrot has a few lethally poisonous look a likes including the notorious poison hemlock and the closely related water hemlock. Therefore It is imperative to identify Wild carrot correctly but fortunately there are 2 very good identification characteristics that set it apart from It’s poisonous look a likes.

The best way for beginners to keep an eye out for wild carrot is to look for the familiar lacy white flowers in fields in late summer. Initially you can Identify wild carrot by the growth habit and leaf shape also, but these are not particularly unique looking. Once you believe you are looking at wild carrot there are a couple things you can do to confirm your identification. The first thing is to look at the center of the flower cluster for a very tiny purple floret. It isn’t always present on wild carrot but it usually is and it’s never present on it’s poisonous look a likes such as poison hemlock. The second characteristic that sets wild carrot apart from its poisonous look a likes is the fragrance. The root and foliage smell like you guessed it……. carrot. When you are harvesting the root you will have to rely on the fragrance heavily to confirm your identification since you wont be harvesting plants with flowers. There are many other minor details that distinguish wild carrot from other plants. This includes flower umbel pattern, stem color, amount of hair on the stem, root growth pattern, growing location, leaf shape and more. This is a specific case where I would encourage further research specifically into identification of this species by referencing an identification guide like this one.

Cautions
As mentioned in the preceding paragraph there are a few extremely toxic look a likes and a couple of good ways to distinguish wild carrot from those. Other than this very important caution the only other caution with this plant is that the foliage can cause dermatitis for some people when handled.

It should also be noted that as is the case with many plants such as onions there are minor toxins in the plant but would almost never be an issue for humans during normal consumption. Grazing animals can sometimes be affected after eating large amounts of wild carrot greens.

Conclusion
Wild Carrot is a very familiar wildflower for many parts of the country. The flower’s lacy characteristic contributed to it’s common name queen anne’s lace. This historic plant has been cultivated into a staple food for many cultures around the globe. The Wild version of the carrot has also worked it’s way around the globe as a field wildflower. Once you familiarize yourself with the wild carrot and it’s poisonous look a likes you’ll notice that it is often far more abundant than any of it’s poisonous look a likes. You can see the global range of wild carrot on this compiled map of growing locations. It is truly an abundant wild edible worldwide.

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Wild Carrot – Queen Anne’s Lace

Daucus carota

Wild Carrot – Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Queen Anne’s Lace is yet another weed often reminding me of childhood. More often than not I would spot an occasional ant crawling around the blossom, which at that time, led me to believe its name to be “Queen Ants Lace”. I reasoned that the single purple flower must represent the Queen and the worker ants walked the flower to pay tribute. You gotta love a child’s logic! Even so, I can remember pulling up the plant and smelling the very distinguishable carroty aroma from its roots. I even confronted my Mother about this discovery. However she made it very clear that I should not eat it, as it was “poisonous”. It wouldn’t be for another 16 years till I reconsidered its edibility.

Queen Anne’s Lace famous flower “nest” loaded with sticky seeds waiting for an unsuspecting carrier.

Did you know?

Queen Anne’s Lace real name is Daucus carota and is actually a wild version of the domestically farmed Carrot! It was years of selective breeding which has transformed the wild carrot into the larger, sweeter, and more crisp version that we’re all familiar with. The species name carota is latin for Carrot which has been recognized by the Old World as a food and medicine throughout the ages. All parts are edible providing a wide range of culinary uses.

Wild Carrot’s first year roots are good cooked or raw. Mince the fresh leaves and use as a spice for soups and stews or add to a salad.

Wild Carrot is a biannual growing its vegetation the first year, sending up a flower stalk and going to seed in the second year. First year roots are best harvested in the spring or fall when they are most tender. Second year roots will become stringy and woody as the plant fully matures. However during this time the flower stalk can be peeled and eaten as a crisp ‘carrot flavored’ vegetable either raw or cooked. The flower itself can be used as a flavoring agent, to garnish meals, or eaten as a vegetable, and the seeds may be used as a spice or brewed for tea.

Genetically it’s believed that Wild Carrot is the direct progenitor to our modern Carrot. Steamed Wild Carrot root as seen in the foreground compared to its enhanced brother in the background.

Carrot is a great source of Beta-carotene (Vitamin A), Vitamin K, C, Biotin, Carbohydrates and natural Sugar. Its nutritional content promotes a healthy immune system, healthy eyes, hair, skin and nails. (For a great article on the many benefits of Carrots as well as a complete nutritional analysis click HERE)

Wild Carrot is highly adaptable and has quickly naturalized itself around most of the world. It can be spotted growing in fields, meadows and garden beds year-round.A relative of the Parsley, you can see the resemblance in its leaves. Also a relative of the Parsley is Poison Hemlock. Before harvesting be confident in the noticeable differences between Wild Carrot and Poison Hemlock.

Traditionally,

Daucus carota has been used to treat the bladder, kidney and liver. It has been reported to increase the flow of urine helping in the aid of kidney waste removal, countering the formation of kidney stones. The leaves have been reported to act as an aphrodisiac, while the plant may delay menstruation. The seeds are an old-time contraceptive and should not be used by pregnant women. An essential oil from the seeds can be applied to counter wrinkles.
More medicinal information can be found in the following articles:

Wild Carrot and its Poisonous cousin.

Wild Carrot on the left compared to Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) on the right.

If you are relatively new at foraging you may discover what is known as a “lookalike”. Knowing the desired plant intimately will help you avoid mistaking it with any imposters. Wild Carrot may have a few different lookalikes but often times its spotted growing in close proximity with Poison Hemlock. Observe the photos below to see the most significant differences between these two relatives of the Parsley.

More often than not Wild Carrot is covered with fine hairs over most of the branch and leaf stems. Poison Hemlock is hairless, smooth and typically has purple spots or streaks coloring the stems. The flowering stalk of Wild Carrot is also covered with fine hairs never coated with white film. The flower stalk of Poison Hemlock however is both hairless and has a white film that can easily be scraped off. The flower of Wild Carrot is borne on a stem forming a large tightly compact umbel, all white with the typical single purple flower in the center. Poison Hemlock blooms often have multiple flower stems borne off of a main stalk, they are not as dense as the Wild Carrot and lack the single purple flower.

The most significant identifiable feature of the Wild Carrot is its carroty aroma. Crack a root in half and take a good whiff… ah… carrot! Poison Hemlock, Fools Parsley and Yarrow as well as carota’s many other lookalikes simply lack that intense carrot scent, if not smelling entirely different at all. With some practice of comparison, soon you can enjoy this widely abundant and highly nutritious root vegetable.

To learn more about identifying wild carrot plus many more wild edibles of North America be sure to check out Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer. His book is pack FULL of detailed colored pictures, complete plant descriptions, poisonous lookalikes comparisons, growing season timetables, and its a fun read altogether. It has helped motivate me on multiple occasions and has given me the confidence to get out and forage! I recommend this to both the beginner forager as well the experienced. If you are searching for a competent foraging reference you can click on the following link to where its available for purchase on Amazon.

Nature’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer

Thanks for stopping by, till next time
Happy Foraging!
-Hank

Remember…
If you ever have any doubt identifying, simply do not eat it!

Recipes

Click on a picture for the following recipes.

Wild Carrot Cake Wild Carrot Seed Spice Cake (top part of article) Wild Carrot Seed Sauce (bottom part of article) Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly

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The carrot family of Apiaceae contain both edible and deadly species. You need to “know your carrots” before foraging for them. With poisonous hemlock on the left and edible cow parsley on the right, it is really, really important that you are confident in the differences before you chow down!

Some leaf shapes to memorise!

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace)
Daucus carota

Leaves extremely deeply lobed, fringe-like. Sprout from lower portions of the plant around a central rosette, from which will grow several, central, hairy stems later holding the blossom. Flowers are white on umbels and characterised by a tiny purple flower that appears as a dark spot in the centre of the flower head (to help insects find their way).

First-year Queen Anne’s Lace leaves resemble Poison Hemlock. Remember that Wild Carrot stalks are hairy.

Cow Parsley
Anthriscus sylvestris

Leaves are 3 pinnate. When crushed have a fresh green smell. Leaf stalks are smooth, hairless and although they can sometimes be purple-ish but never have spots or blotches.

Characterised by a U shaped grove that runs along the upper side of the leaf stem. (Hemlock leaf stalks are round in section.)

Hemlock
Conium maculatum

It only takes 100g of coniine to kill – that’s just a handful of leaves! It paralyses the muscles so your lungs cannot operate and you suffocate to death. If you can be kept alive in intensive care on a ventilator, this will wear off after 3-4 days. Best not to experiment!

Leaves are 3-4 pinnate spaced wider that cow parsley. Purple blotches or streaks on lower stem. Stem is smooth and hairless. It has slightly fetid smell.

Hemlock Water Dropwort
Oenanthe crocata
This contains the central nervous system poison, oenanthotoxin. The stems and roots are the worst, it just takes one root to kill a cow! If you only learn to ID just one poisonous plant, that grows in the same local as alexanders, wild lovage and other goodies, then let it be this one!

Here are the roots. Sensibly called ‘dead man’s fingers’! It’s all in the name.

Water Hemlock
Cicuta virosa

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Queen Anne’s Lace Management: Tips For Controlling Wild Carrot Plants

With its ferny foliage and umbrella-shaped clusters of blooms, Queen Anne’s lace is pretty and a few random plants cause few problems. However, a lot of Queen Anne’s lace can be a major cause for concern, especially in pastures, hayfields, and gardens like yours. Once they get the upper hand, controlling Queen Anne’s lace flowers is extremely difficult. Wondering how to control Queen Anne’s lace? Read on to learn more about this challenging plant.

About Queen Anne’s Lace Flowers

A member of the carrot family, Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is also known as wild carrot. The lacy leaves resemble carrot tops and the plant smells like carrots when crushed.

Queen Anne’s lace is native to Europe and Asia, but it has naturalized and grows across much of the United States. Because of its large size and fast growth habits, it poses a considerable threat to native plants. It will also choke out flowers and bulbs in your garden.

Queen Anne’s Lace Management

Controlling wild carrot plants is difficult because of their long, sturdy taproot, and because it has so many effective ways of reproducing itself far and wide. Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial plant that produces leaves and rosettes the first year, then blooms and sets seed the second year.

Although the plant dies after setting seed, it ensures that many seeds are left behind for the coming year. In fact, one plant can produce up to 40,000 seeds in bristled cones that stick to clothing or animal fur. Thus, the plant is readily transferred from place to place.

Here are some tips on getting rid of wild carrots in the garden:

  • Hand-pull plants before they flower. Try not to leave small pieces of root in the soil. However, the roots will eventually die if the tops are continually removed. Mow or prune Queen Anne’s lace before it flowers and sets seeds. No flowers means no seeds.
  • Till or dig the soil regularly to prevent young sprouts from taking roots. Don’t attempt to burn Queen Anne’s lace. Burning just encourages seeds to sprout.
  • Use herbicides only when other means of control are ineffective. Check with your local cooperative extension office, as the plant is resistant to some herbicides.

Be patient and persistent. Getting rid of wild carrots won’t happen in a single year.

Controlling Invasive Queen Anne’s Lace

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You may be surprised to find the dainty Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota),is considered a noxious weed in at least 35 states and invasive in many. Brought here from Europe you’ll find it growing along roadsides, in disturbed sites, and abandoned fields. Its aggressive nature makes it a threat to some native plants.

This member of the carrot family blooms most of the summer. That means lots of seeds are released to start new plants, wherever possible. Seeds sprout and form a rosette of leaves the first year. Flowers appear the second year, seeds are released and the parent plant dies. Then the cycle begins again.

Pull or mow plants before seeds develop. You must be persistent as there are thousands of seeds in the ground waiting to sprout. Keep nearby plantings healthy and vigorous, so they can crowd out the Queen Anne’s lace.

A bit more information: Preserve a few of the mature flowers as you remove the plants to prevent their spread. Place the mature flowers upside down on a piece of newspaper or cardboard to dry. This maintains their shape. Or place the blooms between two pieces of paper and press them flat. Use these to decorate holiday gifts or create pressed flower pictures, bookmarks and more.

Queen Anne’s lace is difficult to eradicate

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Question: We have so much Queen Anne’s lace on our property. We like it in the spring and summer, with its lacy white flowers. But in the fall, when the seeds set, it becomes a nightmare. The seeds stick in our socks and cling to our dog’s fur, driving her nuts. What can we do to discourage this plant without having to resort to herbicides?

Answer: Queen Anne’s lace, also known as “wild carrot,” is spread over many areas of Oregon. It used to be common only in roadside ditches and field borders. But over the years, it has become problematic for farmers in crops ranging from wheat to Christmas trees, as well as in yards and gardens.

A subspecies of Queen Ann’s lace is probably the source of our beloved root vegetable, the carrot. Originally from Asia, this plant is quite common around many temperate areas of the globe.

With finely-cut foliage, Queen Ann’s lace grows from a slender taproot that emits a carrot-like odor when cut. It is a biennial, meaning that it takes two years for the plant to set seed.

The first growing season, the plant merely forms a basal rosette of fine leaves and growing from a taproot. The second growing season, a bristly flower stalk arises from the whorl of fine leaves.

White, flat-topped lacy flower clusters contain over 1,000 tiny white blooms each. In the middle of the cluster is a single dark-colored flower, the storied drop of blood spilled by Queen Anne as she tatted the lacy cap. Botanists think that this central dark blossom helps to attract pollinators.

More: What to do when slugs take refuge under your leaves

Wild carrot is most prolific in areas with annual precipitation ranging from 32 to 40 inches and with at least 120 consecutive frost-free days. This makes it quite at home in western Oregon.

Queen Anne’s lace is really hard to get rid of unless you plow up an area every year. Weed scientists have found that vigor and seed production of Queen Anne’s lace decrease with increased shade, to the point where heavily shaded wild carrots become short-lived perennials.

Even if you wanted to manage this pernicious weed with herbicides, you wouldn’t have much luck, because germination occurs most any time of the year, including winter. Mowing it before it sets seed doesn’t work too well either, as it just blooms again, closer to the ground, like a dandelion.

Weed scientists at OSU have told me that the best way to control wild carrot in the garden is to hoe or pull first-year seedlings when they are young and easily removed prior to seed production. I do this as much as I can each spring when the soil is wet and loose and the taproots come out easily.

More: Read more garden advice from Carol Savonen.

Be persistent. I have been pulling Queen Anne’s lace out of my lawn, gravel driveway, and raised beds for more than 20 years now. I have less and less of it. But some always seems to come back.

Queen Anne’s lace played a part in the Christmas traditions in the Oregon Governor’s residence during Victor Atiyeh’s term in office, 1979 to 1987.

According to a Sept. 28, 1982 Statesman Journal column, the Atiyehs didn’t use colored lights on the Governor’s tree— just the little white star lights and combined with the Queen Anne’s lace snowflake ornaments.

The First Lady at the time, Dolores Atiyeh, provided instructions for making Christmas ornaments from Queen Anne’s lace in the 1982 column. Here they are:

“Pick the Queen Anne’s lace right now, before the heavy rains start. Don’t worry about them being damp from the recent sprinkles. If the blossoms are curled up, flatten them gently with your hands, then place between newspapers with something heavy on top, much as you would press wild flowers. When they’re flat and dry, spread out and spray with white paint, any kind. If you want sparkle or opalescent sprinkles, do it carefully and don’t overdo it. Use a dark green or black thread to hand the ornaments on the tree.” The ornaments can be saved from year to year if they’re packed carefully in tissue paper.”

Are There Options for Herbal Birth Control?

There are many different forms of birth control available for women looking to prevent pregnancy. Most types contain synthetic hormones that stop ovulation or otherwise prevent the sperm from meeting the egg. If you don’t want to take hormones, you might be wondering if there are any herbal birth control options. Here’s more about what’s out there, what the research says, and other methods that might work for you.

What Is Herbal Birth Control?

Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, perhaps longer. Although herbal supplements are labeled as natural, some do produce drug-like effects. As a result, taking certain supplements does carry risks. It’s important to understand that although you may see many herbal supplements on the shelves at your local grocery or drugstore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved most of these supplements.

Regardless, herbal supplements are widely used and even promoted by experts of certain healing arts, such as acupuncture. Some may even be used for the purpose of contraception. If you start to do your own research on herbal birth control, you’ll soon discover that there isn’t a lot of information from established medical sources.

Sarah Pope writes the popular blog The Healthy Home Economist. She explains that herbs may be helpful at both enhancing and “dampening” fertility, depending on your family planning goals. Women may turn to herbs if they don’t want to take synthetic hormones, chart their cycles, or pay attention to other fertility signs. She believes that herbs combined with a barrier method, such as male or female condoms, can provide good protection against pregnancy.

Katie Spears at Wellness Mama has also done a great deal of research into her own natural family planning. She prefers tracking her fertility to avoid unprotected sex during fertile days each month to taking the pill. She doesn’t promote the use of herbs for birth control for a few key reasons.

  • Some herbs may contain agents that induce abortion and cause miscarriage.
  • Some herbs may affect the body and produce some of the same side effects as hormonal birth control.
  • No herbs are 100 percent effective and using them may carry risks to the fetus if pregnancy occurs.

Because much of what you’ll find online about herbal birth control comes from anecdotal accounts, you can see how difficult it can be to wade through the information. Before you head to the store to pick up any supplements, here’s some more specifics.

Options for Herbal Birth Control

Pope’s information on herbal birth control largely comes from the book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun S. Weed. In the text, Weed outlines different herbs that can be used for contraception in a number of ways. Certain herbs supposedly work to prevent implantation. Some herbs cause the uterus to contract. Other herbs promote sterility, and the list goes on.

This information is also available on Weed’s website, Natural Health, Herbal Medicine and Sprit Healing the Wise Woman Way, which provides an excerpt from her book. Before reading, it’s important to note that, according to her author profile, Weed has “no official diplomas of any kind.” She began studying herbs in 1965 while she was pregnant and has, through the years, come to take on a level of expertise on the subject in certain circles.

Sterility Promoters

Weed says the following are considered by some people to promote sterility:

  • Stoneseed root was used by women in the Dakota tribe. The root was steeped in cold water for hours and then ingested daily for six months at a time.
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit root, though not as potent, was similarly taken by women in the Hopi tribe after being mixed with cold water.
  • Thistles supposedly promote temporary sterility. They were boiled in water to create tea and consumed by women in the Quinault tribe.

Implantation Preventers

Weed says the following are considered by some people to prevent implantation:

  • Queen Anne’s lace is also known as wild carrot seed is used as birth control, and traces its roots back to India. The seeds are taken for seven days after unprotected intercourse during the fertile period to help prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus.
  • Smartweed leaves grow all over the world and supposedly contain substances that prevent implantation, such as rutin, quercetin, and gallic acid.
  • Rutin can also be purchased on its own for a similar purpose. It may be taken after unprotected sex until the start of menstruation.

Menstruation Starters

Weed says the following herbs are considered by some people to promote menstruation:

  • Ginger root is considered to be the most powerful herb you can take to promote menstruation. It’s taken via power mixed into boiling water several times a day for around five days.
  • Vitamin C may have a similar effect, but it needs to be taken in higher doses. Taking high doses of vitamin C in synthetic form may make your bowels loose.

Of all these herbs, Queen Anne’s Lace is one of the more broadly discussed birth control options on this list. Its influence spans back to antiquity. Even today, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago share that some women in rural North Carolina are known to consume the seeds mixed into water to prevent pregnancy. Apparently, chewing the seeds produces the most effective results.

It’s important to remember that these herbal birth control methods are rarely if ever discussed, promoted, or researched by Western medicine. Still want to explore herbs as an option for birth control? It’s a good idea to meet with a professional herbalist or other licensed practitioner who regularly deals with herbs before starting a course on your own.

Potential Side Effects of Herbal Birth Control

As with many medicines, herbal supplements can produce a host of side effects even when used properly. Queen Anne’s lace, for example, may cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms if used improperly.

According to the Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide, side effects may include:

  • nausea
  • tiredness
  • allergic reaction
  • low blood pressure
  • excessive sedation or depression when combined with certain drugs
  • increased sensitivity to sunlight when combined with certain drugs
  • worsened kidney irritation or inflammation
  • enhanced effects of other supplements with sedative properties

Different herbs will have different side effects. Different bodies will react differently to herbs. Your pharmacist may have more information to share before you start something new, especially if you’re taking medication.

To avoid side effects, always use herbs as directed on the label or as directed by your doctor. Keep track of any worrisome symptoms you may have so that you can discuss them with your doctor.

Risk Factors to Consider

There are several reasons why herbal supplements might not be for you. Proceed with caution if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Whether you have a prescription or take medication that’s over the counter, there may be interactions with herbs. Ask your pharmacist for more information about specific interactions.
  • This one is important if you’re considering using herbs to prevent pregnancy. Herbs can be harmful to a fetus or breast-feeding baby. If you do become pregnant while taking herbs, you should stop taking the herbs until you speak with your doctor about them.
  • Some herbs may interact with anesthesia or produce other side effects in the operating room. Let your doctor know if you’re taking any herbs before you go in for surgery.
  • Herbs haven’t been tested on many people under age 18. People over age 65 may also process the herbs differently.

How to Use Herbal Birth Control

If you do choose to try herbal birth control methods, speak with your doctor about any side effects you may experience. Treatment may be as simple as discontinuing use and using another type of birth control.

Read more: Homegrown herbal remedies “

Herbal supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. When taking herbal birth control, it’s important that you:

  • Follow all supplement instructions. Don’t take more than is recommended on the label or by your doctor.
  • Track your usage. This can be helpful if you do experience side effects. Take note of how much of the supplement you’re taking, how long you’ve been taking it, and any symptoms.
  • Read the labels. You should be especially careful about supplements manufactured outside of the United States. It’s been revealed that some herbal supplements from China, India, and Mexico have contained toxic ingredients and prescription drugs.
  • Keep yourself posted. Herbal supplements aren’t approved by the FDA, but the FDA may issue different reviews or reports once they’re on the market. You can check online for any updates.

If you do take herbs for contraception, it’s a good idea to use a backup method, like condoms, to provide additional protection against pregnancy. Condoms contain no synthetic hormones and are up to 82 percent effective. In other words, about 18 in 100 women will get pregnant each year when relying only on male condoms for birth control.

Condoms also protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which is an area that herbal supplements don’t cover.

Alternative Options for Birth Control

Are you looking for more hormone-free contraception options? Fertility awareness-based methods (FAMs) are a reliable way to get to know your body and fertile periods. In order to practice FAM, you have to pay attention to your body’s signs and signals to predict when ovulation might happen. The best part of this is that there are no side effects.

You’re most fertile in the five days before ovulation, as well as the day of ovulation. FAM helps you determine ovulation by tracking your basal body temperature with a thermometer upon waking. You can also observe your cervical mucus, keep track of ovulation dates on a standard calendar, or track menstrual cycles to assess possible fertile times.

The effectiveness of FAMs is slightly lower than the effectiveness of other birth control options. Twenty-four out of 100 women practicing FAM will get pregnant each year if they don’t use the method perfectly. Using these methods consistently improves the rate of pregnancy prevention.

Talking with Your Doctor

There aren’t a lot of research results that prove herbs are effective or safe as a form of birth control. Always tell your doctor if you’re taking herbs to prevent any interactions with medical conditions or medications you may be taking.

You should use caution when using herbal supplements to prevent pregnancy. Between drug interactions, side effects, and other unknowns, herbs may not be worth the risks. You can make an appointment to speak with your doctor about your concerns with hormonal birth control and your desire to explore other options. There are alternatives, like FAM and others, that don’t involve consuming herbs.

Queen Anne’s Lace Seeds for Birth Control
Answered by: Christine Dennis
Question from: Daria
I am interested in taking Queen Anne’s lace seeds (Daucus carota) as a morning after form of birth control…
From what I have researched, an effective method would be to chew a teaspoon of the seeds immediately after sex and once a day for the next two days.
A variation would be to grind the seeds immediately before consumption and mix with water and drink.
Tinctures are also useful I understand.
Please let me know how the herbal extract on richters.com compares to this. Is it a tincture, and what would be a dosage of the extract to use that would be comparable in effect to the whole seed method above.
Yes, wild carrot or also known as Queen Anne’s lace has been suggested as an old folklore remedy for birth control. The volatile oils are said to irritate the uterine lining thus causing an ovum to not implant. Although I have not used this in my practice, a few colleagues I know feel it works.
http://aradicle.blogspot.com/2007/10/wild-carrot-seed.html
http://robinrosebennett.com/wild_carrot%20article.htm
Traditionally it has been the seeds that have been used as opposed to using a tincture. I would hazard a guess that unless the tincture is made from using 70% or high alcohol as the high alcohol percentage is needed to extract an acceptable amount of these oils, the remedy would be too weak for this particular purpose.
However, as we all know, sometimes it can be almost impossible to avoid a pregnancy even when “tried and true” birth control methods are used with abstinence being really the only 100% fool proof method. My advise is to not rely on wild carrot seed as the only form of birth control but rather as a complementary method.

PHARMACOLOGY

After they have sex, some of the Appalachian women of Virginia and North Carolina take a teaspoonful of seeds from the common weed called Queen Anne’s lace, crush them, stir them into a glass of water and drink the gritty preparation. They say it keeps them from getting pregnant.

As it happens, the same plant grows in rural parts of India’s Rajasthan state and peasant women there chew and swallow the seeds dry. They, too, rely on it as a form of contraception.

Though a world apart today, women in both regions possess knowledge that can be traced back at least 2,500 years — to ancient Greek physicians, including Hippocrates, who prescribed seeds of Queen Anne’s lace as both a contraceptive and as an herbal “morning-after pill.”

In fact, according to John M. Riddle, a historian of medicine at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who unearthed the tradition, evidence is accumulating not only that the venerable methods do work in animal tests but that the knowledge, use and social acceptance of effective, plant-derived birth control drugs was widespread in the ancient world. Riddle recently published his findings in a book, “Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance.”

According to Riddle, herbal birth control created much of the wealth of the Greek city-state of Cyrene on the coast of what is now Libya. Cyrenians collected and exported the sap of a plant that the Greeks called silphion and the Romans silphium. An image of the plant even appears on 5th century B.C. Cyrenian coins.

The Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, mentions that silphion cost more than its weight in silver and Hippocrates recorded failed efforts to cultivate the plant in Syria and Greece. So well known was silphion that Aristophanes discusses its cost in one of his plays.

Why was the plant so valued? According to the ancient physician Soranus, “Cyreniac juice,” as he called it, when taken by mouth, would prevent conception or induce an abortion, whichever was needed.

Harvested to Extinction

By the 4th century A.D., however, silphium died out, apparently harvested to extinction. Women seeking an alternative turned to silphion’s close relatives in the giant-fennel family, including asafoetida, a key ingredient in today’s Worcestershire sauce. Though said to be less effective than silphium, asafoetida was cheaper and widely prescribed in the ancient world.

Riddle said ancient documents name many other plants used to regulate fertility. Among the more prominent are pennyroyal, rue, willow, date palm, pomegranate, members of the genus Artemisia (such as wormwood) and myrrh. Such concoctions have usually been dismissed by modern medical experts as ineffectual. But tests on laboratory animals in recent years have proved otherwise.

Although silphium can never be tested scientifically, experiments using crude extracts of asafoetida show that it does something. In rats, for example, it inhibited implantation of fertilized ova at rates up to 50 percent. Extracts of asafoetida’s close relatives were nearly 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when given within three days of mating.

According to Norman R. Farnsworth, a pharmacologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago who has collected the evidence for years, experiments on animals show that some 450 plant species worldwide contain natural substances that prevent ovulation, block fertilization, stop implantation or reduce fertility in some other way.

Many plants contain estrogen-like compounds that alter the subtle balance of hormones needed for conception and maintenance of pregnancy. Some have substances that simply make the fallopian tube transport the egg so fast that it enters the uterus before it can be fertilized, and dies because it cannot survive there in that state. One plant, Farnsworth said, simply inhibits an enzyme that the sperm must release to penetrate the egg.

Birth Control by Food

Even foods in an ordinary diet can have contraceptive effects, Farnsworth found — peas, for example. The clue emerged from the fact that in the history of Tibet the population has been stable for periods of up to 200 years. During those times Tibetans subsisted largely on barley and peas. When mice were fed a diet of 20 percent peas, litter sizes dropped in half. At 30 percent peas, the mice failed to reproduce at all.

Because natural birth control chemicals exist in so many plants, it is not unreasonable that ancient peoples would have discovered them, Riddle suggested.

He also proposed that the widespread use of these substances would explain periods in ancient history when the population remained stable or even declined. During the first five centuries A.D., for example, historians estimate that the population of Europe fell from 32.8 million to 27.5 million — in the absence of major wars or epidemics.

The population declines have usually been attributed to infanticide, but there is little documentary evidence of the practice. Instead, Riddle cites evidence from the late J. Lawrence Angel, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, that the number of births per woman declined. Childbirth can produce scarring or pitting on the woman’s pelvis as the ligaments tear. Angel’s case is controversial, but when he examined skeletons from ancient cemeteries, he concluded from the scarring that women were having fewer children than needed to maintain the population. Less controversial was Angel’s finding that the lifespan of adults was increasing at the same time.

“Women in those days had a lot more control over their reproductive lives than we used to think,” Riddle said. “They had access to things that really worked.”

Farnsworth agrees. “It’s obvious,” he said. “They were having sex at least as much as at any other time and they didn’t have condoms. But you don’t see all these fair maidens getting pregnant every year.”

Why, then, did the knowledge fade away?

Riddle cites two factors. One was the change of medicine from something that virtually anyone could practice to the special province of men with formal training. Since the use of herbal birth control agents was probably in the hands of women, it remained outside the canon of male-administered medicine, passed on by word of mouth and used mainly by those without access to the costlier professional physicians.

A more brutal form of suppression arose during the Middle Ages, Riddle believes: Women who possessed the secrets of fertility control were burned as witches.

“You look at the things witches were accused of,” Riddle said. “Most of them have to do with fertility. They’re accused of causing sterility, babies born dead, causing impotence, miscarriages.” He suspects the “witches” were midwives who dispensed the ancient wisdom. He cites a statement repeated during the Inquisition: “The devil works through herbs.”

Though much of the wisdom of the ancients must have been lost, some clearly survived, as the women of Appalachia and Rajasthan can testify.

Among the hundreds of plants cited in ancient medical and herbal texts as useful for birth control are many that really do work, according to modern tests on animals. Some prevent conception and some abort an early pregnancy. The tests also show that some can be toxic. Among the best documented are those shown here.

* Coin from 6th to 5th century B.C. Cyrene depicting the silphium plant, which was renowned in Greece and Rome as an effective contraceptive. It was harvested to extinction by the 4th century A.D.

* ARTEMESIA or wormwood, was used in Roman times for birth control. Animal studies show it delays ovulation and prevents implantation of the early embryo. It also has toxic side effects.

* QUEEN ANNE’S LACE a member of the wild carrot family, grows in much of the world. To this day women as far apart as India and Appalachia swallow its crushed seeds as a “morning after” concoction.

* PENNYROYAL widely used in ancient times as a tea, contains pulegone, which causes abortion in humans and animals. In 1978 a Colorado woman trying to end her pregnancy died after taking pennyroyal oil (a more concentrated form of the active ingredient).

SOURCES: John M. Riddle, American Numismatic Society, Royal Horticultureal Society

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