Season of the Seedheads

IN

This is the time of year when plant volume ebbs to reveal some of the architecture of the undergrowth. The umbellifers, members of the carrot family, become especially conspicuous with their long stems and heads of connected constellations of small white flowers then wind-jittery seeds.

There are three extremely common ones, which I have recently learnt to distinguish from one another, lifting them out of my former lazy assumption that they’re all cow parsley… The design of the seeds rewards closer inspection, and they house powerful and subtly different flavours.

Angelica

The aromatic root is one of the core ingredients in our gin, described by forager Mark Williams as a ‘harmoniser’ that adds bass as well as perfume to the mix.

It’s often statuesque in size, the flower spray is a little more domed than the others, they can also be pink-ish. It likes to grow where it has “wet feet”, but so does the deadly Hemlock Water Dropwort; here’s a plea to carefully cross reference your identification with all members of the carrot family. You should have at least three different points of positive ID to triangulate a plant in as a family as risky as apiacaea. [Mark’s article ‘the carrot family’ is a great place to start; or there is a great infographic by Mark here >] The Angelica seeds sit in relatively tight clusters, have flaps going off in three dimensions, and have two distinctive ridges down the back, reminding me of an armadillo. The taste to me is soapy, and like the strong end of some carrots.

Jane mixing B&T's

Wild Carrot – Otherwise known as Queen Anne’s lace

Hogweed

[Read more in this about the multifarious deliciousness of this hyper-abundant but somehow disregarded edible, particularly its furry stems and young leaves, in this Hogweed article.]

Seeds are papery, flat, with a midway line that ends in a sort of kissing lock between the two halves of the disc.

It’s a spicy, bitter, herbal, orange-y flavour with intriguing breadth and length; a hard one to describe, but many a Botanist bartenders’ new favourite discovery for tincturing / flavouring salt / making syrup / baking…

Wild Carrot

Otherwise known as Queen Anne’s lace, [see more in this Daucus carota article from Andrew McFarlane @sourcekitchen] these seeds should be avoided if you are pregnant. Its distinguishing visual features are the way the seedhead pulls inwards to form a ‘birds nest’, the three-forked leaves that peel back from the base of the heads like plumage, and its hairy stem which always makes me recall Ellen Zachos’ aide memoire: ‘The Queen has hairy legs’.

Wild carrot seeds are relatively small and covered in stiff short hairs on all but one smooth side, like little bugs.  The taste is fragrant and, to me, great straight off the plant; citrus peel and kerosene-anise tones with a slightly numbing effect like you get with celery (from the eugenol, apparently). Finding / knowing this one is like the star prize to me; it’s so complex and fruity and refined in comparison with its cultivated cousin the carrot.

The leaves for all three are quite different, if any of the next year’s growth can be found around the feet of the skeletons bearing seeds above.

When I slow down to pull into the distillery carpark, and actually stick the car into reverse because I think I’ve seen a wild carrot seedhead bouncing about in that anonymous verge, on a road that formerly meant next to nothing to me, I wonder, have I started working on The Botanist, or has The Botanist started working on me?

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