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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.