The story of Queen Anne . . .
Queen Anne was tatting white lace. (Tatting is the all-but-lost art of making lace by hand.) The beautiful white lace she was tatting became the white lacy flowers of the wild carrot plant. She pricked her finger and one drop of blood oozed out. This became the central dark red or purple sterile floret that is present on some, but not all, Queen Anne's Lace flowers.
Legends disagree as to which Queen Anne was tatting such lovely lace. Some say it was Anne (1574 - 1619), the first Stuart Queen Anne, who was brought over from Denmark at fourteen years of age to be a Queen to King James of Scotland. Others argue it was Anne (1665 - 1714), the daughter of William and Mary, and the last monarch in the Stuart line. Both Annes died in their forties!
The plant, Queen Anne's Lace . . .
Queen Anne's Lace, or Wild Carrot, or Bird's Nest, is a biennial. The first year a shrubby rosette of leaves establishes itself, possibly even unnoticed. I certainly didn't notice it, and I wanted it in my garden. The second year, the lacy umbel or flat ray of thousands of tiny, white flowers appears, giving you armloads of fresh flowers with sweet, carroty-smelling foliage to bring inside. In some, but not all, the very center floret is a dark reddish purple. This one is sterile, but the other ones, up to 40,000 per plant, are all fertile seeds. Queen Anne's Lace flowers in July and August in my state, Massachusetts; differently in others, and these thousands of seeds are transported all over the world by a variety of means: dogs, cats, gardeners, little children, birds, other animal fur, the wind, seed companies, herbalists, ships, airplanes, and so on.
Daucus carota . . .
Daucus carota is the botanical name for Wild Carrot as well as for tame, annual, garden ones. The starchy taproot of the wild form is edible, but it's apparently not very tasty. (No, I haven't tried it.) Daucus carota is a member of the Apiaceae family which is filled with fragrant and flavorful relatives, like caraway, fennel, dill, celery and parsnip, and an extremely dangerous one: poison hemlock. Do not make an infusion or tea of Queen Anne's Lace unless you are certain you know exactly what you are doing! (Remember, that's how they got rid of Socrates!)
Another interesting tidbit is that while the wild root is yellowish-white, in the 16th century, Dutch growers deliberately bred carrots to be orange, to honor the House of Orange, the Royal Family of the Netherlands. Carrots have been orange ever since, until recent vegetable breeders produced varieties in red, purple, white and yellow again!
Queen Anne's Lace as herb . . .
Hippocrates recommended that women eat carrot seeds to prevent pregnancy. We don't know whether modern, commercial carrot seeds would do the trick, but there is evidence that the seed of Queen Anne's Lace, collected, prepared and ingested in a certain, specific way has a contraceptive effect for women. Please, do not rely on this method without a lot more research than I was able to do!
Queen Anne's Lace flowers can be used to make a natural yellow dye. Parts of the plant are mentioned by herbalists as a diuretic, an antiseptic, soothing to the digestive system, useful for colic, and as a hallucinogenic! Queen Anne's Lace was a valuable enough medicinal herb that colonists relied on it.
Queen Anne's Lace as weed . . .
Queen Anne's Lace, according to the USDA, is a weed in the 48 continental United States, and reported by 14 of them as invasive. Like other similar plants not native to North America, it grows best in disturbed ground, after fires or in vacant lots or abandoned fields. It can be controlled by mowing or pulling.
Queen Anne's Lace as wildflower . . .
Queen Anne's Lace is an important plant in many wildflower meadows. It is friendly to beneficial insects and may provide cover for small wildlife. It provides a lovely, lacy, white filler plant in flower arrangements, similar to baby's breath. It has been an important part in all of my bouquets since earliest childhood.
You Decide About Queen Anne's Lace . . .
Queen Anne's Lace is easy enough for me to control - so far. I snip off the "Bird's Nest" of ripening seeds and try not to spill any. It's not fair for me to decide whether it is invasive in your garden. That will have to be up to you and your state. You can tell I love it.
a little further reading about Queen Anne's Lace ...
Natural History of North America
Medicinal Plants in Your Backyard
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 11, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)