Elegant Lady: Queen Anne’s Lace
Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is a member of the Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) family, which includes celery, angelica, dill, parsley, carrot and many other flowering plants known for their umbrella-like flowerheads and feathery foliage. It is known as Queen Anne’s lace primarily in North America and by several other common names elsewhere, such as bird's nest, bishop's lace and wild carrot. Its royal moniker reputedly arose when the 18th century monarch, Queen Anne of England, pricked her finger and spilled a drop of blood onto the white lace she was darning, representing the tiny, solo reddish-purple flower visible at the center of the umbrel.
A rugged wayside “weed” and meadow plant, Queen Anne’s lace is a beneficial companion plant to many crops because it attracts pollinators and it is often cultivated for this purpose. The ancient Romans prepared the plant as a vegetable and Native Americans and early European settlers boiled the flowers to make a cream-colored dye and the taproots to make a sweet syrup, which they sometimes incorporated into cordials and wines and later into puddings and jellies. The roots taste a bit like carrots (but are very fibrous) and contain nearly as much sugar as sugar beets.
First year plants are recommended for culinary purposes. The flowers may be made into tea or tossed into soups and salads. They can also be fried whole like dandelion fritters. The leaves are chopped and added to salad greens and the seeds are added to simmering soups and stews. Be aware, however, that the seeds have historically been used as a contraceptive and abortifacient, so avoid the plant if you are pregnant nursing, or trying to get pregnant.
Care must be taken when foraging Queen Anne’s lace from the wild. The plant closely resembles its toxic cousin, poison hemlock, and grows in a similar habitat. The rule of thumb to making a positive identification is to remember this phrase: The Queen has hairy legs. Queen Anne’s lace has solid, hairy stems that are green in color, while hemlocks have hollow, smooth stems that sport purple specks. Another distinguishing characteristic of Queen Anne’s lace is that when the flowerheads go to seed they curl up like an umbrella closing, giving it the appearance of a miniature bird’s nest.
Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly
4 cups filtered water
2 cups Queen Anne’s lace flowers
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
3 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, organic sugar
Using a heavy saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the flower to the pan (you will probably need to push them under the water with a wooden spoon). Cover and let steep 30-45 minutes. Strain; reserving the liquid in a second saucepan (compost the flowers). Add the lemon juice and pectin. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and continue to cook, while stirring, until mixture comes to a rolling boil again. Keep boiling, while stirring constantly, for another minute. Remove from heat. Let cool slightly and skim off any foam. Pour into sterilized jelly jars leaving 1/4” head space; lightly screw down the lids. Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. Let the jars rest on a counter or table undisturbed for 8 hours or overnight before storing.