Beneficial Weed…

No, no—not that kind! Now that I have your attention, let me introduce to you this beautiful plant. It grows 3-4 feet tall with clusters of tiny white flowers grouped in umbels. (What a fun word to say aloud! – I bet you just did too, didn’t you?) This tall plant grows in arid poor soil and is famous for growing in ditches, along roadsides and in pastures. As a child, I remember my Mom picking the flowers and bringing them in the house to show us how they magically changed color when she put them in water and placed them on the table. It always amazed me how this worked. Eventually she let us in on her secret of adding food coloring to the water and then she would let us pick our own and dye them whatever color we wanted. This simple act of picking a wild flower and adding it to the kitchen table was one of the first “science experiments” that captivated me. It made me want to try “dying” other flowers and through trial and error figure out that this weed was certainly special. My Mom was a genius! She let us discover the magic of the umbels turning colors and smell the sweet leaves and roots when they were crushed, but I must say that the fascination with that plant never really ended. Every time I see the umbels swaying in the wind, it brings back sweet childhood memories.
How often do kids these days have these simple experiences, experiences that might open a child’s eyes to science, botany, insect behavior and ecosystems? How often do we overlook the very minute part of science to get to the “BIG PICTURE”? We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but we were rich because we were surrounded by nature. We were allowed to explore and play in our backyards and parks. We were casually shown different plants to eat or avoid and we all sure knew the rhyme, leaves of three—let it be.
But wait —there’s more! This plant has been around for ages, it is native to temperate regions of Europe and Southwest Asia. It has many uses especially to help with ailments of the bladder and kidney. Romans ate the root as a vegetable. It is only second to beets in the amount of sugar it contains in the root vegetable group. It was used as a sweetener by Irish, Hindus and Jewish cultures in puddings and other foods. In North America this was boiled into wines and used to sweeten coffee.
Some added the dried seeds to foods to help prevent flatulence. (Boy I know some people that could sure use a dose of that!) The dried seeds were also eaten as a form of contraceptive. Boiled root made a wonderful tea, new leaves can be added to salad and flower heads were picked battered and fried. Flower heads picked and steeped in water not only made a tea, but add a little lemon juice, sugar and pectin and you have yourself a nice jelly.
If I told you it is also known as Bishop’s lace, bird’s nest and wild carrot, you might know this plant right off. Some might know it better by its Latin name Daucus carota (yes, you just tried pronouncing this out loud too), and you might even have linked this back to the common name of the wild carrot. If you guessed Queen Anne’s lace, then you are right. 20150602_183924
As interpreters, let’s not forget to encourage our audiences to go back to the basics and become familiar with the plants growing all around them. Who knows, they might spark an interest into the field of science, botany and interdependence in nature. Their child might be so fascinated that they will continue research on a plant to find a cure for a strain of flu or one of the many diseases that are out there. Me, I will continue to photograph the insects that visit the umbels and stems while I harvest some of the umbels for my next batch of jelly. And if you have never picked Queen Anne’s lace and put it in dye, pamper yourself and spruce up you dining room with a little fragrance and color. The little flutter of joy it will bring to you, is priceless!

Helena Uber-Wamble

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