every summer we see a succession of umbellifers in the hedgerows, from May to October. they are members of the carrot family; if you let your garden carrots run to seed you will see the resemblance.

but first there is that green giant, alexanders, smyrnium olustratum, which is a coastal plant that comes from Macedonia, like its namesake; we do have it in Bale, being just five miles from the coast. it is edible, and like ground elder, was brought here as a vegetable by the Romans. horses love it, which can be embarrassing when a beginner is not able to extract their horse’s head from the hedge in April.

alexanders

however, the first true carrot on the scene is cow parsley, anthriscus sylvestris, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, for its frothy white flowers which erupt out of the hedgerows in May.

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the most constant is good old hogweed, heracleum sphondylium, dominating the hedgerows from early June to October with its tall hairy stems, great curling lobed leaves and plate-like multiple branched flowers, dark pink, or creamy white. galloway wild foods rates the young shoots and the seeds as one of the most delicious of wild foods in the UK.

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however the recommendation comes with the caveat that this family, the carrot, has several poisonous members with which hogweed must not be confused. Hemlock is the most famous, conium maculatum, in verges, by streams and on waste ground from May to July, it is fortunately easy to identify, with its hairless purple blotched stems and finely divided leaves. every part of this plant, but the seeds in the greatest concentration, contains coniine, an alkaloid that paralyses the respiratory system. (Death can be prevented by artificial ventilation until the effects have worn off 48–72 hours later).

hemlock

I filched this image from wikipedia, as I have never recognised and photographed the plant.

fool’s parsley, Aethusa cynapium, another member of the carrots (Apiaceae) contains the same alkaloid, though with less concentration. it is common everywhere, flowering in July and August. it is easily distinguished from all the other carrots by the long streamer-like green triple bracts which hang from under the umbrella shaped flower heads. it is common in gardens in central europe and can easily be confused with parsley if it grows in a herb garden. apparently it smells rather unpleasant, unlike the real thing.

foolsparsleyflower

back to more cheerful local plants, after cow parsley, hedges and woods are full of the daintier rough chervil, chaerophyllum temulentum. this also has purplish and spotted stems, but they are hairy, unlike hemlock.

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then there is the rather elegant upright hedge parsley, torilis japonica, with tall attenuated stems and pinkish flowers, in July and August.

uprighthedgeparsley

and wild carrot, daucus carota, which flowers on my finca in Spain in May, and makes beautiful dried flower displays, enormous, theatrical things that I plonk into large galvanised buckets and constantly bump into. in my garden they flower quite late, in August and September. they have a dense flower head, more like an oriental sunshade than an umbrella, with one dark red flower in the very centre, and when they are seeding they have a tendency to curl up into an elegant bird nest shape.

wildcarrot

their root is not very edible, unlike the pignut, conopodium majus, which I have not seen. this flowers in may and june, has smooth stems, finely divided leaves more like fennel, and is not as tall as most of the other carrots, growing to a maximum of 50 cm. it has swollen brown tubers which have a pleasantly nutty flavour, cooked or raw, according to my wild flower book. you can find a lot more information on foraging for this plant here  on Paul Kirtley’s blog.

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outside my gate there is a magnificent specimen of hogweed, all denticulate leaves and big hairy stems

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I had to cut one leaf off so that I could get in the gate. sadly now a neat and tidy neighbour has rather officiously cut it right down to the ground.

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and its statuesque stems say norfolk summer hedgerows to me.

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giant hogweed, heracleum mantegazzianum, is not a native plant, it comes from the Caucasus and central Asia. introduced as an ornamental in the nineteenth century, it has spread to much of Northern Europe, the US, and Canada. very nasty, phototoxic – contact causes lesions and blisters, and in the eyes, blindness. I can’t remember seeing it in the wild, except in my school, in the sixties, we had a dried stem and seed head in the Art Room!