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Quick facts

Common names: cow parsley, Queen Anne's lace, mother die, fairy lace, lady’s lace, hedge parsley

Scientific name: Anthriscus sylvestris

Family: Umbellifers

Origin: native

Flowering season: April to June

Habitat: woodland, grassland, urban areas, gardens

What does cow parsley look like?

A short-lived perennial, the cow parsley is tall with sprays of white flowers, and commonly grows on verges.

Leaves: cow parsley leaves are strongly divided in shape, with an alternate leaf arrangement.

Flowers: its flowers are umbels – clusters of flowers with stalks which come from a common centre. Each flower is around six centimetres in diameter and white in colour.

Not to be confused with: fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium), which can be distinguished from cow parsley by the bracteoles (leaf-like structures) that are found underneath the flower head; upright hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica) which flowers later than cow parsley – from around July to September – and is smaller in size; wild carrot (Daucus carota) which at a distance may look like cow parsley but has an umbel that is made up of many florets, frequently with a purple one in the middle; and hemlock (Conium maculatum) which has leaves similar to those of cow parsley but sports a stem spotted with purple markings and is much bigger, growing to around two metres (careful – this species is poisonous).

Cow parsley covering field in Dorset

Credit: Carolyn Jenkins / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to find cow parsley

Cow parsley is a fast-growing plant found throughout the UK. It prefers shaded areas so hedgerows and woodland edges are common places to spot it.

Did you know?

Young leaves of the plant are edible, but as it has so many poisonous relatives, it is best left uneaten!

Value to wildlife

Cow parsley is important for a variety of insects, including bees and hoverflies, as it is an early source of pollen. It is also a food plant for the moth Agonopterix heracliana and a nectar source for orange-tip butterflies.

Mythology and symbolism

The alternative name for cow parsley is Queen Anne’s lace. This harks back to a folk tale that the flowers would bloom for Queen Anne and her ladies in waiting and reflect the delicate lace they wore.

Cow parsley leaves

Credit: Matthew Maran / naturepl.com

Uses of cow parsley

Cow parsley was used in traditional medicines and is said to help treat various ailments, such as stomach and kidney problems, breathing difficulties and colds. It has always been used as mosquito repellent.

Did you know?

Another vernacular name,' Mother die' or 'Mummy die', was used to frighten children into thinking that if they picked cow parsley, their mother would die. This was intended to deter children from potentially picking deadly hemlock.

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