Wild carrots (Daucus carota) also grow everywhere near my apartment. They are biennial and tasty. They are easy to spot, as they form a large head of white flowers and can grow a few feet tall.
This is a member of the Parsley family (Apiaceae), which includes many common spices such as anise, celery, caraway, dill, fennel, and of course parsley. Warning! This family also includes many plants that are trying to kill you! Read on to find out which ones!
The flowers form on a “compound umbel”, which means umbrellas within umbrellas. The main stalk splits into many smaller stalks like an umbrella. Each smaller stalk splits again, and it’s at the ends of these that flowers appear.
The leaves form in a bi-pinnate or tri-pinnate pattern. See photo three: the area outlined in red is one leaf, connected to a stem. Along the main axis of the leaf, there are lobes or leaflets splayed out on either side. This is called a pinnate leaf. In addition, each leaflet is divided into leafletlets, so it is bi-pinnate.
Before harvesting! Make sure you are very familiar with the following poisonous genuses of the parsley family. These are the ones that want you dead (actually, they want to be left alone, but they will try to kill you if you eat them). All of these have the compound umbel flowers characteristic of the parsley family:
- Berula (creeping water parsnip)
- Cicuta (water hemlock) most poisonous plant in north america!
- Conium (poison hemlock)
- Sanicula (sanicle)
- Sium (water parsnip)
I cannot guarantee that this list is all-inclusive. Please be careful.
Carrots! These definitely are carrots, since I ate some a while ago and I’m fine now (I also identified them first). I found these specimens in a busted up parking lot off 31st street. They were not very deep and easy to pull up. Since D. carota is biennial, I looked for low plants with no flower stalk.
For those who don’t know: biennial plants have a 2-year life cycle. During the first year, they produce stems, leaves, and roots. They spend the whole growing season packing sunlight down into their roots which they mean to use next year. During their second and final year, they use all this stored energy to send up a flower stalk (this is called “bolting”) and produce fertile seeds, which they spread for the next generation. The roots get used up and woody during the second year, so it’s best to harvest the ones that are low, with no flower stalk.
Smell test: carrots!
Taste test: carrots! Chewier than store-bought, with lots of soft fiber and a really mild flavor. The leaves are also edible and very good. It seems to me that the younger plants’ leaves are more zesty and the older ones are more bitter.
Commonly found: roadsides, disturbed soil, parking lot peripheries