The Carrot Family

IN

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).

Hemlock v Cow parsley. Careful now!

Nobody should consider eating any wild-harvested members of the carrot family unless they can differentiate these species with 100% certainty.

This confidence can be gained only by observing the living plants on a regular basis throughout the year, noting the development of multiple features such as leaf structure, flower formation and seed shape. Flicking through a reference book or looking at a few images online is not sufficient. Every year I run “Confidence With Carrots” courses for already experienced herbalists, foragers and wild mixologists.

With that in mind, I’d love to tell you lots more about some hugely rewarding apeaceae. Check out the following list of common and not-so-common carrot family members that work extremely well in aromatised wines, schnapps and bitters – including my (in)famous 9 Carrot Bitters. (As I write, work is underway on 24 Carrot Bitters!) We’ll be adding links to specific articles on these species and their relevance to foraged mixology over the next few months, with some “masterclass recipes” from Danny Whelan.

  • Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) – A core ingredient in The Botanist
  • Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) – One of The 22 Foraged Islay Botanicals
  • Hogweed (Heracleum sphondyllium) – Thrilling flavour, endless potential in drinks (and food) from all parts. Some safety warnings.
  • Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) – Richly aromatic seeds – with some health warnings!
  • Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) – Super common, yet complex and sophisticated
  • Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) – Hyperabundant “weed”, with inticate celery/anise flavours
  • Spignel (Meum athamanticum) – An aromatic rarity, historically used in snuff
  • Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) – Coastal succulent with deep aromatic oils
  • Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) – Common yet complex, with rich myrrh aromatics
  • Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) – A Scottish speciality, native to Islay
  • Pie Cress (Apium nodiflorum) – More carroty than a carrot. Shares habitat with hemlock water-dropwort…care required!

Dig a little deeper – Mark’s piece ‘Know Your Carrots’ here >

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