Plant Families – Food, Medicine and Poison! Featuring the Umbelliferae (carrot family)

This article was inspired by the common occurrence of wild carrot, aka
Queen Anne’s Lace, lining roadsides at this time. It offers us food and
medicine, and is a great plant to lead us into consideration of poisonous

The system for categorizing living organisms is called Taxonomy. Living
things such as bacteria, plants, mushrooms and animals are grouped into
Kingdoms, and then further organized into smaller groups based on
similarities. Plants and animals are further divided into families, with plants
having family trees similar to ours.

There are approximately 450 plant families worldwide, made up of 385,000
different species. Of these, 17 families produce 80% of our food and
medicinal plants.

Just as members of human families share traits, so to, do the plants
belonging to a particular family. They have botanical features in common in
their appearance and growth patterns, plus they contain the same or similar
molecules, offering food, medicine and potential poisons.

The Umbelliferae family is the easiest to recognize, it includes familiar
plants such as carrots, celery, fennel, parsnips, parsley, angelica, cumin,
lovage, anise, dill, caraway and coriander. It is distinguished by the shape of
the flowers, which look like upside-down umbrellas.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota), aka Queen Anne’s Lace is the ancestor of the
common carrot, it is native to Europe and parts of Asia, it is widely
naturalized around the world, including here in Nova Scotia. It has a broad
white flower, that resembles lace, sitting on top of a tall stem, with feathery
leaves. The flower head folds in on itself in late summer in a bird’s nest
shape, where hundreds of seeds ripen by the end of summer.

The seeds and roots are edible. I like to use the seeds as a spice, with a
flavour similar to cumin. The roots are smaller than garden carrots and are
white, with a strong carrot odour and flavour. I dehydrate and grind them to
add to soup stocks, especially for carrot soup, and as a seasoning for roasted
vegetables and coleslaw.

Medicinally, the seeds can be used for similar purposes as its cousin’s
fennel, cumin and dill – for indigestion, gas, bloating and colic, I like to
chew them for this purpose. The seeds are also good for cough and urinary
disorders. The plant should be avoided during pregnancy due to its uterine
stimulant action.

There are a few famously poisonous cousins to wild carrot – water hemlock,
poison hemlock and giant hogweed. Water hemlock grows here in NS,
usually along streams or ponds. It looks almost identical to wild carrot; the
main differences can be found on the stems and in the smell of the roots.
Poison hemlock is native to Europe, it was the poison used to execute the
ancient philosopher, Socrates.

Giant hogweed shows up here in NS on a regular basis, but doesn’t usually
get a chance to spread due to eradication efforts. As the name suggests, this
plant can grow up to 10 ft tall, and spreads easily by thousands of seeds. The
sap contains compounds called furanocoumarins that are activated by
sunlight, and cause severe burns and blistering to the skin.
Most members of the Umbelliferae family contain varying amounts of
furanocoumarins, so care is needed by sensitive individuals even when
handling plants such as fennel, parsnip and carrots.
This plant family is easy to grow, and will spread through self-seeding, so
unless you want a garden take-over, be sure to trim the flowers before they
go to seed. I learned this with dill this year – now I have lots for pickling!

Join me in my herb garden in Head of Jeddore for a workshop on the
Umbelliferae family. We will harvest and sample several plants, making a
tea, and spice blend, with discussion of their many uses, plus the interesting
history of the poisons among them, with a story to illustrate how they
became poisonous. Thursday, Sept. 8.  REGISTER HERE

how to make flower essences

How to Make Your Own Flower Essences

Summer is the time to make your own flower essences. 

Flower essences are a type of vibrational medicine, akin to homeopathy, in which the healing energy of flowers is captured in a process of dilution, and no flower parts remain in the finished remedy. 

It is easy to make flower essences and they are a wonderful complement to herbal medicine because they address the underlying emotional causes that create problems in the body. Sometimes addressing the emotions can resolve physical symptoms and ailments.

They can work quickly, or take time to clear blockages. Similar to doing a detox cleanse, it is possible that you may initially feel heightened awareness of symptoms as stagnant emotional patterns are unearthed.

Why Use Flower Essences

Flower essences offer a wonderful way to heal and grow because they affect change at a deep emotional level.

They are safe for all ages, and even pets, and the don’t interact with medications. 

There are a couple of popular brands of flower essences available at natural health stores, including Bach and Wild Rose, and Nova Scotian essences produced by Blue Fairie and Star Flower essences.  Globally you will find flower essences produced with local blooms. 

And, it is easy to make your own…

Making Flower Essences

Making the Mother

Float the flowers in pure spring or well water in sunlight for 20 minutes to 3 hours or until more than half the flowers are wilted. Remove the flowers and transfer the liquid to a clean bottle. A small tincture bottle is good, about 50 ml. A funnel would be helpful.

Mix the flower water with an equal amount of brandy or glycerine.

Succus the bottle 100 times to mix them. 

Label as “Mother.”

Notes: Flower essences made with brandy will last decades, glycerine will last about 5 years, and plain water essences will last a few days. Look for or prepare glycerine based essences if you do not consume alcohol. 

Making a Stock Remedy

Fill another small bottle with half water and half brandy. Add 5 drops of the mother. Succus 100 times. Label as “Stock Remedy.”

Making a Treatment Bottle

Combine water and 30% glycerine or brandy. Add 5 drops from the stock bottle. Succus 100 times. Label. 

Keep the Mother and the Stock, and you can make flower essences to last a lifetime (if you have used brandy). Simply make more treatment bottles with the stock, and make more stock from the mother when you run out. 

The treatment bottle is what you will use for the following methods: 

Ways to Use Flower Essences

Take 3-5 drops in the mouth or in water, 3 or more times daily.

Use as a room spray – add 3 to 5 drops to a spray bottle full of water.

Add about 20 drops to a  bath. 

Flower essences can also be added to healing creams or lotions. 

Flowers to Look For

For a brief couple of months, Halifax is bursting with flowers, so don’t delay and make your essences soon. The following flowers can be found here in Halifax, and across much of North America:


Althea spp.

Mallow is for people who feel cut off and isolated, and long for warmth and openness. It’s for you if you have difficulty making friends or committing to relationships. Whether it stems from insecurity, fear or lack of trust, mallow will help you overcome barriers to friendship. 

Horse Chestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum

Do you feel like nothing ever changes? Horse Chestnut helps you stop making the same mistakes over and over.  Rid yourself of unwanted, repetitive thoughts and break out of stagnant patterns.


Anethum graveolens

If you’re busy, stressed, and overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of a full & chaotic life. Dill is particularly good if you’re suffering from overstimulation, will promote relaxation and inner nourishment. 


Bellis perennis

Daisy is the plant for getting your #%@ together! It’s for planning and organizing. Absorb more information and organize it in a meaningful way. It also enhances concentration.


Borago officinalis

Borage is a heart remedy to ease the brokenhearted. It’s good for those suffering grief, loss, sadness, or discouragement and it lifts the spirits and prevents depression. It promotes courage and optimism.

Greater Celandine 

Chelidonium majus

Celandine flower essence enhances communication. It’s good for singers, teachers and lecturers. Celandine assists giving receiving information, and is good for people who are stubborn or opinionated, do not listen, or can’t concentrate. It also helps enhance understanding of information given in dreams. 


Crataegus monogyna, C. oxycanthus

Hawthorn is a renowned heart healer. As a flower essence, it heals broken hearts, opens the heart chakra and enhances expressions of love. It also eases emotional extremes. 

Opium poppy

Papaver somniferum

Poppy flower essence is for escapists who find it hard to face up to the realities of life, and for those fearful of expressing strong emotions such as anger. It gives you the courage to assert yourself, and express your feelings. 


Tilia europea

Linden is another flower essence for the heart. It increases awareness of our connectedness to the rest of humanity, and increases feelings of peace and happiness.


Verbascum thapsus

Mullein provides an inner light to guide us along our path. It helps us to withstand social pressure, and strengthens the moral compass for those who are weak and confused. 


If you’re interested in learning more about flower essences, herbal medicine, and holistic wellness, you’ll love our Holistic Herbal Wellness course. It’s a year-long, seasonal self-care course featuring herbal medicine. We meet one Saturday per month in Halifax or Moncton.