Stalking the Wild Carrot

Deadly toxic poison hemlock or delicious wild carrots?

Wild carrot roots.  They are white and rarely larger than a finger, and softer than domestic carrots, but with an intense carrot fragrance.

Wild carrot roots. They are white and rarely larger than a finger, and softer than domestic carrots, but with an intense carrot fragrance.

Wild carrots in Nova Scotia are common as the quintessential weed. The best part of the wild carrot is actually the blossom shoot, but the roots (shown above) are good, as well, though tough due to the demands of growing in the wild–they must be much tougher than domesticated carrot roots.

Wild carrots are nearly always white. If you find in your area what you think is a wild carrot but it’s another color, you may have some local variant, and I’d be willing to bet it’s a garden variety that escaped, or it’s not really a wild carrot at all.  You can always confirm wild carrot but it’s strong carrot fragrance and a number of other distinguishing characteristics.

wild carrot blossom

Wild carrot blossom clusters, also known as baby’s breath.

Wild carrot is more commonly known as baby’s breath.

wild carrot

Wild carrot with distinctive carrot leaves, before it sprouts a seed stalk or blossoms. By the way, with wild carrots, the tender, young seed stalk is even tastier than the root.

I like to cite wild carrot as a foraging food because there are many myths about foraging, and one of the most prevalent is wild carrots can easily be confused with poison hemlock. That myth was created in the 80’s due to a proliferation of novice-written copycat books on foraging following the success of “Stalking the Wild Asparagus”. You had a lot of people who knew virtually nothing about foraging writing books about it, and basically referencing one another, thus building on each other’s misconceptions.

Distinctive multi-faceted, convex clusters of poison hemlock blossoms.  Not the leaves are also nothing like wild carrot.  And the stems are hollow and unchanneled.  Cut the plant open and it smells sickly.

Distinctive multi-faceted, convex clusters of poison hemlock blossoms. Not the leaves are also nothing like wild carrot. And the stems are hollow and unchanneled. Cut the plant open and it smells sickly.

In reality, wild carrots are so different from poison hemlock as to be virtually unmistakable. You would have to be blind, have no sense of touch and no sense of smell to mistake them. Wild carrots are small, tender, solid stemed, channeled, smell very, very carroty, have distinctive carrot leaves, and have clusters of beautiful little white blossoms in bird’s nest conformation. If you’ve ever grown carrots in your garden, you’ll know this plant on sight.  Wild carrot rarely grows much more than two feet tall.

Poison hemlock is large (as much as six feet tall around here), tough, hollow stemmed, unchanneled, smells sickly, has distinctly different, tripart leaves, and has thick convex, multi-faceted clusters of white blossoms.  It is, in my opinion, not even close to a look-alike for wild carrot.

2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Stalking the Wild Carrot

  1. Maya Goodrich

    Thanks for the comforting differentiation…might be abit late, as frost is already happening up here in La Bostonnais, QC., but will seek them out on my friday hike…lots to do still with harvest time coming to a close.

  2. It’s too late to harvest anything but the roots at this time. The stalks have long since gone to seed, and though wild carrots are genetically indistinguishable from domestic carrots, their tender young seed stalks are by far the best part. Though if you can find some wild ones growing in friable ground, you may get some nice carrots.

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