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Cow Parsley

Anthriscus sylvestris

How to spot it

Frothy and lacy, Cow Parsley is a wildflower which grows in abundance along country lanes in summer. It is the earliest flowering member of the carrot family. Its tripinnate leaves are fern-like with pointed leaflets and seeds are oblong, beaked and smooth. Its stems are hollow and without spots – a good way to distinguish this plant from the similar, but very poisonous Hemlock.

Where to spot it

Cow Parsley is widespread and common throughout the UK. It is often seen on roadsides and near hedgerows and can also be found in woodland edges.

How is it doing?

Cow Parsley is one of the few flowers that benefits from current road verge management since it likes high levels of nutrients (much like nettles). Sadly, this is at the expense of other more delicate species.

Things you might not know

  • Like the closely-related wild carrot, Cow Parsley is also called “Queen Anne’s lace”. Other names are lady’s lace, fairy lace, Spanish lace, kex, kecksie, queque, Mother die, step-mother, Grandpa’s pepper, hedge parsley, badman’s oatmeal and rabbit meat.
  • It is related to parsley as well as the carrot.
  • The rather dismissive English name, Cow Parsley, simply means an inferior version of real parsley. Perhaps this is an appropriate name for this truly vernacular blossom but is not as pretty as Queen Anne’s lace which has never really caught on.
  • Cow Parsley has a rising reputation for being a decorative flower and is widely used in church arrangements on account of its sprays working well in a vase and the shape and blossom lasting over a week.
  • It can be confused with hemlock (which is poisonous) and hogweed (sap burns in sunlight), so if handling, caution is advised. Kex and its derivatives are also used to describe hogweed and hemlock.
  • Properly identified, young Cow Parsley leaves can be a fresh and mildly aromatic addition to omelettes and salads. However, the name Mother Die, which implies that your mother will die if you pick the plant, is perhaps a useful reminder to discourage the picking of any umbellifers since edible and toxic species are so similar looking.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum