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Introducing the Cow Parsley

Updated on August 1, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Country Man

When walking or driving along country lanes during May and early summer you will encounter the flowers of this plant that adorns countless miles of such localities. They may also be found along ditches and woodland margins. Other quaint country titles for the plant include wild chervil, Queen Ann's Lace and gypsy laces. Our American cousins give the name of Queen Ann's Lace to a close relative of this plant-the wild carrot Daucus carota, with which it must not be confused.

It is another member of the parsley family the Apiaceae which includes household names such as celery, parsley and celery. However, it also includes the very poisonous hemlock. The common name alludes to it being an inferior plant to the true parsley ie. a parsley fit only for cows. Another example of derogatory names associated with flora is the dog rose-an inferior rose-a rose fit only for dogs. Although it flowers every year where it is  established it is an herbacious biennial or short lives perennial.

This is a young cow parsley growing in a woodland clearing.photograph by D.A.L.
This is a young cow parsley growing in a woodland clearing.photograph by D.A.L.
Th e foliage of cow parsley was once sold by Victorian florists. Photograph by D.A.L.
Th e foliage of cow parsley was once sold by Victorian florists. Photograph by D.A.L.

Basic Biology of the Cow Parsley.

Cow parsley is erect in habit. The stems are hollow and gives rise to its species name anthriscus -meaning hollow stemmed. The stems are not spotted. After flowering the main rosette dies back but produces side rosettes which then develop tap roots which in turn develops new plants independent of the parent. The cow parsley spreads in this way where established populations occur. To this species this manner of reproduction is far more utilised than seed germination.

The foliage of the plant are tripinnate in form  {three times divided }, the leaf as a whole has at triangular outline. The leaflets are ovate and sub divided each segment is toothed. The leaves are stalked and where they meet the stem are sheathed a characteristic of this family. The stem leaves are much smaller and short stalked.

The small white flowers are produced in umbels each umbel having 4-15 rays{spokes-like an umbrella} The have a lacy affect . Seeds are produced in copious amounts. They have no apparent dispersal mechanism, other than dropping away when ripe and by any wind which may carry them. Birds may help to disperse some of the seed. They do not float on water. Studies have shown that reproduction from seed occurs, in the main, after the soil has been disturbed. Conversely , the relatively large seed seem capable of germinating in established grassland with minimal disturbance.

Cow parsley in flower is an attractive plant. photograph courtesy of Rasbak
Cow parsley in flower is an attractive plant. photograph courtesy of Rasbak

Cow Parsley and Its Uses.

The leaves have been eaten in times of hardship, but it is not recommended today. Because it can be mistaken for similar looking very poisonous species such as hemlock and fool's parsley with unpleasant results.

The foliage was once sold in Victorian florists their ferny like leaves popular in those times along with ferns which also enjoyed a great popularity at that time. The foliage and flowers do last in water and make a good contribution to a vase of country flowers. This ferny foliage and small white flowers gave the plant its country title of Queen Ann's Lace. Cow parsley should be enjoyed for what it is - a floral extravaganza along our road sides and way sides.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Create Squidoo, thank you for your visit and for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.

    • CreateSquidoo profile image


      7 years ago

      Oh I see this plant in my uncle's garden, Thanks for this hub, at least I know what's the name and what's the use of it. Thanks D.A.L!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darlene, my friend you got here at last. Ha Ha, seriously thank you for reading and for being so kind.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      I don't know how I missed this, but I thought, I had read all your hubs, so as I am deleting things I have saved to read later, I come across my good friends hub, shame on me I say, how did this get away. I love your hubs as I always say, and I hope the cows are not fooled today. Thumbs up your fan and friend.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Sally,cow parsley is indeed Anthriscus sylvestris. You are so right about a local guide being the best way to distinguish the species from each other, especially so with this particular family of plants. Thank you for reading and for leaving your kind comments.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I enjoyed this Hub very much for both its comprehensive text and its marvelous illustration and photographs.

      Your words and Dolores's comment highlight a common problem: the same wild plant may be called different things in different places, or a common name may exist in two different places but refer to two different plants, all of which can lead to confusion, at the least, and to risk to health, at the worst.

      Yes, our American Queen Ann's Lace is Daucus carota; is your Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris? What we call (Giant) Cow Parsley here is Heracleum mantegazzianum (which, as you know, is also called Giant Hogweed).

      The best advice I ever heard for someone who wants to forage in the wild is to learn from a local expert.

      Thumbs up!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Dolores,Americans associate the name Queen Anne's Lace with the wild carrot Daucus carota, which has the pinkish purple flower in the centre of the umbel.The poisonous hemlock has purple blotches on the stem whereas cow parsley does not. However, this family does cause confusion and should be treated with respect. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Very beautiful, DAL. But I am wondering if Americans' Queen Anne's Lace is the same as cow parsley. Queen Anne's Lace forms a more dense group of blooms and has a little dot in the middle. A lot of people here confuse QA'Lace with hemlock and the little dot (like a ladybug) in the center is supposed to be how you tell the one from the other. I look forward to reading more of your plant hubs.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Windy, thank you so much for taking the time to read and for leaving your appreciated comment.

      itakins, thank you, also, for reading and taking the time to comment,appreciated.

    • itakins profile image


      8 years ago from Irl

      I recognise this one,we always call it Queen Anne's lace-and yes,it is quite pretty with a vase of wildflowers.Great information ,as always.

    • VAMPGYRL420 profile image

      Windy Grace Mason 

      8 years ago from Belle Haven, VA

      I love Queen Anne's Lace; but I never knew so much about it. I used to pick it as a little girl when my great-grandmother, Drucilla, educated me on the names for the many wild plants that grew on our farm :) Thank you so much for sharing this Hub :) You have brought an early smile to my day :)I have shared this with my many Facebook friends :) Much love, Windy Grace

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      msorensson. thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

    • msorensson profile image


      8 years ago, I have these in my backyard. Thanks!!


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