Cow parsley – identification, edibility and distribution

 

Cow parsley AKA Wild chervil, Queen Anne’s Lace – Anthriscus sylvestris

  • Edibility – 3
  • Identification – 1 – Take extreme care if you intend to eat cow parsley. It is a member of the carrot family, many of which share similar umbeliferous white inflorescences and several times pinnate leaves. This includes deadly species such as hemlock and hemlock water-dropwort, which can grow alongside it. Always confirm your identification against several key features and discard if you are not 100% of what you have. Read more: Know Your Carrots!
  • Distribution – 5
  • Season – basal leaves best Jan – May
  • Habitat – roadside verges, wood edges, river banks, meadows

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Cow parsley is the predominant roadside plant from March through to June, when its delicate, nodding white flowers adorn nearly every rural roadside in the country – hence the old name of Queen Anne’s Lace. By the time they have flowered however, the leaves are past their best for eating. It takes a lot of skill and experience to be sure of identification from basal leaves alone. I recommend familiarising yourself with a nearby patch through at least one full growing season before even thinking of eating any. Even then proceed with extreme care, as the leaves are very similar to hemlock. The flavour is as you may expect, like common cultivated parsley.

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