- Deadly Hemlock can be confused for Queen Anne’s Lace
- The Story of Queen Anne’s Lace
- The Queen Anne’s Lace Plant – Growing Queen Anne’s Lace And Its Care
- About the Queen Anne’s Lace Plant
- Difference between Queen Anne’s Lace and Poison Hemlock
- Growing Queen Anne’s Lace
- Care for Queen Anne’s Lace Herb
- Poison Hemlock: A Killer Masquerading as a Queen
- Join list.
- Wildcrafting Weeds
- Gather & Root Online Foraging Course
- About Poison Hemlock
- Where Does Poison Hemlock Grow?
- How to Identify Poison Hemlock
- Potential Poison Hemlock Look-Alikes
- Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Angelica (Angelica spp.)
- Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)
- Cow Parsley/Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris)
- Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
- Water Parsnip (Sium suave and Berula spp.)
- Wild Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
- Elderflower (Sambucus spp.)
- Three Other Similar Looking Poisonous Plants
Deadly Hemlock can be confused for Queen Anne’s Lace
Just remember, the Queen has hairy legs.
One of the most common roadside flowers (or weeds, depending on your perspective) in our area is Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s that white, lacy, umbrella-shaped flower seen growing in clumps along the side of almost any road in town or country. Looking more closely, perhaps with a magnifying lens, it turns out the “flower” is actually an inflorescence composed of dozens of five-petaled mini-flowers.
Originally native to southwest Asia and Europe, where it’s more commonly known as Wild Carrot, the plant was introduced to North America in colonial times and is now widely distributed throughout the continent.
Interesting tidbit No. 1: If you crush the stems or leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace you get a distinctly carrot-y odor. That’s because carrots and QAL are the same species, Daucus carota. The Persians began cultivating the plant some 1,100 years ago, more for its seeds and leaves than for its root. Over centuries of selective breeding, the thin, woody taproot was transformed into the familiar garden vegetable we know today.
Orange carrots, by the way, are a rather recent innovation, having been first developed in the Netherlands in the 16th century. The ancestral version of D. carota, which is still found in Afghanistan, has purple or yellow roots.
Although Queen Anne’s Lace is edible when young, the root quickly turns bitter and too woody to eat. However that’s not the more serious problem. The Queen has a deadly look-alike cousin, Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum. Like QAL, it also has an inflorescence of small white flowers and finely dissected leaves. However all parts of this plant are highly toxic and many have perished, having mistaken the inedible for the edible species.
How toxic? Poison Hemlock (not to be confused with the harmless coniferous tree, the Eastern Hemlock) harbors a collection of poisonous alkaloids one of which, coniine, is especially nasty. Ingestion of 100 mg of coniine — found in just six to eight fresh leaves of the plant — can kill an adult human. The toxin operates by disrupting the central nervous system’s control over the body’s muscles with death usually occurring by paralysis of the respiratory musculature.
Interesting bit No. 2: In 399 B.C., the Athenian philosopher Socrates was condemned to death for corrupting the youth of the city (through his method of questioning students’ thought processes) and for impiety (failing to acknowledge the Gods of Athens). The method of execution was to drink a concoction made from the juice of the Poison Hemlock — the same plant introduced to America as an ornamental in the 1800s and now found growing in ditches, waste areas and stream banks throughout much of the country.
These days, with fewer people harvesting wild plants for the dinner table, Poison Hemlock is more of a problem for livestock. Unfortunately, it is one of the few plants that remain green in winter and it’s one of the first to resume growing in the spring, all of which makes the plant attractive to cows, horses and sheep looking for something fresh to spice up their winter fodder.
Interestingly, the effects typically wear off in 48 to 72 hours and animals that manage to survive that long (cattle are reported to tolerate up to 4 percent of their body weight in Poison Hemlock leaves) commonly make a full recovery. You might think that once bitten twice shy, but no. For some reason poisoned animals often return to feed on the plant again.
It’s actually not that hard to tell the two plants apart. At no more than five feet tall (and usually a lot smaller), Queen Anne’s Lace is much shorter and less bushy than Poison Hemlock which tops out at 8 to 10 feet. Still, that’s not much help when considering a young plant. Fortunately, we’ve a good deal more to go on.
The green, solid stems supporting the Queen’s flower heads are covered with erect hairs (she’s got hairy legs) while Poison Hemlock’s hairless stems are hollow and streaked or spotted with purple blotches, especially close to its base. As noted above, Queen Anne’s Lace smells of carrot when crushed but Poison Hemlock has an unpleasant, mousy odor.
OSU’s Agricultural Research and Development Center warns that mowing is not an effective means of controlling Poison Hemlock as cut plants will resprout. Digging up the plant, taproot and all, works but it’s important to wear gloves and protective clothing as just handling the plant can cause severe dermatitis.
Broadleaf herbicides like Crossbow and glyphosate are effective if applied to mature plants in the spring before they go to seed or to young plants in the fall while still a stubby rosette of leaves.
Bit No. 3: And then there’s Finland, which grows 28 percent of the world’s Caraway, yet another Queen Anne’s Lace doppelgänger. So there you go.
Ken Baker is a professor of biology and environmental studies at Heidelberg University.
Are you looking for a touch of classic beauty to add to your garden or landscape? You might consider Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus Carota). This delicate, timeless biennial brings a vintage feel that can only be described as genteel.
Named after the exquisite embroidering virtuosity of Queen Anne of England, this plant lives up to its name. With wide, lacey, clustered flowers and ferny green foliage, the plant, and especially the flowers, have the dainty appearance of lace. It grows to be about 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Queen Anne’s Lace is the darling of the garden.
As a distinguishing feature, most of the clusters of the light colored flowers have a deep red or black flower in the center. According to legend, this single dark flower represents a drop of blood shed by Queen Anne herself when she pricked her finger on a needle. This tiny distinctive flower is a fascinating feature for the young and old!
Queen Anne’s Lace is native to temperate portions of Europe and southwestern Asia. It hasn’t always been revered only for its looks. It is also known as wild carrot, and its fragrance and flavor resembles that of your garden variety carrot. High in Vitamin A, beta carotene and sugar, the roots, flowers and foliage have all been used throughout history as a source of food and medicine. Even today, some use the roots as a flavoring for tea and the flowers for tossed salads.
How to Grow and Care for Queen Anne’s Lace
Queen Anne’s Lace behaves a lot like a wildflower. It is easily grown from seed. It enjoys full sun and average quality but well draining soil. It will not tolerate freezing temperatures, so wait until the last frost of the season has passed to plant your Queen Anne’s Lace seeds. Or plant them in the fall where the seeds will lie dormant until things warm up in the spring.
Simply spread your seeds over the ground where you’d like your Queen Anne’s Lace to grow. Then, leave them alone. This low maintenance plant will produce a lot of foliage during its first year. Its second year will be the year for the flowers. These flowers will attract beneficial insects to your garden.
During its second growing season, as your Queen Anne’s Lace matures, the plant will produce flowers in all of their varying stages- new and old- at the same time. As the flower clusters die off and turn to seed, the cluster will curl upward. It will look like a little basket.
The self made basket holds the seeds. The seeds will eventually drop to the ground, and if they land on watered soil, they will begin a new life cycle. You can also harvest the seeds yourself from the little basket. You can plan on enjoying your Queen Anne’s Lace for years with its self seeding abilities.
If you would like to prevent the spread of your Queen Anne’s Lace, remove the baskets of seeds and dispose of them thoughtfully.
Queen Anne’s Lace Pests and Problems
Queen Anne’s Lace is a prolific self seeder. So, before you grow Queen Anne’s Lace, check with your local extension office. In many areas here in the U.S., Queen Anne’s Lace is considered a noxious weed or an invasive species. It spreads very quickly and prefers the warm, humid conditions of its native lands. So, if you live in a warm and muggy region, be extra careful.
Also, if you are considering ingesting your Queen Anne’s Lace, be doubly certain that you have grown Queen Anne’s Lace and not it’s evil look alike- poison hemlock. The difference between the two plants is that Queen Anne’s Lace has a hairy stem whereas poison hemlock has a smooth stem. Poison hemlock smells bad, too. Queen Anne’s Lace smells sweet. The video below gives more detail on how to identify Queen Anne’s Lace.
In general, Queen Anne’s lace is a tough plant that isn’t often affected by bugs or disease. However, you might have to look out for some of the pests and diseases that are common to plants growing in hot and humid conditions. Give your Queen Anne’s Lace enough elbow room to ensure plenty of sunshine and good circulation. Your plant will likely remain healthy and stout in spite of a few bugs.
Want to learn more about growing Queen Anne’s Lace?
Check out these resources:
Queen Anne’s Lace from University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: Research and Extension
Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota from University of Wisconsin-Extension Master Gardener Program
The Story of Queen Anne’s Lace
The story of Queen Anne . . .
Queen Anne was tatting white lace. (Tatting is the all-but-lost art of making lace by hand.) The beautiful white lace she was tatting became the white lacy flowers of the wild carrot plant. She pricked her finger and one drop of blood oozed out. This became the central dark red or purple sterile floret that is present on some, but not all, Queen Anne’s Lace flowers.
Legends disagree as to which Queen Anne was tatting such lovely lace. Some say it was Anne (1574 – 1619), the first Stuart Queen Anne, who was brought over from Denmark at fourteen years of age to be a Queen to King James of Scotland. Others argue it was Anne (1665 – 1714), the daughter of William and Mary, and the last monarch in the Stuart line. Both Annes died in their forties!
The plant, Queen Anne’s Lace . . .
Queen Anne’s Lace, or Wild Carrot, or Bird’s Nest, is a biennial. The first year a shrubby rosette of leaves establishes itself, possibly even unnoticed. I certainly didn’t notice it, and I wanted it in my garden. The second year, the lacy umbel or flat ray of thousands of tiny, white flowers appears, giving you armloads of fresh flowers with sweet, carroty-smelling foliage to bring inside. In some, but not all, the very center floret is a dark reddish purple. This one is sterile, but the other ones, up to 40,000 per plant, are all fertile seeds. Queen Anne’s Lace flowers in July and August in my state, Massachusetts; differently in others, and these thousands of seeds are transported all over the world by a variety of means: dogs, cats, gardeners, little children, birds, other animal fur, the wind, seed companies, herbalists, ships, airplanes, and so on.
Daucus carota . . .
Daucus carota is the botanical name for Wild Carrot as well as for tame, annual, garden ones. The starchy taproot of the wild form is edible, but it’s apparently not very tasty. (No, I haven’t tried it.) Daucus carota is a member of the Apiaceae family which is filled with fragrant and flavorful relatives, like caraway, fennel, dill, celery and parsnip, and an extremely dangerous one: poison hemlock. Do not make an infusion or tea of Queen Anne’s Lace unless you are certain you know exactly what you are doing! (Remember, that’s how they got rid of Socrates!)
Another interesting tidbit is that while the wild root is yellowish-white, in the 16th century, Dutch growers deliberately bred carrots to be orange, to honor the House of Orange, the Royal Family of the Netherlands. Carrots have been orange ever since, until recent vegetable breeders produced varieties in red, purple, white and yellow again!
Queen Anne’s Lace as herb . . .
Hippocrates recommended that women eat carrot seeds to prevent pregnancy. We don’t know whether modern, commercial carrot seeds would do the trick, but there is evidence that the seed of Queen Anne’s Lace, collected, prepared and ingested in a certain, specific way has a contraceptive effect for women. Please, do not rely on this method without a lot more research than I was able to do!
Queen Anne’s Lace flowers can be used to make a natural yellow dye. Parts of the plant are mentioned by herbalists as a diuretic, an antiseptic, soothing to the digestive system, useful for colic, and as a hallucinogenic! Queen Anne’s Lace was a valuable enough medicinal herb that colonists relied on it.
Queen Anne’s Lace as weed . . .
Queen Anne’s Lace, according to the USDA, is a weed in the 48 continental United States, and reported by 14 of them as invasive. Like other similar plants not native to North America, it grows best in disturbed ground, after fires or in vacant lots or abandoned fields. It can be controlled by mowing or pulling.
Queen Anne’s Lace as wildflower . . .
Queen Anne’s Lace is an important plant in many wildflower meadows. It is friendly to beneficial insects and may provide cover for small wildlife. It provides a lovely, lacy, white filler plant in flower arrangements, similar to baby’s breath. It has been an important part in all of my bouquets since earliest childhood.
You Decide About Queen Anne’s Lace . . .
Queen Anne’s Lace is easy enough for me to control – so far. I snip off the “Bird’s Nest” of ripening seeds and try not to spill any. It’s not fair for me to decide whether it is invasive in your garden. That will have to be up to you and your state. You can tell I love it.
a little further reading about Queen Anne’s Lace …
Natural History of North America
Medicinal Plants in Your Backyard
Wildflowers of Alabama
25 Facts About Carrots
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 11, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The Queen Anne’s Lace Plant – Growing Queen Anne’s Lace And Its Care
The Queen Anne’s lace plant, also known as wild carrot, is a wildflower herb found in many parts of the United States, yet it was originally from Europe. While in most places the plant is now considered an invasive weed, it can actually be an attractive addition to the home in a wildflower garden. Note: Before considering adding this plant to the garden, check with your local extension office for its invasiveness status in your area.
About the Queen Anne’s Lace Plant
Queen Anne’s lace herb (Daucus carota) can reach heights of about 1 to 4 feet (30-120 cm.) high. This plant has attractive, fern-like foliage and tall, hairy stems that hold a flattened cluster of tiny white flowers, with a single dark-colored floret just off its center. You can find these biennials in bloom during their second year from spring on into fall.
Queen Anne’s lace is said to have been named after Queen Anne of England, who was an expert lace maker. Legend has it that when pricked with a needle, a single drop of blood fell from her finger onto the lace, leaving the dark purple floret found in the flower’s center. The name wild carrot derived from the plant’s past history of use as a substitute for carrots. The fruit of this plant is spiky and curls inward, reminiscent of a bird’s nest, which is another of its common names.
Difference between Queen Anne’s Lace and Poison Hemlock
The Queen Anne’s lace herb grows from a taproot, which looks much like a carrot and is edible when young. This root can be eaten alone as a vegetable or in soup. However, there is a similar-looking plant, called the poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is deadly. Many people have died eating what they thought was the carrot-like root of Queen Anne’s lace plant. For this reason, it is vitally important to know the differences between these two plants, though it’s probably safer to avoid eating it altogether.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to tell the difference. Both poison hemlock and its cousin, fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium) smell disgusting, while Queen Anne’s lace smells just like a carrot. In addition, the stem of the wild carrot is hairy while the stem of poison hemlock is smooth.
Growing Queen Anne’s Lace
Since it is a native plant in many areas, growing Queen Anne’s lace is easy. However, it’s a good idea to plant it somewhere with adequate space to spread; otherwise, some type of barrier may be necessary to keep the wild carrot in bounds.
This plant is adaptable to a variety of soil conditions and prefers sun to partial shade. Queen Anne’s lace also prefers well-draining, neutral to alkaline soil.
While there are cultivated plants available for purchase, you can also gather a handful of seeds from wild plants in the fall. There is also a similar look-alike plant called bishop’s flower (Ammi majus), which is far less intrusive.
Care for Queen Anne’s Lace Herb
Caring for Queen Anne’s lace plant is simple. Other than occasional watering during times of extreme drought, it requires little care and doesn’t need fertilizing.
To prevent the spread of this plant, deadhead Queen Anne’s lace flowers before the seeds have a chance to disperse. In the event that your plant gets out of control, it can easily be dug up. However, you’ll have to make certain that you get up the entire taproot. Wetting the area beforehand usually makes this task much easier.
One note of caution to keep in mind when growing Queen Anne’s lace is the fact that handling this plant may cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction in overly sensitive individuals.
Updated at 12:49 p.m. ET
Has the heat killed your garden and left nothing but weeds? Then why not eat those weeds?
Last year at this time we reported on five healthy weeds likely growing in or near your yard: dandelion, plantain, purslane, lamb’s-quarters, and stinging nettles. Each one of these is a tasty powerhouse of nutrition. Raw purslane, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, offers a perfect tart punch to any smoothie; lamb’s-quarters, one of the most nutritionally dense foods known, cooks in seconds in a stir-fry and has a nutty spinach taste.
The list of edible weeds doesn’t stop there, though. Here are five more, as surprisingly tasty and nutritious as they are common, even in severe drought conditions. Just be aware of air and soil quality of where you harvest, along with any allergies you might have to similar-looking or tasting foods.
Burdock’s claim to fame is that its burrs were the inspiration for Velcro. Get some on your socks, and you’ll know why. But long before those purple flowers and troublesome burrs form, the plant has a long, thin root that is edible.
The infamous burrs don’t appear until the second year of growth in this biennial plant. By midsummer during the first year, you can identify the plant by its display of massive dark-green leaves fairly low to the ground. The brown taproot can be up to 2 feet long. That’s a lot of fine eating. You’ll need a shovel to get this out. Don’t be surprised if you pull and get only a couple inches’ worth. This is a true weed that doesn’t surrender easily. (The taproot helps it survive the drought.)
Burdock roots are edible raw, but this might be quite a chew. You can slow roast them like parsnips or chop and toss them into soups. Burdock is the wild version of the cultivated Japanese vegetable gobo, which can grow 3 to 4 feet long. It is rich in inulin and many trace minerals, such as manganese and magnesium.
Here’s a neighbor’s flower you don’t have to pick in secret, especially if you kindly wait until the end of the day. As the name almost implies, daylilies bloom only for a day. Then the blossom falls off.
That blossom is sweet and rich in vitamin A. You can eat them raw in a salad, lightly batter and pan-fry them, or dry them for long-term storage (sold as “golden needles” in Asian supermarkets). Come fall, the plant’s white tubers underground also are edible. You’ll have to get your neighbor’s permission, this time.
The only caution here is that you should be sure you have an original wild daylily — the orange Hemerocallis fulva or the yellow H. lilioasphodelus (look them up) — and not a true lily, which is usually toxic.
Queen Anne’s Lace:
Also known as the wild carrot, Queen Anne’s lace is in full bloom across much of “temperate” North America, Europe and Asia right now. The white flower head is edible raw or lightly battered and fried. The seeds work well in soups and stews and can flavor tea, too.
If you catch these plants early enough, you can eat the roots and leaves. These are indeed wild carrots, the ancestor of all cultivated carrots. By the time the flower appears, though, the root is too woody to eat.
A few words of caution: Hippocrates prescribed the crush seeds as a form of birth control more than 2,000 years ago, and modern studies find some truth in the fact that the seeds and flower heads should be avoided by women pregnant or hoping to conceive. Also, to the untrained eye, Queen Anne’s lace looks a little like poisonous hemlock, which will kill you in an hour if consumed. The latter has a hairless stem and doesn’t smell like carrots. (I don’t know what it tastes like.)
This vigorous crack-dweller has a dozen names, a sure sign that most people consider it unsightly and invasive. It is one of those “oh, so that’s what it is” kind of weeds. Also known as horseweed and, more properly, Conyza canadensis, the mare’s tail is prolific in both rural and urban settings and will grow with hardly any water or soil straight and tall, up to 4 feet high. Again, that’s a lot of food.
The leaves are most palatable when young. By midsummer, only the top foot or so of a 3-foot plant is tender enough to eat after a quick boil. They are peppery and, in fact, you can dry them as a spice. As with many dark, leafy greens, the plant is a decent source of calcium, potassium and other minerals.
And now for some Boy Scout trivia: Mare’s tail is the weed of choice for making a fire via the drill-friction method. The very straight, hard stem rotates perfectly between the hands to make heat. What other plant can make the fire needed to cook it?
A prized herb called shiso in Japan, perilla is yanked from backyards with resentment by many a Western gardener. Pity. This green- or red-leaf plant has a unique taste that is a cross between mint and fennel, is very high in vitamins A and C and sundry minerals, and can boost the immune system. The red-leaf version is sometimes called beefsteak.
Most agricultural websites treat perilla as an invasive weed, and for good reason. It is mildly toxic to horses and cattle, and farmers don’t want it on their pastures. Some gardeners are slowly warming to the red variety, though, because the vibrant leaves can add deep color to the garden when other plants start turning brown.
This nascent love of perilla’s aesthetics will benefit weed-eaters everywhere, because a single perilla plant will produce thousands of seeds, ensuring that those tasty leaves will appear throughout the neighborhood, should you know what to look for.
Christopher Wanjek is the author of a new science novel, “Hey, Einstein!”, a comical nature-versus-nurture tale about raising clones of Albert Einstein in less-than-ideal settings. His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct a statement saying that Burdock contains insulin; it actually contains “inulin.”
Poison Hemlock: A Killer Masquerading as a Queen
I recently discovered their similarity when I mistakenly identified a patch of weeds on my husband’s family farm as Queen Anne’s Lace to my children. I looked closer, however, and realized that the flower umbrells were too curved, and there were too many of them. My curiosity led me to ask my brother-in-law, Keith, what the plant actually was. He informed me that it was poison hemlock, and I was once again off on a plant quest!
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) belongs to the same family, Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), as several other very familiar garden plants, including parsley and carrots. It is unrelated to the coniferous tree that bears the same common name, the Eastern Hemlock. Gardeners will recognize the finely toothed leaves and clusters of small, white flowers common on plants in this family. Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), also known as Wild Carrot, is similar, with deeply cut leaves.
This similarity has led to some accidental poisonings, as people have dug the roots, believing them to be the edible wild carrot, or chopped the greens up and included them in their salads. It is very important to be able to identify them and avoid accidental ingestion! It is also recommended that you wear gloves and protective clothing if you will be digging or mowing this weed, as prolonged exposure to the juices can also cause skin sensitivity and some toxic effects.
Hemlock actually gained some of its fame as a poison from Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher. He was considered such a bad influence on the youth of the time, teaching them to question authority and challenge the status quo, that he was sentenced to death. The means of execution was drinking a concoction made of hemlock juice. Though the record of his death, as recorded by Plato, made it sound very peaceful and gradual, the actual affects of the poison on humans are much more dramatic and painful, and include seizures, diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and respiratory distress prior to death.
Both poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s Lace have tap roots, similar in form to domestic carrots.The picture to the right shows roots of a hemlock plant that I carefully dug up on the farm, to check out the size of the roots. I did break off part of the larger root, but got enough to illustrate the general form.
There are a few key things to look for in determining whether a plant is Poison Hemlock or Queen Anne’s Lace. Consult this chart to compare some of their distinguishing features:
|Poison Hemlock||Queen Anne’s Lace|
Smooth, hollow stalks with purple blotches or streaks,
especially toward the base of the plant
Fine hairs along the consistently green stalks. My son jokingly
asked if this meant Queen Anne had hairy legs!
Can attain heights of 3-10 feet,
depending on the age of the plant
|Generally doesn’t exceed 3 feet in height|
|Bloom Characteristics:||Hemlock has many flower heads all over the entire plant, and may appear to have several umbrella-shaped clusters of flowers in each inflorescence.||Usually has one primary flower cluster at the top of the stem,
often with one red flower in the center of the cluster (the blood of Queen Anne)
|Bloom Time:||Blooms in late spring.||Blooms in summer and autumn.|
|Scent:||Unpleasant odor, both upon brushing up against it and upon crushing or bruising the leaves. This may be a defense mechanism to alert animals to its poisonous nature. It has been described as smelling “musty” or “mousy.”||Foliage smells pleasant and “carrot-y” when crushed or bruised.|
Now that I’ve learned to identify poison hemlock, I see it everywhere as I travel. Be alert, and use caution when you come into close contact with it!
With the exception of the pictures listed below, all other images are my own.
Melody Rose (DG Member Melody): 3 images: Purple blotches on hemlock stem, red spot in center of Queen Anne’s Lace, and hairy stems on Queen Anne’s Lace
DG member Jonna Sudenius: Picture of full Queen Anne’s Lace plant, demonstrating size
We found these little tasty roots as kids growing in the fields. We got curious because they smelled like carrots when we dug them up. The taste was similar but had a little more of a radish type bite to it. This post will outline wild carrots (Queen Anne’s Lace), poison hemlock, and some tips for identifying one from the other. As usual, references are at the bottom. Do a little research however so you eat wild carrots and not life threatening poison.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Daucus Carota & Pusillus: Edible Wild Carrots
Wild carrots are not located exclusively to the listed locations on the map, these are only the areas where they have been “identified” to be growing.
Queen Anne’s Lace has a flat white blossom with a red spot in the middle, hairy stems and stalk, and the white root that smells like carrot. As the blossom ages it folds up looking like a bird’s nest. Wild carrots were a common pasture plant. The key is to find them at the end of their first year before the roots grow woody their second year. However, often that woody part can be peeled off and the root made edible.
Dacus carota root
Wild Carrot only occasionally has a red flower in the middle. That said, the above description is for the Daucus carota (DAW-kus ka-ROT-a) a wild carrot imported from the Old World and known everywhere in the United States as “Queen Anne’s Lace.” But, there was a native carrot in North America when the Pilgrims arrived, the Daucus pusillus and it does not have a red dot.
Dacus pusillus is found in the southern half of the United States and up the west coast to British columbia. Much smaller than the D. carota, its root are none the less edible, though that is not saying much. It tends to have flowers that are white to pink and white, again no red dot. Like the import, the stems are hairy. The hairy stems and stalk is a very important identification element and separates the two carrots from very deadly members of the same family, such as Poison Hemlock which has a hairless stalk and will be discussed further down.
The Daucus carota is losing some of its luster. A majority of states (at least 35 of them) list it as a pest or a noxious weed. It is particularly bad in Missouri. Apparently D. carota germinates easily and mowing doesn’t get rid of it. Some say the dried seed heads are a fire hazard and a threat to the honey industry.
Daucus pusillus, also called the American Wild Carrot and Rattlesnake Weed is a simple too few-branched annual that grows to three feet tall but usually less. The stems are covered with stiff hairs. The leaves are alternate, pinnate and compound on stems to six inches long. The umbrella-arranged flowers have five white petals and five stamens. It has fewer florets per cluster than the D. carota, 5 to 12, instead of 20. It likes dry ground, rocky to sandy soil, oak forests. Blooming time is April to June. The roots are similar to the D. carota, just smaller.
Unlike many native plants there’s not much evidence most Native Americans made much use of the D. pusillus. Eastern tribes ignored it, perhaps, records on them are scant. Only six western Indians seem to have used it. The Nez Perce and Navajo ate the roots, boiled or raw. They also used it to ‘clean the blood,’ stop itching, and treat fevers. A decoction and or a chewed poultice was used to treat snake bite. The Clallam, Cowichan, Saanich and coastal Salish also ate the root.
One way to get a steady source of good wild carrot roots is to grow them yourself. They sprout readily. Collect the seeds in the fall and set them out in the spring. Under cultivation they grow large, tender roots. The root of Queen Anne’s Lace is likely a direct ancestor of the modern carrot which has been under cultivation for some 5,000 years, probably starting in Afghanistan. While the wild carrot root is cream colored to light orange there are a number of varieties including white, yellow, red, purple, green, black, striped and purple on the outside and orange inside. The orange carrot is believed to have been developed in the 16th century in Holland, where patriotic plant breeders developed it to celebrated the Royal House of Orange.
Incidentally, that cultivated carrot you bought or grew? The green tops are quite edible cooked. Add them to a variety of boiled dishes for flavor, or boil them separately and add them to other dishes as greenery.
The name Queen Anne’s Lace was adopted because Queen Anne of Great Britain was adept at making lace. They carried the allusion farther by saying the red flower in the middle is when she pricked her finger and a drop of royal blood fell on the flower.
Daucus is from the Greek word δαύκον (THAV-kon) meaning carrot parsnip and other similar food plants. Carota is from the Greek Καρότον ka-ROW-ton, also meaning carrot is from the Indo European word Ker, meaning head or horn. Pusillus is Latin for tiny or puny.
An excellent link for more info: http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/queen-annes-lace.html
Poison-hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals. In western Washington, it is common on roadsides, in open fields, and in natural areas. Unrelated to the native evergreen hemlock tree, poison-hemlock can be deadly; it has gained notoriety through its use in the state execution of Socrates.
Poison-hemlock can be confused with wild carrot (Daucus carota, or Queen Anne’s Lace), as with many other members of the parsley family that resemble it. It has hairless hollow stalks with purple blotches. It can get quite tall, sometimes up to 8 feet or higher. It produces many umbrella-shaped flower clusters in an open and branching inflorescence. In contrast, wild carrot has one dense flower cluster on a narrow, hairy stem, usually with one purple flower in the center of the flower cluster, and is usually 3 feet tall or less. Poison-hemlock starts growing in the spring time, producing flowers in late spring, while wild carrot produces flowers later in the summer.
Poison-hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals, with symptoms appearing 20 minutes to three hours after ingestion. All parts of the plant are poisonous and even the dead canes remain toxic for up to three years. The amount of toxin varies and tends to be higher in sunny areas. Eating the plant is the main danger, but it is also toxic to the skin and respiratory system. When digging or mowing large amounts of poison-hemlock, it is best to wear gloves and a mask or take frequent breaks to avoid becoming ill. One individual had a severe reaction after pulling plants on a hot day because the toxins were absorbed into her skin. The typical symptoms for humans include dilation of the pupils, dizziness, and trembling followed by slowing of the heartbeat, paralysis of the central nervous system, muscle paralysis, and death due to respiratory failure. For animals, symptoms include nervous trembling, salivation, lack of coordination, pupil dilation, rapid weak pulse, respiratory paralysis, coma, and sometimes death. For both people and animals, quick treatment can reverse the harm and typically there aren’t noticeable aftereffects. If you suspect poisoning from this plant, call for help immediately because the toxins are fast-acting – for people, call poison-control at 1-800-222-1222 or for animals, call your veterinarian.
Telling Them Apart
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.
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!
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. 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.
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 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 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.
Don’t touch these plants! Six lookalikes you want to avoid
It can be difficult to determine whether you’re looking at hogweed, hemlock, parsnip or lace, but all of these plants have several things in common. Contact may cause unpleasant, potentially deadly, reactions. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to help you identify and differentiate these plants so you can keep your distance as needed. Most of these plants are invasive and easily grow in ditches and disturbed soils across the country. Get familiar with these species to stay safe!
Giant hogweed. Photo courtesy of debs-eye/Creative Commons.
Giant hogweed is native to Asia, but invasive in North America. Contact with giant hogweed may cause severe irritation to the skin and eyes, blistering rashes, permanent scarring and even blindness. This plant earns the title of giant, regularly reaching heights of more than six feet and sometimes reaching up to 18 feet. Stems are thick and hollow with ridges and purple spots. See where giant hogweed has been confirmed in the U.S. and Canada “
Poison hemlock. Photo courtesy of Djtanng/Creative Commons.
Poison hemlock is native to Europe, Africa and Asia, but invasive in North America. All parts of this plant are highly poisonous to people and animals. Ingestion of even small amounts may result in death. This plant typically measures three to eight feet tall and has stems that are hairless and hollow with ridges and purple spots. See where poison hemlock can be found “
Spotted water hemlock
Spotted water hemlock. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Cadwell/Creative Commons.
Spotted water hemlock is widespread and native to North America. Water hemlock is often called the most deadly plant in North America. All parts of this plant are highly toxic to people and animals. Ingestion may cause abdominal pain, convulsions, delirium, nausea, seizures and vomiting – often resulting in death. This plant typically measures three to six feet tall and has stems that are smooth and hollow. Stems may vary in color and pattern, from solid green or purple to green with purple spots or stripes. See where spotted water hemlock can be found “
Cow parsnip. Photo courtesy of James Gaither/Creative Commons.
Cow parsnip is native to North America. It is listed as endangered in Kentucky and a species of special concern in Tennessee. Contact with cow parsnip may cause skin irritation, blistering rashes and skin discoloration. This plant can measure four to ten feet tall and has stems that are fuzzy and grooved. See where cow parsnip can be found “
Wild parsnip. Photo courtesy of Joshua Mayer/Creative Commons.
Wild parsnip is native to Asia and Europe, but invasive in North America. Yellow flowers help differentiate this species, but the effects are similar. Contact with wild parsnip may cause skin irritation, blistering rashes and skin discoloration. This plant typically measures two to five feet tall and has stems that are hairless and grooved. See where wild parsnip can be found “
Queen Anne’s lace
Queen Anne’s lace. Photo courtesy of Joshua Mayer/Creative Commons.
Queen Anne’s lace is native to Asia and Europe, but invasive in North America. Contact with Queen Anne’s lace may cause skin irritation and blistering, especially in people with sensitive skin. Others may not experience any negative interactions. Before you consider handling this plant, make sure you’re positive that it’s not one of the similar-looking species listed above. Ingestion may be toxic to some people and animals. This plant typically measures one to two feet tall and sometimes has a small reddish flower in the center. Stems are fuzzy with small grooves. See where Queen Anne’s lace can be found “
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When out foraging for edible and medicinal plants, it is just as important—if not more so—to know how to identify the poisonous plants that grow in your region. Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is one of those that everyone should know how to identify, as it can be quite prolific in some areas. To the untrained eye it can sometimes be confused for some popular foraging plants such as Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, wild fennel, and elderflower.
If you want to learn more about the edible and medicinal weeds that surround us and how to use them, check out my eBook: Wildcrafting Weeds: 20 Easy to Forage Edible and Medicinal Plants (that might be growing in your backyard)!
Gather & Root Online Foraging Course
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Before doing any foraging or wildcrafting, especially for plants that may resemble poison hemlock, it’s extremely important to get a foraging guidebook. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer
- Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer
- Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill
About Poison Hemlock
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is in the Apiaceae family, which also includes carrots, parsnips, parsley, fennel, and their wild counterparts. It is an herbaceous biennial plant that can grow 5 to 10 feet (2-3 meters) tall or even taller.
It should not be confused with hemlock the coniferous tree which is completely harmless (and edible).
All parts of the plant are poisonous, including the flowers, leaves, stems, roots, and seeds. It contains potent toxic alkaloids that affect the nervous system, and even small internal doses can cause respiratory collapse and death.
It can also cause a severe skin reaction similar to a burn when touched externally. Definitely not a plant to mess around with!
Historically hemlock was used in ancient Greece to poison condemned prisoners, and it was what killed Socrates after he drank a potent hemlock infusion.
Where Does Poison Hemlock Grow?
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is native to Europe and North Africa, but has widely naturalized in many other areas. It is found in almost every state in the United States, and in most Canadian provinces.
This USDA map shows generally where it is found in North America, and here is a more detailed map that shows which US counties it is found in.
I didn’t find any distribution maps for other countries, but poison hemlock does also grow in Europe, North Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Poison hemlock naturalizes very easily and can be found growing in disturbed areas, along roadsides and trails, and in damp areas along streams. In our region I find it alongside bike paths, near park edges and fields, and in dense colonies near the freeway.
If you happen to find poison hemlock in or near your yard it is advised to properly remove it as soon as possible, especially if there are children around.
How to Identify Poison Hemlock
Poison hemlock really isn’t hard to identify, and there are a few key identification features to be on the lookout for.
The most important identification feature of poison hemlock are the stems and stalks. They are hairless, hollow, and almost always have distinctive purplish-red splotching or streaking on them, especially towards the base of the plant. These markings are a sure giveaway that it is poison hemlock.
Many sources say that the stems of poison hemlock don’t always have this splotching, though I have never found poison hemlock without it. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to know more than one identification feature, especially when dealing with poisonous plants.
Poison hemlock flowers can be confusing because they resemble other white umbel shaped flowers, especially those in the Apiaceae family.
The flowers bloom in late spring and grow in rounded clusters that are called compound umbels. Each individual tiny flower has five petals.
After the flowers bloom they form small green fruits with wavy ribs that contain highly poisonous seeds that resemble anise, fennel, or caraway seeds.
The flowers grow on highly branched stalks that can grow up to 8-10 feet (3 meters) tall.
The leaves of poison hemlock look very similar to parsley, chervil, and wild carrot (Queen Anne’s lace), which makes them difficult to distinguish. They are opposite and compound, hairless, lacy, and triangular in shape.
When crushed or brushed against, the leaves emit a very unpleasant musty smell, not at all carrot-like like Queen Anne’s lace.
Potential Poison Hemlock Look-Alikes
The reason it’s so important to learn how to identify poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is because it is often mistaken for other plants that are edible and medicinal, most notably Queen Anne’s lace. Here I will explain the major differences between the edible plants that poison hemlock can potentially look similar to.
Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)
There are several differences here to consider. First is overall size, as Queen Anne’s lace only grows to about 2-3 feet in size. Queen Anne’s lace has hairy stems and leaves, while poison hemlock’s are smooth. Here is one easy way to remember it: “the Queen has hairy legs.” Queen Anne’s lace flowers bloom later in the summer and have a flatter shape. They typically have a single dark purple or red flower in the center. Queen Anne’s lace also has 3 pronged bracts at the base of the flowers, and the older flowers curl up into a bird’s nest shape.
Queen Anne’s lace flowers
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
The biggest difference that yarrow has from poison hemlock is its distinctive frilly, feather-like leaves. You can see pictures of the leaves in my post about foraging yarrow. The flowers also look a bit different, as yarrow is not in the Apiaceae family so does not have a true umbel flower. Yarrow is also a smaller plant, growing about 2-3 feet in size.
Angelica (Angelica spp.)
Angelica has similar looking flowers to poison hemlock, although even more rounded and sometimes light green in color. The leaves of angelica are much larger and are compound with dozens of leaflets. There is also a sheathing base where the leaf meets the stem. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of angelica is its pleasantly fragrant scent. One thing to be aware of is that angelica can look very similar to water hemlock (Cicuta spp.), which is another highly poisonous species that can cause death.
Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)
The flowers of cow parsnip are similar to poison hemlock, but much larger, and same goes for the leaves. It can also closely resemble water hemlock, so be absolutely certain of your identification.
Cow Parsley/Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris)
Cow parsley has pink stems that are slightly hairy and have a groove. Be aware that it can also closely resemble fool’s parsley, another poisonous plant.
Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
Wild parsnip has yellow flowers and the stem is grooved. Be aware that while this plant has edible roots, the leaves and stems can cause burns and blisters on the skin after touching.
Water Parsnip (Sium suave and Berula spp.)
Water parsnip grows in marshes and wet areas, and the leaves are not lacy like poison hemlock. It looks very similar to water hemlock, another deadly plant, so great care should be taken to obtain positive identification before harvesting. I recommend using the book Incredible Wild Edibles by Samual Thayer for identifying this species.
Wild Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Wild fennel has a similar overall structure to poison hemlock, but it has yellow flowers, frond like leaves, and smells strongly of fennel or anise (a licorice-like scent).
Elderflower (Sambucus spp.)
There is only one minor similarity that elderflowers might have to poison hemlock, and that is the white flowers. Elderflowers do not have the true umbel shape and are usually much larger. The plant itself is more of a large shrub and doesn’t really bear any resemblance to poison hemlock.
Three Other Similar Looking Poisonous Plants
It’s also worth mentioning that there are three other poisonous plants that are also in the Apiaceae family that look somewhat similar to poison hemlock and the other plants I listed above.
- Water Hemlock (Cicuta spp.) – water hemlock is more deadly than poison hemlock and is almost as widespread. There are four different varieties, with spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) being the most common.
- Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) – giant hogweed is literally giant, growing up to 18 feet (6 meters) in height with leaves that are 3-5 feet (1-2 meters) wide and flowers that can be 2.5 feet (almost 1 meter) in diameter. It causes horrible skin blistering, permanent scars, and blindness.
- Fool’s Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) – fool’s parsley is less poisonous than poison hemlock, but is still one that you most definitely want to avoid. It has hairless stems and long bracts that hang below the secondary flower clusters.
Apiaceae can be a tricky family to identify, especially when there are several poisonous species to worry about. Poison hemlock really isn’t hard to identify once you know what to look for.
This guide is here help you learn all of the features of poison hemlock and its look-alikes so that you can feel more confident in your foraging adventures!