COW PARSLEY (Anthriscus sylvaticus)

Cow parsley lining the Magpie Road on the entrance to the village.
(Photo: Peter Mackness)

Cow parsley is one of a large family of umbellifers, that is, plants of which the flower-clusters consist of a variable number of small flowers, all on stalks of more or less equal length, forming heads like flattish umbrellas. Other members of this family include such familiar plants as carrot, hogweed, angelica, meadowsweet, ground elder and parsley.

There are probably few more cheering sights in spring than that of cow parsley, in May, lining nearly every country road with its froth of white flowers. It is a tough perennial, up 3 or 4 feet tall, which can quickly colonise any part-shady area of grassland, including parts of our Pocket Park. The tiny flowers each have five petals. The feathery mid-green leaves, when young, may be added to salads, but beware ! – not all umbellifers are edible, so be sure to identify correctly.

The commonest English name, cow parsley, is, one assumes, a reference to its superficial resemblance to culinary parsley. The origin of its more dignified name, Queen Anne’s lace, is uncertain. It is also sometimes known as ‘mother die’, a warning not to pick the plant. In this part of England, however, it is more commonly referred to simply as kek.

Text by George Metcalfe. Photos by Peter Mackness and Colin Wootton.