COW PARSLEY ( ANTHRISCUS SYLVESTRIS) BENEFITS, USES AND HISTORY:
Cow parsley is a common sight in Britain and grows just about everywhere. It is also known as Queen Anne’s lace, apparently because it flowers in May and this is when she used to travel around the country. It was said that the cow parsley flowered just for her. Cow parsley can be confused with hemlock (and yarrow and sweet cicely), so if you go looking for it (if you live in the UK it won’t take you long to find some) make sure you are looking at the right plant. It is distinguished from Hemlock (Conium maculatum) because it doesn’t have purple blotches on its stems. These are said to be the stains of the blood of Abel, killed by his brother Cain, who wiped the blood from his hands with the hemlock stalks. This is poisonous, but cow parsley is edible, although the seeds are tastier than the leaves which were eaten in times of famine only. The leaves can be eaten raw or used as a herb for flavouring. It is included in this site for information only, so that it is not confused with hemlock or angelica, yarrow or valerian.
In the US Queen Anne’s Lace is the name given to the wild carrot (Daucus carota) but this is just another example of the Brits and Americans not really speaking the same language.
Cow parsley has three or four subspecies and about 15 different varieties. The oil from Anthriscus sylvestris subspecies nemorosa has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. This cow parsley also grows in Tibet, Nepal and Pakistan.
The name Anthriscus comes from a Greek and Latin name for a plant which hasn’t been definitively identified, but which might be cow parsley, as it is native to Europe and western Asia. It was introduced into North America and is now classed as an invasive species in some US states. Pliny writes about Anthriscus in his Natural History written in the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, in which he calls it “some sort of plant”. Clearly it wasn’t a very important one.
Some people say that the name comes from Theophrastus, a successor of Aristotle who was the first to recognize (or at least to write down) that the climate and soil affects plants and how and where they grow. He also noticed how plants germinated and his two books, “Enquiry into Plants” and “On the Causes of Plants” were influential on the study of sciences in Mediaeval times.
Cow parsley is said to get rid of stones and gravel in the gall bladder and kidneys but very little research has been done on the common plant. It has been used by amateur dyers for obtaining a green or yellow dye depending on which mordents are used. However it is not permanent. The most common use for the stalks is for pea-shooters as the stems are hollow, so children love them. The foliage used to be sold by florists in Victorian times and used in flower arrangements.