Sunday, July 24, 2011

Foraging 19: A Royal Weed, Queen Anne’s Lace

Love is like wildflowers; It's often found in the most unlikely places. – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Close up of the flower umbrel, showing the distinctive purple central flower.
Queen Anne’s Lace is a very common wildflower this time of year in Nova Scotia. It is a European introduction that has found a comfortable home across Canada and in large portions of the United States. A ubiquitous flower, some might say.

Queen Anne’s Lace is the wild ancestor of the garden carrot. Daucus Carota has a long taproot just like carrots. If you pull up the slender root and crush it you can smell its connection to the garden variety.

Queen Anne’s Lace has a flat umbrella-like arrangement of tiny white florets that compose the actual flower “head.” It commonly also has a very distinctive single purple flower in the very centre, which is completely unlike the rest of the flowers. Not all Queen Anne’s Lace flowers sport this central floret, though.

Legend has it that Queen Anne of England pricked her finger and a droplet of blood stained the centre flower. Its botanical use is probably as an insect mimicking device to aid in pollination.

Queen Anne’s Lace has many purported heath benefits and a multitude of folkloric uses, none of which can be established scientifically. One that has been confirmed is that the root should be avoided by pregnant women as it can stimulate uterine contractions. One of the folklore uses is that it increase the level of sex hormones in users (due to its high concentration of porpyrins).

Poison Hemlock. Compare with the
photo below. Photo: Wiki Creative Commons
Queen Anne’s Lace does have a poisonous “lookalike.” I personally don’t think they look very similar but I need to be responsible and make you aware. Poison Hemlock has “similar” flowers and leaves, but the plant is FAR more robust than Queen Anne’s Lace. Queen Anne’s Lace has fuzzy stems; poison hemlock is smooth.

Queen Anne’s Lace also grows singly to not much more that 2 feet high and is very sparse. Poison Hemlock is a lush plant that likes to grow in clumps and can reach over 3 feet quite easily. Note the pictures for the obvious differences.

Queen Anne's Lace is supposed to be helpful when planted with tomatoes (probably by attracting pollinating insects) and can improve the microclimate when planted with lettuces. Queen Anne’s Lace itself also has several uses. The roots, flowers and seeds all have specific recipes for their consumption. 

Another way to identify it as not poison hemlock is that the seeds ripen in a very distinctive way. The flowers fold up on themselves and make a brown cup or “nest,” which gives Queen Anne’s Lace another of its common names, Bird’s Nest flower.

Here’s a recipe for using the flower blossoms which are at their peak right now in Nova Scotia.

Compare the singular nature of Queen Anne's Lace with that
of the Poison hemlock plant above.

Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly
from "Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook" by Dorry Baird Norris

Photo: minato, Flickr ccl
2 cups very firmly packed flowers, snipped from their stems close to the blossom 
5 cups boiling water 
3-1/2 cups white sugar 
1 package pectin for no or low-sugar 
4-1/2 tbsp lemon juice (slightly more than 1/4 cup)

Place the flowers in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Cover bowl and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain the tea. (It may be an odd green colour. Worry not.)

Measure 4-1/2 cups of the strained infusion and add it to a large non-reactive pot. Mix 1/4 cup of the sugar with the Sure-Jell, and stir it into the flower tea. 

Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat. Immediately stir in the remaining sugar and return to a boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute, skimming the foam (impurities) that rise to the surface. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, and skim again if needed. Pour the jelly at once into sterilized jars, cover with sterilized lids, and seal.

This is a pollinated flower forming the "bird's nest" shape.
When ripe it will be very brown.
You can add a drop or two of red food colouring to tinge it pink if you wish.

* The original recipe says “1 package Sure-Jell "no sugar needed" or "for less or no sugar recipes" (formerly Sure-Jell light). Don't use regular Sure-Jell for this recipe, or you will end up with syrup rather than jelly.”

I don’t think we have “Sur-Jell” in Canada, but we do have Certo for no sugar added. That should work to set the jelly.


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