Tuesday, July 28, 2015

High Summer Royalty

It's the end of July and it's hot and humid and hot! High summer holds the earth firmly in its grasp and, while plump red tomatoes dangle off their vines like chandeliers and frilly Annabelle hydrangeas show off their curly tresses to the begonias languishing in the shade,  high summer also extends far beyond the vibrant borders of the well-tended garden.  Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) holds court in the hillsides, meadows and along the dusty roads.  Her footman, chicory, (Cichorium intybus) seems to be always at her side, helping to lead the parade of hot weather wild flowers and sublime weeds.

Her lacey majesty, "the queen" also graces hedgerows and fenceposts and  stands delicately tall and elegantly fragile among her tangled court of long grass and bowing branches ladened down with attending leaves.  Queen Anne seems just as at home in low wet areas as she is in very dry surroundings--well, of course--she's the queen! 

Chicory supplies the sky-blue buttons to her majesty's airy gown, providing just the right amount of warm weather drama capable of capturing the eye of even the most casual of passersby, These two wildings wait with supreme confidence to be plucked and gathered into a bouquet of colorful blossoms and greenery, artfully arranged in a beautiful vase with those of the more gentile sort, like dahlias and zinnias.

Surprising as it seems, neither of these wild beauties are native to North America, travelling here with the Europeans and taking up residency in the late 1600's and early 1700's. Both are edible, while Queen Anne's Lace has often been regarded as a medicinal herb, helping in the aid of digestive disorders, we all know that chicory can be an alternative to coffee. Now, well established into the American countryside, they both seem quite at home, as though they have been here since the beginning of time.

It has been said that Queen Anne's Lace was so named after Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary while another legend holds that she was named for one or the other of the two Queen Annes in the Stuart line of ancient Great Britain as both loved to tat lace.  In either case, this royal wilding was and is also referred to as wild carrot. (Although there really is a wild carrot plant out there and is easily confused  with Q.A.L.) Just pull some Queen Anne's Lace flowers and stems and then notice the smell of fresh carrots and yes, the roots are edible, just like carrots.

On the other hand chicory, sometimes known as the coffee plant, is a member of the sunflower family and each flower on its stiff stem is only open for a day. Yes, it is an edible weedy wildflower and can be roasted and ground as an additive to coffee or used as a coffee substitute for a slightly different taste. Among other things, Thomas Jefferson used this as a cover crop in his fields to feed his livestock, as many a farmer has done over the last couple of hundred of years here in the United States, too.

Both of these regally royal darlings, while beautiful and proud, during high summer until frost, are now considered by many to be terribly invasive so, do be careful should you want to sprinkle a little seed in your own garden beds, for one day you may find yourself having to overthrow this floral monarchy or conduct your own war with the roses!


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