Carrots-art - 9/1/16
"Carrots" by Mistress Agnes deLanvallei.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
by Agnes deLanvallei
Carrots Daucus carota, plant family Apiaceae, also called the Umbelliferae, are native to Eurasia. The literature is confusing to read. I think that is because the cultivated carrot and the wild carrot are both found throughout the world now and because the differences between weeds and crop plants are not popularly appreciated.
Carrots began as wild species and, in addition, all over the world have escaped from cultivation to become weeds. While both the weeds and the cultivated plant are considered the same species, Daucus carota, by botanists, there are numerous differences between the two. In particular, to survive as weeds, carrots tend to lose their fat roots, so that wild carrot roots are unattractive as vegetables (thin and fibrous). The ancestors of the cultivated carrot (and the wild relatives still living in Eurasia) likewise had thin, fibrous roots, sometimes white, probably also other colors.
The early northern Europeans used carrots as medicinal plants. Pollington (2000)* says the word in old English was often more, a generic word for root vegetables, and quotes Bierbaumer as saying englisc moru 'English root,' referred to carrots and wylisc moru, 'Welsh (foreign) root' to (wild) parsnips. Hunt (1989) lists a variety of words for wild carrots, mainly from after 1300, many of them incorporating some version of daucus.
Throughout the Medieval writings, carrots are confused with parsnips. Today (since Linneaus created scientific names), carrots are Daucus carota and parsnips Pastinaca sativa. Fuchs in 1542 described red and yellow garden carrots and wild carrots, but names them all Pastinaca (Meyer Trueblood and Heller1999). Gerard (1633) likewise uses the name carrot, but calls it Pastinaca in Latin: Pastinaca sativa var. tenuifolia, the yellow carrot and Pastinaca sativa atro-rubens, the red carrot. Gerard distinguishes parsnips from carrots and calling the parsnip Pastinaca latifolia sativa and P. latifolia sylvestris. Gerard notes the name similarity and is dissatisfied with it. He gives daucus as a name for carrot in Galen, but notes that many Roman writers called it pastinaca or other names. I don't think the plants were confused particularly, but since we have in many cases only the written word, if the medieval writer called his plants "pastinaca", it's impossible to know if it was carrots or parsnips.
Both modern and medieval sources distinguished wild and cultivated carrots. Medicinal writers say more about wild carrots than cultivated carrots (examples: Culpeper online, Gerard 1599 online). Wild carrots were also called bees' nest, Pastinaca sylvestris tenuifolia, daucus or bastard parsley in the late Medieval literature and are known as Queen Ann's lace in North America.
Cultivated carrots have a complex history. Apparently carrots were grown by the Greeks and Romans but not used very widely (Kiple and Ornelas, 2000). Wilson (1973) says the Romans brought garden carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes and possibly skirrets to England, but the only source she quotes is Pliny. If this is accurate, these plants were little different from wild carrots.
The familiar cultivated carrot is believed to have originated in Afghanistan as a plant with purple-colored roots ((Small 1978, Vaughan and Geissler 1997). This "eastern" type carrot had purple to yellow or yellowish orange roots due to anthocyanin present, and usually branched roots (Vaughan and Geissler 1997, Kiple and Ornelas, 2000). They looked very much like thin beets (Kiple and Ornelas 2000).
Carrot cultivation spread both west and east. Carrots reached Asia Minor in the 10th or 11th centuries, Moorish Spain in the 12th century, and continental northwestern Europe in the 14th century (Vaughan and Geissler 1997). Vaughan and Geissler (1997) and Mabey (1577) say carrots arrived in England in the 15th century, so perhaps there was minor cultivation in England before Elizabeth's time. Grieve asserts that carrots were introduced to England by Flemings who took refuge from the persecutions of Philip II of Spain in the reign of Elizabeth I (Grieve 1931). The new vegetable was a hit, and spread quickly across England (Grieve 1931, Riggs 1995).
Carrots reached China in the 14th century and Japan in the 17th (Vaughan and Geissler 1997). Carrots were taken to Virginia in 1609 (Riggs 1995).
The carrots of north and west Europe up through the 16th century were all purple (called "red" by 16th century authors) or yellow, with long roots (Gerard 1633, Meyer, Trueblood and Heller 1999,Vaughan and Geissler 1997, Kiple and Ornelas, 2000). Platina (Milham 1998) writing before 1468 from Italy describes carrot (cariota) in Book IV #16, distinguishing it from parsnip (pastinaca) and noting that "doctors say the parsnip is white while carrot is red or almost black." (page 227). Gerard (1633) says one carrot has a long thick single root, of fair yellow color, pleasant to be eaten and very sweet to taste while the other kind differs only in the color of the root, which is not yellow but blackish red. Cooks preferred yellow rooted carrots because purple pigment (anthocyanin) was released into the soup or stew, adding an undesirable color (Vaughan and Geissler 1997). Thus yellow carrots gradually replaced red ones during the 16th century (Kiple and Ornelas 2000). In the seventeenth century carrots were developed in the Netherlands that lacked anthocyanin, taking their orange color from carotene. First Long Orange, then Horn carrots, then other orange carrots. Some of the varieties were yellow or white but these were less popular. From these Dutch varieties came all our modern ("western") carrots (Vaughan and Geissler 1997, Kiple and Ornelas, 2000).
Thus, wild carrots have been present and used by Europeans since prehistoric times, but the garden carrot was unknown in Europe until the late Middle Ages.
WARNING: Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a similar looking and related plant growing as a roadside weed in the United States. (photos of poison hemlock, map of its distribution: plants.usda.gov http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=COMA2 Poison hemlock is quite poisonous and so making a mistake gathering wild carrots could be fatal. Growing your own rather than gathering is much safer.
(*My citations are intrusive but I'm quoting secondary academic works and want to be clear where the statements come from.)
Gerard, John. The Herbal or General history of plants. Complete 1633 edition as revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson. Dover Publications, Inc. New York.
Grieve, Mrs. M. 1971. A modern herbal. Originally 1931. Dover Publications, New York.
Hunt, T. 1989. Plant names of Medieval England. D.S. Brewer, Publishers. Suffolk, UK.
Kiple, K. F. and K. C. Ornelas, 2000 The Cambridge world history of food. Cambridge U. Press, Cambridge UK.
Mabey, Richard editor. 1987. The Gardener's Labyrinth by Thomas Hill. (originally 1577) Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Meyer, F. G., E.E. Trueblood and J. L. Heller, editors. 1999. The Great Herbal of Leonard Fuchs. 1542 edition. Stanford University Press, Palo Alto. CA.
Milham, M. E. ed, translator. 1998. Platina. On right pleasure and good health. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. Tempe, AZ.
Pollington, S. 2000. Leechcraft. Early English charms, plant lore and healing. Anglo-Saxon Books, Norfolk, England.
Riggs, T.J. 1995 Carrot. Daucus carota Umbelliferae) in The origin of crop plants. J. Smartt and N. W.Simmonds eds. 2nd ed. Longman Scientific and Technical Publishers, New York. pp. 477-480
Vaughan, J. G. and C. Geissler 1997. The new Oxford book of food plants. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Wilson, C. A. 1977. Food and drink in Britain. From the Stone Age to the 19th Century. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago.
Copyright 2009 by Holly Howarth. <sablegreyhound at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.