Ranks of Queen Anne’s Lace have taken over the wildflower field this year — tall, pale, and lithe as ballerinas. This August’s endless rains have brought them to their knees time after time, but by morning they’ve sprung up again — seemingly taller and stronger than ever. Despite the royal title, Queen Anne’s Lace has quite humble origins: it’s actually wild carrot and considered to be edible in its first year of life. Like many wildflowers, it possesses a litany of uses. The Romans ate it as a vegetable and the American Colonists boiled the taproots to make wine. Its sugar content is second only to that of the beet among root vegetables, and it’s been employed as a sweetener in various cultures around the world.
Who was Queen Anne? That’s a matter of some debate. One story claims she was the wife of King James the First of Britain and was known for her needlework. The pinpoint of purply red at the center of each white flower is said to represent the droplet of blood left by the queen when she pricked herself making lace. Another, darker tale, relayed in a recent article in the Berkshire Eagle, identified her as Queen Anne II (1665- 1714), the last of the Stuart monarchs. Over the course of 16 years, this queen was pregnant 17 times, with only one child surviving to the age of 11. Ironic then that the seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace are purported to have contraceptive powers and were used in ancient times to prevent pregnancies. But tug on just about any wildflower and you’ll discover a fascinating tangle of magical properties and old wives’ tales.
by Reginald Gibbons
Coleridge carefully wrote down a whole page
of them, all beginning with the letter b.
Guidebooks preserve our knowledge
of their hues and shapes, their breeding.
Many poems have made delicate word-chimes—
like wind-chimes not for wind but for the breath of man—
out of their lovely names.
At the edge of the prairie in a cabin
when thunder comes closer to thump the roof hard
a few of them—in a corner, brittle in a dry jar
where a woman’s thoughtful hand left them to fade—
seem to blow with the announcing winds outside
as the rain begins to fall on all their supple kin
of all colors, under a sky of one color, or none.