Monday, June 16, 2014

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Underside of Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) - from this angle, I think the white florets look a bit like clouds in the sky, and little did I know that I was being watched by the lil fellow perched just on the edge!

Wild Carrot, probably best known as Queen Anne's Lace is a member of the Parsley Family (Apiace). I prefer to call is Wild Carrot because although lacy and lovely, it think it speaks more to it's true nature. You see, a wild carrot is just that, a savage carrot, with an edible taproot, leaves, and flowers.

You can find this trail food lining the edges of roads, in dry and sunny meadows, and where I've been seeing it consistently...on overgrown grassy trail traveling past the towering and buzzing powerlines!
 
The lacy flowers of Wild Carrot - notice the purple floret at its center.
Wild Carrot is most easily distinguished by its flowering top. Flowers are tiny, 5-petaled and white, arranged in a compound umbel. An umbel means that all the flowering stalks arise from one point, in this case, the main stem. A compound umbel means that atop each of these flowering stalks is yet another smaller umbel of flowers. The infloresence (the entire flowering top) is flat-topped, with most often, one single dark-purple flower in the center. Or rare instances, I have seen Wild Carrot without the purple flower. There are still several distinguishing characteristics, but given that Wild Carrot has some highly poisonous relatives, I suggest merely leaving these alone. Eat only if the purple floret is present.
 
Wild Carrot's green bracts seen at base of flowering head, in this case, very much cupping the flower.
Beneath the infloresence is a spray of wiry green bracts that may either cup the flowering head or bend backwards away from the flowers.
 
Wild Carrot leaf
The infloresence is perched atop a long stem, coarsely hairy, that can reach as tall as 3 feet. Leaves are alternate on the stem, finely divided and lacy as well. At the base of the plant is a basal rosette, also possessing finely divided leaves, however they are more leafy in appearance than stem leaves.

Wild Carrot  gone to seed, turning into it's characteristic "bird's nest" shape
As the plant goes to seed, the center of flat-topped infloresence sinks and the branching umbels reach upwards, so that when the entire top dries, it looks like a bird's nest.
 
Last night's dinner: Knorr Teriyaki Noodles with (as seen from left to right) Common Plaintain, Violet, and Wild Carrot leaves
During its first year, Wild Carrot is merely taproot and basal rosette. It is during this time that the root is edible and may be enjoyed just like a domestic carrot. It really is very similar and even looks about the same, except that it lacks the beta carotene that makes the domestic carrot orange They are, however, chewier, and so I find them better in soups and stews than raw in salads or sandwiches. In its second year, Wild Carrot sends up its flowering stalk. At this time, the taproot is technically still edible but fibrous and woody and lacking flavor. Eat if you must satisfy your curiosity or for survival, but otherwise don't bother. Also, bear in mind that roots will draw up and concentrate not only nutrients but toxins inherent in their environment. Therefore, be certain not to harvest roots from roadside plants or anywhere they could be subject to industrial run-off not only from human development such as paved areas but also from farms with heavy pesticide/fertilizer use.

Leaves and flowers are also edible and are easier to identify than a taproot and basal leaves. Leaves have a strong parsley flavor and may be chopped up fine and added to soups, stews, or eaten raw in salads. To harvest leaves, pinch off or use a small knife to cut from stem. Flowers may be sauteed and thrown into stir- frys. Harvest them by pinching off small umbels.
 
Check out a wee more refined meal that includes flowers and leaves below (recipe from A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail):
 
Queen Anne's Almond Couscous with Peanut Sauce

1 c couscous
1 ¼ cup of water
½ c of Wild Carrot flowers
¼ slivered or diced almonds
1-2 Wild Carrot leaves diced fine
1 orange domestic carrot diced (this is the one we all know and love) 
1 t olive oil
1 clove of garlic minced

Peanut Sauce

2 T peanut butter
dash of salt and pepper
dash of cayenne or chili powder (optional)

Firstly, saute vegetables and flowers.

Place pot over heat and add olive oil. Add carrots, and saute for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to soften. Add almonds, sauteing another 2-3 minutes or until nuts have begun to toast. Add flowers and garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent flowers from burning or wilting too much.

Transfer veggies to a separate bowl or pot for later.

Wipe pot clean and add 1 c of water. Bring water to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add couscous. Replace lid and allow couscous to “cook” for 10 minutes or until couscous is soft and hydrated. Add veggies and flowers to couscous.

Using the bowl you just emptied (the one that contained veggies and flowers), prepare the peanut sauce.

Mix peanut butter with ¼ c of water. Add spices, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Pour peanut sauce over couscous mixture. Add raw Wild Carrot leaves and toss to combine.

You may replace the domestic carrot with the Wild Carrot taproot in this recipe if you'd like. However, if harvesting during its optimal time, you will not have the flowers to add to the saute.

Caution:

Please exercise extreme caution in harvesting any part of this plant. Be certain you have identified Daucus carota. There are several very poisonous members of the Parsley family that can resemble Wild Carrot, especially during its first year, before it has flowered. Below I have described the most dangerous lookalikes.

Conium maculatum, otherwise known as Poison Hemlock, this is the same plant that Socrates chose to ingest as his punishment and death.

The flowers are similar to those of Wild Carrot. One difference is that the infloresence does not bear a purple floret in its center. Also, the infloresence is more rounded than that of the flat-topped Wild Carrot. Poison Hemlock's flowering heads do not possess bracts.

Leaves are also very similar and when young can look nearly identical to Wild Carrot. Be certain to take notice of the leaflets, which are wider and less wiry than those of Wild Carrot. Also, notice the leafstalks, as Poison Hemlock does not possess hairy leafstalks.

Poison Hemlock's main stem is often spotted purple.

If you get as far as examining the tap root, Poison Hemlock's root will possess a foul odor.

Poison Hemlock can grow as high as 9 feet. You will never find Wild Carrot growing this tall (however Poison Hemlock can still flower as short as 2 feet!)

Considering Wild Carrot thrives well in waste places, Poison Hemlock may be found in some of the same habitats. However it also enjoys riverbanks and other moist places unlike Wild Carrot.

Poison Hemlock is deadly. Do not taste any part of this plant and wash hands if you believe you have handled it.

Cicuta maculata, commonly called Water Hemlock, has flowers very similar to Wild Carrot, although again, will not contain the purple floret. Water Hemlock does not possess bracts below the infloresence.

Leaves are very different from Wild Carrot or Poison Hemlock. They are pinnately divided but with toothed elliptical leaflets.

The stem is often branching and like Poison Hemlock, is also often spotted with purple.

The root can be odorless.

Like Wild Carrot, Water Hemlock can flower at 2 feet, however like Poison Hemlock, it can also grow much taller, up to 6 feet.

As the name suggests, this plant likes to grow beside water, yet it can also be found in moist soils away from water, such as in wet meadows.

Water Hemlock is deadly poisonous as well. Do not taste any part of this plant and promptly wash your hands if you believe that you have come in contact with it.

There are various other members of the Parsley Family that to an untrained eye can resemble Wild Carrot. Some are are inedible, some harmless, others causing digestive disturbance or skin irritation. Know Wild Carrot and its lookalikes well before harvesting.






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