Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Queen Anne’s lace

Queen Anne’s (or Ann’s) lace is an alternative name for cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) in the British Isles, and the common name of wild carrot (Daucus carota) in North America.

As Britten and Holland fail to list the name in their Dictionary of English Plant-names (1878-86) it appears that it is a comparatively recent one. The Dictionary includes three ‘Queen Anne’ names:
Queen Anne’s flowers, given to wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in Norfolk.
Queen Anne’s needlework, given to pencilled crane’s-bill (Geranium versicolor) in Northamptonshire, presumably with reference to its whitish petals with their magenta veins.
Queen Anne’s thrissel [thistle], given to musk thistle (Carduus nutans) in Berwickshire.

The delicate white flowers of cow parsley (and wild carrot) resemble lace, but why Queen Anne’s lace, and which Queen Anne?

Grigson suggests that the name might have originally referred to St Mary the Virgin, or her mother, St Anna (or Anne) [1].

It is usually assumed that the Anne referred to in the name is Queen Anne (1665-1714; reigned 1702-14). Although she had many pregnancies, Anne left no surviving children. According to an Essex woman who contributed to P-LA in May 1983:
‘My mother called cow parsley kill-your-mother-quick, and would never allow it in the house – or she would die. Queen Anne’s lace is generally understood to refer to its lace-like appearance, but also her (Queen Anne’s) tragic child losses.’

An article in tgo [The Great Outdoors] of June 2012, states that the name relates to ‘Queen Ann’s practice of travelling in May, when the plant appears, leading folk to believe the roadsides have been decorated especially for her.’

Phillips confuses cow parsley with wild carrot and states that the name Queen Anne’s lace is ‘supposed to be derived from the wife of James I … friends challenged Queen Anne [1574-1619] to create lace as beautiful as a flower. In her attempt to do this she pricked her finger and the purple-red in the centre of the Queen Anne’s lace represents a droplet of her blood’ [2].

The flowers of cow parsley are uniformly pure white, but inflorescences of wild carrot usually have a solitary dark purple flower near the centres. So this legend undoubtedly refers to the latter.

002A North American writer gives a similar legend, but does not identify which Queen Anne is involved: ‘the Queen was making lace when she pricked her finger. The center floret of the flower represents a drop of blood from the Queen’s finger’ [3].

Any other explanations of the name would be appreciated.

1. G. Grigson, The Englishman’s Flora, 1987: 209.
2. S. Phillips, An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth, Legend, Magic & Lore, 2012: 61.
3. L.C. Martin, Wildflower Folklore, 1984: 124.


1. From Bill Blanchard, Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A., July 2019:  ‘My grandson told me that Queen Anne was Anne Boleyn, sometimes pictured with a lace collar, and the red spot indicates where her head used to be.’

2. Fez Inkwright in her Folk Magic and Healing: An unusual History of everyday Plants (2019), provides a variant of the explanation given by Phillips:  ‘Queen Anne was known to be an expert lace maker, and she once challenged the ladies of her court to produce a lace as lovely and intricate as the Daucus.  No one could produce such a thing, not even the queen, who pricked her finger during the attempt, causing a drop of blood to fall to the centre of her lace.  In sympathy, the flower now grows a single dark pink flower in the centre of its umbels’ [RV, February 2020].

Images: main, cow parsley, Brompton Cemetery, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, March 2014; inset, wild carrot inflorescence showing central red flower, Faversham, Kent, July 2015.

Updated 20 May 2021.