The subtle beauty of Cow Parsley


The subtle beauty of Cow Parsley

The delicate white flowers and fernlike leaves of the cow parsley are a familiar sight in early summer, and usually humming with insects. It is a fast-growing plant found throughout the UK, preferring shaded areas, so hedgerows and woodland edges are common places to spot it.

Cow parsley is a native biennial or short-lived perennial. The hollow stem grows to a height of 60–170 cm (24–67 in), branching to umbels of small white flowers. Flowering time is mid spring to early summer.

Its stems are hollow and without spots - a good way to distinguish this plant from the similar, but very poisonous Hemlock.

It is a particularly common sight by the roadside. Cow parsley is considered a nuisance weed in gardens. Its ability to grow rapidly through rhizomes and to produce large quantities of seeds in a single growing season has made it an unpopular arrival in many countries in which it is non-native.

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

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 their shape and structure reflect the delicate lace the Queen and her entourage wore.

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 traditionally been used as mosquito repellent, and now has a rising reputation for being a decorative flower, widely used in church arrangements on account of its sprays working well in a vase, and the blossom lasting over a week.

Further reading

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