If I were forced to choose only one plant family to rely on for food and flavour it would be the carrot family.
Referred to more scientifically as the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, this family includes more than 3,700 species worldwide. Parsley or celery are also widely used as labels, but I prefer carrot family to reflect its best known cultivated member in the average western kitchen. Anyone with a culinary or horticultural leaning might also recognise parsley, celery and dill as members of the same broad church. Botanists and adventurous foragers will know lots more – over 70 species are native to the UK or have made their home here.
To non-botanists, the key characteristics of the family are umbels of pale (usually white) flowers and multiply divided leaves. Many have pungent aromatics, though these can vary widely from species to species. Anise, dill, parsley, fennel and caraway are some of the better known flavour profiles, but there are richer, deeper flavours than these, often with bitter components that make them particularly appealing in the drinks world.
Angelica is a core ingredient in The Botanist, offering musky, herbaceous bass notes and fresh, peppery top notes. It is almost certainly one of the “mystery ingredients” in Benedictine, Chartreuse and many amaros. Traditionally the root is used but I’ve had great success infusing the seeds and leaves into tinctures. Less fashionable members of the carrot family have produced some superb ingredients and finished drinks, and we look forward to sharing them with you on The Botanist website.
The rewards of the carrot family to the forager-gastronome are huge, but the risks are also significant. Several highly toxic species are native to the UK. Of these, two in particular represent the greatest hazzard on account of their wide distribution, virulent toxicitiy and similarity to edible species. They are hemlock (Conium maculatum) and hemlock water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata).