I guess you’ll have recognised this flower straight away – and maybe you call it by its other common name, cow parsley. I prefer the lace one as I feel it fits the beautifully delicate and intricate flowers so well.
What is surprising is the large number of other common names it’s had over the centuries: fairy lace and spanish lace are understandable, kecksie and Grandpa’s pepper seem somewhat odd, but rabbit meat and step-mother are just plain weird! It was also referred to as ‘mother die’ and it’s thought this was to frighten children away from picking it so they didn’t pick the poisonous hemlock by mistake. Hemlock has purple-coloured spots on its stem which is also solid not hollow, otherwise it looks very similar to Queen Anne’s lace to the non-expert eye.
Queen Anne’s lace is related to carrot, celery and parsley – all are members of a family of plants called umbellifers. In past times, if you had stomach or kidney problems, breathing difficulties or a cold, you’d have been given remedies containing Queen Anne’s lace as an ingredient. It’s also been used as an insect repellent but, in seemingly complete contrast, has also been used to sweeten puddings and other foods as its tap root contains a lot of natural sugar. Crush the leaves between your fingers, and the fragrance of aniseed hits the nostrils.
It’s easy to dismiss this plant as unremarkable simply because it’s so common and grows everywhere from roadside verges and edges of playing fields to gardens and nature reserves. But it has great wildlife value as it feeds so many insects thanks to the large number of flowers on each plant and its sheer abundance.
And when you see a long swathe of it flowering during May alongside a road, looking like the frothy crest of a wave about to crash down onto the passing cars, how can your heart not be gladdened by the sight of it?