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Wild Carrot

Spring is the perfect time for foraging PEI’s wild root vegetables.  I’ve written before about Evening Primrose (https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/early-spring-roots-edible-evening-primrose) and Burdock (https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/burdock-roots). Today, we’re digging Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)!

Photo 1: The flower of Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota).

You might know Wild Carrot as Queen Anne’s Lace, but you may not know that it is the ancestor of (and same genus and species as) our domestic carrot. Centuries of selective breeding increased the sweetness and size of the root while improving texture and storability. It’s said that a particularly good, orange-coloured variety was developed in the 17th century and gained popularity in honour of William of Orange, thus giving rise to our common orange cultivar. I suspect that may be more apocryphal than fact.

 

All parts of Wild Carrot are edible.  The flowers appear in late summer and are lacy-looking, flat-topped clusters of white blooms, often with a dark purple or black central floret (Photo 1). That dark flower is sterile and the focus of much controversy in botanical circles. Research suggests it may attract pollinators, repel predatory insects, help beneficial insects orient themselves on the flower, all of the above, and none of the above! While there isn’t agreement on its purpose, there is agreement on the edibility of Wild Carrot flowers.  My favourite way to enjoy them is as fritters: dipped in egg, flour, and fried.

Photo 2: A basal rosette of Wild Carrot leaves. Note the conspicuous hairs on the petioles (leaf stems).

This time of year, it’s the roots I’m after. Wild Carrot is a biennial, producing a basal rosette of leaves in the first year before sending up a flowering stalk in year two. The roots of first year plants or young second year plants (before much vertical growth has started) are the ones you want.  Once second year plants start to mature and gain height, the roots become tough and woody.

 

You can find Wild Carrot in fields, along trails, and in other sunny, open areas across PEI. The leaves look and smell like carrot leaves and – very importantly – the leaf stems are covered in fine hairs (Photo 2).  The Carrot Family (Apiaceae) has some very toxic members including Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) which could be mistaken for Wild Carrot by the unwary. Poison Hemlock is smooth and hairless and does not smell like carrots.

 


Photo 3: Wild Carrot roots.

Once you’ve found some Wild Carrot, just dig around the plant until you can pull up the root (Photo 3).  Smaller roots can be eaten raw, though they are pretty chewy!  Larger roots are too tough to enjoy raw, and I prefer to cook both sizes as I would carrots: steamed, boiled, or roasted.  If you still find them tough, try grating them before steaming, or pureeing your cooked roots with some broth, cream, and seasonings of choice (hint: coriander, cumin, and/or ginger work well) to make Wild Carrot Soup.

 

Like domestic Carrots, the leaves of Wild Carrots are edible and can be eaten raw in salads, steamed or sautéed, added to soups or stir frys, or even made into pesto.  Wild Carrot seeds can be dried and used as a spice, something I am looking forward to trying this fall. The flavour is said to be a combination of carrot, pepper, and coriander which I think would be a wonderful addition to some of my homemade soups and marinades.  It should be noted that Wild Carrot seeds were traditionally used as a contraceptive and some studies have shown negative effects on reproductive hormones in mice. Those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant may wish to avoid these seeds.

 

Wild Carrot is not native to PEI, but it doesn’t cause ecological, social, or economic harm and so doesn’t worry me much.  Many people enjoy it among the many late summer wildflowers that are iconic parts of PEI untamed.

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