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The Carrot

The Netherlands is known for their bulbs, flowers, veggies such as onion, beets, endive, spinach, parsley, carrots.. but are they responsible for the ORANGE carrot? Hmmmm… let’s look further.

The Carrot originated in Central Asia & can be grouped into two broad classes, eastern carrots and western carrots. “Eastern" carrots that survive to the present day are commonly purple or yellow, and often have branched roots. The purple color common in these carrots comes from anthocyanin pigments.

Carrots were first grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds rather than their roots. Carrot seeds have been found in Switzerland and Southern Germany dating back to 2000–3000 BC. Some close relatives of the carrot are still grown for their leaves and seeds, such as parsley, cilantro, coriander, fennel, anise, dill and cumin. The first mention of the root in classical sources is from the 1st century AD; the Romans ate a root vegetable which may have been either the carrot or the closely related parsnip. In a 6th-century Constantinopolitan copy of the Greek physician Dioscorides' 1st-century pharmacopoeia of herbs and medicines & the illustrations depicted roots in purple.

The plant was introduced into Spain by the Moors in the 8th century. In the 10th century, roots from West Asia, India and Europe were purple. They were still described as both red and yellow through the 11th century, entered China in the 12th century, and Japan in the 16th century.

There are many claims that Dutch growers created orange carrots to honor the Dutch flag at the time of William of Orange. Carrots were white, purple, black, yellow and red but William III wanted to help Dutch gain independence from Spain in the 17th century so the Dutch farmers did this as tribute to the “House of Orange” and it stuck. The orange color results from abundant carotenes & the “Western” carrot emerged in the Netherlands. Other authorities argue these claims lack convincing evidence. European settlers introduced the modern carrot to colonial America in the 17th century.

The carrot family includes many flowers of similar appearance - The Apiaceae/Umbelliferae family (of 3700 different species) which basically is just an aromatic plant with umbrella shaped flowers. Some of my favorite wildflowers are part of this family including Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota) or the dara flowering carrot which is just like her white petalled relative, only she brings soft pink to rich rose-purple shades and is so lovely. Wildflowers always remind me of sunny walks with the women in my life, the Queen Anne’s Lace in particular of my Grandmother. She loved telling me the story of how the flower received its name. As legend goes: Queen Anne of England (1665-1714) pricked her finger with her needle, and a drop of her blood fell onto the lace. It is said that the tiny purple-red flower in the center of the “lace” represents the droplet of her blood.

Eating wild carrot root is reminiscent of a regular carrot, but you may find the wild carrot root to be a bit more of a woody experience, especially if the plant is over a year old. To enjoy consuming Queen Anne’s lace, it should only be harvested during fall or early winter. During this time, large quantities of starch will be stored in the root in preparation for growth and flowering the following year. To harvest a wild carrot, look for an individual plant with no flower and dig it up by the root. It is worth mentioning here that a notoriously poisonous plant, the Poison Hemlock, looks similar to the wild carrot, so make sure to properly identify the plant before consuming it. The easiest way is to look for that tiny purple-red flower at the center, then you know it’s safe.

Now back to carrots. Carrots benefit from strongly scented companion plants. The pungent odor of onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly, and other vegetables that team well with carrots include lettuce, tomatoes and radishes, as well as the herbs rosemary and sage. Carrots thrive in the presence of caraway, coriander, chamomile & marigold. They can also be good companions for other plants; if left to flower, the carrot, like any umbellifer, attracts predatory wasps that kill many garden pests.

Did you have carrots growing in your garden this year? What sorts of companion plants did you grow alongside them? We recently harvested our carrots and Jay made a delicious ‘Spicy Rabbit Hot Sauce’ with cayenne pepper and carrot (which we sold out of) for the Farmer’s Market & I also use carrot puree in my 'little wabbit carrot' cold process soap. It's one of my best sellers. What’s your favorite carrot dish? Do you enjoy the stories about how things came to be as much as I do? Jay also made us a carrot cake the morning of our wedding so it’s safe to say I love the carrot in any color & I have a huge wildflower tattoo with the Queen Anne’s Lace included in the arrangement as tribute to my Grandmother. This plant family is forever a part of me.

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