Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

A common species this plant can grow to 1m tall and often covers roadside verges with white umbel flowers during the spring and summer.

Common name: cow parsley, Queen Anne's lace, Mother die

Scientific name: Anthriscus sylvestris
Family: Apiaceae

What does cow parsley look like?

Leaves: strongly divided in shape, with an alternate leaf arrangement.

Flowers: umbels, around six centimetres in diameter. White in colour.

Not to be confused with...

Fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium): this species can be distinguished from cow parsley by the bracteoles that are found underneath the flower head.

Upright hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica): this species flowers later than cow parsley, from around July to September, and is smaller in size. The umbels are only around four centimetres wide, compared to the six centimetres wide cow parsley umbels.

Hemlock (Conium maculatum): the leaves of this plant are similar to those of cow parsley but the stem has purple spotted markings on and the plant itself is much bigger, able to grow to around two metres. Careful - this species is poisonous.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota): at a distance wild carrot may look like cow parsley but the umbel of wild carrot is made up of many florets, frequently with a purple one in the middle.

Where and when to find cow parsley

Where: roadside verges, grassland, farmland, woodland edges and alongside hedgerows.

When: a perennial which flowers from April to June.

Value to wildlife

Cow parsley is important for a variety of insect life including bees and hoverflies. They are also a food plant for the moth Agonopterix heracliana.

Uses and folklore

Medicine: 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.

Poetry: a common plant, it has been mentioned in various poems such as ‘The Road to Haworth Moor’ by Barry Tebb and ‘Silent Noon’ by Christina Rossetti.

Etymology: Cow parsley is sometimes known as Queen Anne's lace. There are many stories to explain the origins of this name. Some say as Queen Anne traveled the countryside in May the roadsides had been decorated for her. Others claim that Queen Anne suffered from asthma and would walk in the countryside for fresh air. The lace pillows that her ladies carried resembled the delicate cow parsley flowers so the country-folk renamed the plant.

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