This is the second in a series of blogs, shared with permission, about weeds in the garden. Each blog will discuss a common and specific weed found in Maine, its history, uses, what story it tells about the soil it grows in, and how to get rid of it. The original blogs, along with other gardening related blogs, can be found here.
Queen Anne’s Lace, daucus carota, is the ancestor of cultivated carrots. Tall and airy in appearance, it’s beautiful flowers are a haven for pollinators on the sides of roads or abandoned city plots. It can be distinguished from poison hemlock through its hairy stems and distinct, closely-bunched, flat-topped flower head. I was always told it was poisonous (not unlike Henry Holly), but have since learned that isn’t accurate.
It is generally edible. The seeds are good in soups and stews, the flower head can be battered and fried. The root is good grated, and tastes like carrots, but can become woody (like any plant in the family that has gone to seed). It contains vitamins A, B and C, biotin and also pectin.
Pliny and Dioscorides thought it had aphrodisiac properties, which may be because carrot leaves contain porphyrins which lead to the release of increased sex hormones. Chinese medicine also considers the plant useful for use as a treatment for parasites, diuretic and a bactericidal. Its thick sap has been used for cough and congestion.
Despite all of these positive qualities – there is a significant reason why women should be careful when consuming it. The plant, since Hippocrates, was prescribed as a contraceptive and abortifacient. Scribonius used it in a concoction for sterility. Pliny discusses the use of seeds for this purpose. Much later, Culpeper does as well, also preferring the seeds to the roots. Even today, some women use the seeds as a contraceptive – chewing the seeds daily during the period prior to ovulation and for a week after ovulation. There is a theory, based on Chinese research, that the seeds block progesterone synthesis.
What does it mean?
Soil where Queen Anne’s Lace thrives is typically along roadsides, pastures, building lots or really anyplace humans have disturbed the soil. McCaman suggests it’s deep taproots indicate deep soil that could be used for growing things.
The soil typically has very low amounts of phosphate, low amounts of calcium and potash, and high amounts of iron, boron, chlorine and selenium. All four of these should only be trace minerals. Pfeiffer suggests the soil itself may have good drainage and a good ability to break down dead plants in it, but may lack adequate moisture, decaying plant matter or bacteria. McCaman agrees, there is a positive correlation between the number of plants in an area and its soil fertility.
To stop it’s growth and spread, apply well-rotted humus over manure in areas when you fertilize. The plant primarily spreads through seeds, so another good way to halt it’s growth is by cutting off the plant close to the ground after it start to go to seed. Do not cut it before the flowers start to die though, or like any carrot, it will spread from the root instead.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn more about weeds, why they grow, and what that means about your garden, consider the following texts:
Weeds and Why they Grow, by Jay L. McCaman
Weeds and What They Tell Us, by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer