Wild Carrot { Past and present medicinal uses}

Daucus carota

Image taken in N.W.Poland
Image taken in N.W.Poland | Source

Illustration of the wild carrot

Introduction of Daucus carota

The wild carrot belongs to the the Apiales order of Plants and the family Apiaceae {formerly the Umbelliferae}. It is a member of that group of plants which often cause confusion with identification of the individual species for they are. In many cases, very similar in appearance. More confusingly this particular group of plants have members that are beneficial to human health, such as Parsley, Celery,Fennel,Carroway and Coriander, and some that are certainly not beneficial to human health, in fact quite the reverse,some can prove fatal if mistaken for the beneficial species. These include Hemlock and Fool's parsley.

Confusion over common names can also lead to mistakes when harvesting such plants either for medicine or for culinary purposes. As for an example in the UK this species is called simply the wild carrot, while in North America it is also referred to as 'Birds nest, Bishop's Lace and Queen Anne's Lace. Incidentally the latter name of Queen Anne's lace is reserved for the Cow Parsley, Anthriscus silvestris, in the UK. So if some one in the UK was talking of Queen Anne's Lace, and someone in North America was talking of Queen Anne's lace they would both be referring to different species of plants.

Thus the importance of Scientific {Latin} names is highlighted. No matter how many common names the subject may have, the Scientific name is unique, and recognized universally. Hence the Wild carrot is Daucus carota.

Because of the previously mentioned poisonous members of this group correct identification is essential, when one is gathering the plant for medicinal or culinary purposes. Hence we start the review of this species with a description of our subject.

Leaf of the wild carrot

Originally appeared on  Flickr uploaded by Amada 44
Originally appeared on Flickr uploaded by Amada 44 | Source

Description of Daucus carota

The root of the wild carrot is perennial,fusiform ,slender firm and somewhat woody with a strong aromatic smell, and an acrid disagreeable taste, very different from the reddish, thick , fleshy cultivated form,with its pleasant odour and peculiar, sweet,mucilaginous flavour, it penetrates deeply into the ground, having only a few lateral rootlets.

The stem is erect, cylindrical and branched,somewhat furrowed and hairy with a tough texture, the hairs are stout and coarse.The leaves {pictured above} are very finely divided, and the lower ones considerably larger than the upper ones. They are arranged alternately on the stems. All the leaves embrace the stem with a sheathing base, a characteristic of this family of plants. All the leaves are a dark green colour and they are like the stem clothed in short hairs.

The flowers are arranged in flattish umbels which are terminal and composed of densely clustered flowers. The flower bearing stalks of the head arise from one point in the rays,like the spokes of an umbrella,each ray dividing in the case of the carrot, to form a secondary umbel {umbellule}, of white flowers the outer ones irregular and larger than the others.

The flowers are very small, but from their whiteness and number,they form a conspicuous head. The heads are nearly flat when in bloom, or slightly converse, the outer rays lengthen and turn inwards so that the head tends to form a hollow cup giving rise to an old country name of Birds nest.

The carrot,{ when in bloom } is distinguished from the other plants of this order by having a central flower of the umbel, or sometimes a tiny umbellue, of a bright red or purplish colour. They flower from June to August.

There is another species Daucus maritimus, which frequents the sea coast which differs in having somewhat fleshy leaves and lacking the coloured central flower{s}, and all the flowers that form the head often have a pinkish tinge.

The fruit {seed capsules} is slightly flattened with numerous bristles arranged in five rows. The ring of finely divided and leaf-like bracts at the point where the umbel springs is a noticeable feature.

Daucus, the generic name was adopted by Linnaeus in the 18th century, while the specific name carota alludes to the garden carrot.

Fruits {seed capsules} of the wild carrot

Source

Historical observations. { America}

Alice Lounsberry , in her book,'A Guide to Wild Flowers' 1899, alludes to the species in America, and does not seem keen on the species, which she refers to as Queen Anne's Lace, she states---" we may have no qualms of conscience on the grounds of in-hospitality if we say boldly that we should not grieve very much to have this weed return to the old country from whence it came. Its ruthless habit of taking possession of whole fields, especially in New Jersey, and destroying the pasture is a constant pain and annoyance to the farmer. It is most difficult to extirpate as it is tough and hard to uproot."

" It frequently falls within the experience of our friend the country boy to pull up the plants before they have gone to seed;and one instance is known of his having been engaged to perform this service at the exorbitant wage of 25 cents per hundred. His mind, however, is poetical. he loves to dream of the beautiful side of the wild carrot's character, and to weave romances about it in connection with Queen Anne's Lace. To bend his back over and tear his palms uprooting them is not to his taste, so on the mentioned occasion, he sat on the fence and watched other boys that he had hired at five cents per hundred to the work for him." { That boy surely made a good business man! }

However, it has found favour in other parts of America For example Queen Anne's Lace ,Daucus carota has been the official flower of Howard's County since being designated on September 4, 1984.

Historical medicinal uses and observations.

Pliny { Hist.Nat.lib XXV. cap 9}, states, that the most esteemed kinds were produced in Candia and Achaca. But the Cretin carrot ,mentioned by Celsus as an ingredient in the famed Mithridate { an antidote against poisoning} seems to have been the Athamanta cretinus.

The English name of carrot seems to have derived via the Celtic car=red. The garden carrot is generally supposed to be a variety of the wild species, improved by cultivation, however, Miller states, that those who have attempted to cultivate the wild sort are convinced of their being distinct, and others assert that the plant was introduced to the UK, from Belgium in the reign of Elizabeth the first.

As a culinary article, the carrot was well known ,it also afforded a wholesome and nutritious food for cattle. A good wine was produced from the roots and an ardent spirit. One Mr.Brieger obtained from ten pounds of the root, one quart of what was referred to as 'first runnings' and half a pint of a very strong spirit.

It was said that an acre of carrots produced considerably more sugar than five quarters of barley, the average product of an acre. A useful article of diet for voyagers was obtained from the dried root, which was reduced to powder and a 'tolerable' kind of bread was made from it. records reveal that in the neighbourhood of Dusseldorf, and other places it was roasted and mixed with coffee in various proportions. the seeds fermented in malt liquor gave it an agreeable flavour, resembling that of lemon peel.

It was stated that the root of carrot contains more saccharine matter than barley, more likewise than the root of parsnip, and only inferior in this respect to beet. according to Professor Brande, 1,000 parts of carrot yielded ninety five parts of saccharine matter, ninety eight parts of nutritive matter and about three parts of starch.

Mr Braconnot, discovered that a substance, which he designated pectic acid, and believed to be present in all vegetables, but he extracted it chiefly from the carrot. It was then examined by Vauquelin { Annalks de Chimie et de Phys,xxviii 173}. In order to obtain pectic acid, the carrots were made into a pulp, the juice expressed, and the solid parts well washed with distilled water.It was then boiled for about ten minutes, with a dilute solution of pure potash or bicarbonate of potash, in the proportions of five parts to one hundred of the washed pulp, and muriate of lime was added to the filtered liquid. The precipitate, consisting of pectic acid and lime, was well washed and the lime removed by water, acidulated with muriatic acid. The liquid was then thrown upon a linen cloth, and the pectin acid obtained.

Pectic acid thus obtained was in the form of a jelly. It was insoluable in cold water and acids, and nearly so in boiling water. On the addition of a few drops of ammonia,it liquefied readily. it was regarded as remarkable for the extreme facility with which it gelatinized Large quantities of sugared water.

Wild carrot showing the 'birds nest' affect

Picture taken in Southern Lower Saxony Germany
Picture taken in Southern Lower Saxony Germany | Source

Pectic acid turns to jelly

One part of the acid dissolved in hot water and added to 300 parts of sugared water, instantly formed a mass of trembling jelly. On this account it was found useful in the preparartion ofvarious jellies. The soluble pectates were considered to be very valuable, as antidotes of poisoning by several of the metallic salts.

The seeds of wild carrot were thought as being superior to those of the cultivated sorts, and were recommended for medicinal purposes. by distillation, or evaporation, water elevates the whole of the smell,and aromatic taste. If large quantities were distilled, a yellowish essential oil was obtained, having a pungent taste and a powerful odour. rectified spirit took up all their virtues by digestion.

The expressed juice, or a decoction of the root, as well as the seeds, were considered by the older physicians as possessing specific qualities against gravel and stone. However, {Cullen's Mat.Med. ii page 562}, stated " We have seen the seeds of wild carrots employed in calculous cases in considerable quantities, and for a length of time, but never found its efficacy very great".

Rosensiein and Bosch considered it a vermifuge {expelled worms} and recommended the juice, or a decoction of the root, as a gargle for the sore mouths of children and for thrush. Morggraf, directed that the recent roots " to be cut,well washed, and beaten to a pulp;the juice of which is to be expressed through a sieve , and inspissated to the consistency of honey, in which state it may be used at the table instead of sugar, and is well adapted for infantile consumptive coughs and for worms".

The pulp of the root, when time has been allowed for the establishment of vinous fermentation forms an excellent cataplasm, which had been much lauded by Sulzer { Journal de Medicine tom xxiv page 68 , Michaellis and others, as an application to putrid and scrofulous ulcers and to cancers, in which distressing affections, they not only mitigate the pain , but abate the smell.

The dose of the bruised seeds was from a scruple to a drachm, or more. An infusion was made from 3 spoonfuls of the seed in a pint of water. { Woodville's Med. Bot. vol iii page 445 }.

The above information is for historical interest only and none are recommended for self treatment.

Fools parsley is a very similar looking species,but is poisonous.

Source

Modern day uses of Daucus carota

Studies have shown the carrot seed oil acts as a muscle relaxant and vasodilator. It is now commonly used as fragrance, flavouring and a source of food colour,beta carotene and vitiamin A.

Carotene is also an important nutrient for the eye as it acts to alleviate night blindness and general day time vision. Wild carrot seeds contain flavonides and a volatile oil including asarone,carotel, pinene,and limonene. Cultivated carrot root contains sugars , pectin, carotene, vitamins, minerals and asparagine. Carrot leaf contain significant amounts of porphyrins,

A carrot root infusion can be prepared by infusing a teaspoonful of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes, once this is done strain and use undiluted. This infusion can be drunk three times a day for the treatment of various conditions. Another infusion made by putting a teaspoonful of the seeds in a cup of boiling water and leaving for twenty minutes, strain and drink as for the root infusion.

Research in America by the US department of Agriculture ,Agricultural Research Service, have looked at the chemical constituents and their activities.

A medicinal infusion is used in the treatment of various complaints including digestive disorders {soothes the digestive tact}.,kidney and bladder problems. It supports the liver, stimulates the flow of urine and the removal of waste through the kidneys.

It is also regarded as a cleansing herb. An infusion of the leaves has been used to counteract cystitis and kidney stone formation, and to diminish stones that have already formed. The seeds are used for the relief of flatulence and colic.

It is advised that pregnant women should avoid carrot infusions. if you are trying a herb for the first time , only take a little to test your body tolerance.

As previously mentioned, and I make no apologies for repeating, correct identification is essential when using members of this group of plants for medicinal or culinary purposes. and especially so for internal use. There are other members of this family which are very poisonous, and look very similar to the untrained eye. An example of this is Fool's parsley. Aethusa cynapium. If there is any doubt do not use for medicinal or culinary preparations.

Cultivated carrots

Source

A little fun with carrot which makes a good winter display.

This advise comes from the book Familiar Wild Flowers. 1887. " If one should rescue just the head of a carrot, before the cook consigns it to the rubbish heap;and then place in a small saucer of water, in a short time, it will throw up a very graceful and delicate tuft of leaves. We have seen very pretty winter ornaments made by suspending these carrot heads in damp moss. All that is necessary is to slice the top off a carrot, say half an inch deep and then keep it moist."

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6 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

aviannovice,

Hi Deb, this family can be tricky to identify however, there are more beneficial members than poisonous ones, but your are right one needs to be very careful. However, with a little practice in the field, they are not as difficult as you might think to identify. Thank you for your kind and appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

It appears that one must be an herbalist to effectively use this family in the correct way. This was an especially good piece, highlighting all the good and bad points.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

DDE,

Hi Devika, thank you also for your kind and encouraging comments my friend, and for your vote up, and for your loyal follow all of which mean so much . Best wishes to you.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Interesting about this kind of carrot and have not heard of it. You always share such informative hubs. I find your work interesting and useful, Voted up!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Eiddwen,

hello my friend, thank you I am glad to have been of help. Thank you for your usual encouraging comments and vote up, they are greatly appreciated. Best wishes to you.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

Another great hub full of facts ;you are so talented and I am so glad to learn from you. Here's to many many more. Voting up and wishing you a wonderful day my friend.

Eddy.

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