A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

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Wild Carrot - Daucus carota

wild_carrotLike wild parsnips, wild carrots belong to the Family Umbelliferae - so called because its members bear their flowers in umbels (from the Latin umbella = a sunshade). You'll all be familiar with the flowers of cow parsley and hogweed (which are members of the same family) so I don't need further to describe this type of inflorescence. Wild carrots are characterised by the long, branched bracts which arise from the bases of the primary branches of the umbel, thus forming a ruff around the bottom of the inflorescence. The umbels are at first slightly convex but once the flowers have been fertilized the outer branches elongate and curve inwards so that the whole inflorescence becomes deeply concave – giving the plant its alternative name of "bird's nest". Another remarkable feature of a wild carrot umbel is that a single flower in its centre is very often red or purple, in marked contrast to the pure white flowers which surround it (this feature is usually absent in the fleshy leaved form of the plant commonly found in coastal areas).

Unlike our garden parsnips which are derived from a wild plant indigenous to Britain, our cultivated carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativa) have been domesticated from a Mediterranean sub-species of wild carrot. They are said to have been introduced into this country in the 15th century and their cultivation was popularised in the reign of Elizabeth I by Flemish immigrants fleeing persecution by Philip II of Spain. Our native wild carrots (D. carota ssp carota) would not go down too well with your boiled beef. Their yellow roots are thin and tough and contain much more starch and a lot less sugar than do roots of the garden form.

But what wild carrots lack in palatability they make up for in medicinal virtue. Commenting on this, the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted that "almost in all herbs the wild are the most effectual in physic, as being more powerful in operation than the garden kinds". Culpeper recommended wild carrots for a number of ailments - from removing stitches in the side to breaking and expelling of stones in the bladder. The seeds, he claimed, were good for dropsy and colic, helped to disperse kidney stones and, taken in wine, aided conception; the leaves, when applied with honey, would cleanse ulcers. There was also an old belief that a decoction of the red flowers from the centres of the umbels was an effective treatment for the "falling sickness" (as epilepsy once was called).

Carol Klein told us that in the USA wild carrots were commonly referred to as "Queen Anne's Lace". In England, this name is normally reserved for the cow parsley which bedecks our roadsides in May but, when young, the umbel of a wild carrot does indeed resemble a piece of fine work on a lace-makers cushion - with the red flower in the middle a ruby sown in by a queen.

David Yarham
October 2006


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A close up of the umbels of a Wild Carrot head. Photo by Matthew Butler.

September 2017.

See also...

Report of the visit from Cambridge Natural History Society in August 2017


News about a visit by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation charity taking place in August 2016


News about the very special area of Colin's Bank, published in February 2015

Pasque Flower

One of our Friends sent us this beautiful picture of some Pasque Flowers taken in amongst the Cowslips in May 2016.pasqueflower_jb_may2016_crop_453

Photo by Jill Butler