This morning as I began to drive from Atlanta up to Murphy in North Carolina, I can’t say I was exactly looking forward to the nearly three-hour drive. Although it’s beautiful going up I575 and Hwy 5 through north Georgia into the mountains, it can also be mind-numbingly boring if you’re by yourself. Much to my surprise the roadsides and often the median from Atlanta all the way up to just past Blue Ridge where I turn off, were filled to the brim with one of my most favorite flowers – Queen Anne’s Lace. Imagine mile after mile of ethereal white flowers – sometimes looking like snow there were so many of them – sometimes with a wide patch of Black-Eyed Susans intermingled with them. It was simply breath taking! And me without a pair of scissors! Although it may be against the law to cut wildflowers in Georgia - I'll have to look that one up!
Although many refer to Queen Anne's Lace as a noxious weed, I absolutely prefer to call it a wildflower. It is indigenous to Europe but traveled to the United States in the colonial era and has taken a foothold in nearly all the states.
Botanical Name: Daucus carota.
Common Name: Wild carrot. Its subspecies sativa is the common edible carrot.
Physical Characteristics: Daucus carota is a biennial plant with small white flowers that form an umbrella-like head with a hairy stem and leaves that resemble ferns.
Plant Properties: Various parts are used as a diuretic and laxative and for menstrual problems, indigestion, gout, and edema.
Cultivation and Harvest: Daucus thrives in well-drained, alkaline soil in sun or slight shade. The entire plant is harvested in the summer. If using the roots for food, they should be picked when young in the spring. Seeds are gathered in the fall.
There are several legends associated with it. One is that Queen Anne of England pricked her finger while making lace and stained it with blood. This refers to the slight reddish purple hue in the middle of each small floret contained within the flower head. The flower tops retain their lacy appearance when pressed and can be used on greeting cards, scrapbooking and other paper crafts. They make a beautiful addition to a wildflower wedding bouquet but look just as lovely by themselves in a vase. Queen Anne's Lace has many edible parts. The flower tops can be added to salads, made into a jelly or dipped in batter and fried as fritters. The root and seeds can be dried and used as a tea. The roots have a carrot taste and can be used in salads or cooked like a green or vegetable.
Extreme care must be taken in identification, as the plant leaves resemble hemlock. Pregnant women should not eat the roots or seeds of Daucus carota as they can cause uterine contractions. The leaves may also cause skin irritation.
Now, on to the wool. Queen Anne’s Lace may be used to dye wool and gives a beautiful soft yellow/green color to natural wool that has been mordanted. A mordant is a substance used in natural dyeing to fix the coloring matter. For acid dyeing, white vinegar is used to fix the color. In natural dyeing it isn’t necessary as you mordant the wool first.
Aluminum – or alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) is a white powder that is used in deodorants and foot powders and as a soil acidifier for hydrangeas and broad-leaved evergreens. You may order this from a number of places or buy it at your local nursery. The form of alum found in the grocery store and commonly used for pickling is not as strong and although you may use it, it won’t produce the same brightness of color. Alum is used in combination with cream of tartar (potassium acid tartrate). Using too much alum on wool will leave it feeling sticky permanently – so you must only use as much as is indicated by your weight of fiber. For one pound of wool use 4 tablespoons alum plus 4 teaspoons cream of tartar. For four ounces of wool use 1 tablespoon alum plus 1 teaspoon cream of tartar.
Fill a pot with at least 4 gallons of water per pound of wool. Soak the wool first as you would for acid dyeing. Dissolve the mordant in a jar of hot water, stirring until all the crystals disappear, then add it to the big pot of water and stir some more. Add the wet wool and slowly heat the water to a simmer. Simmer for one hour. Let the wool cool to at least lukewarm. Remove the wool, wash and rinse it well. You may dye immediately or dry to dye at a future date. You may pour cooled solutions of aluminum around hollies, mountain laurels, hydrangeas, blueberries, and other plants that prefer acid soil.
You’ll need about half a grocery paper bag full of Queen Anne’s Lace flower heads per half pound of wool. Process them in a food processor or chop finely by hand (remember they are edible and non-toxic so for this part you may use your kitchen utensils). Immerse them in enough water to cover completely and slowly bring to a simmer. Simmer (do not boil) for 30-60 minutes. Let cool and then strain through a cotton or linen cloth. This extract may be made 2-3 days in advance.
Now fill an enameled or stainless steel pot with enough water so it will cover your wool generously and pour the Queen Anne’s Lace dye liquor into it. Stir and bring to a simmer. Then add your wool and simmer for 60 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the dye pot and contents to cool overnight. Yes, I know it’s very tempting (and I’ve done it more than once) to pull that wool out and dry it immediately so you can see the beautiful results. However, if you leave it overnight, this gives any pigment that is still floating in the dye bath one last chance to attach to the wool. It is perfectly OK to pour the dye bath remains down your sink – again this particular plant is non-toxic.
Once you’ve removed your wool from the pot you must gently wash it with a mild soap, rinse it, dry it and you should have a beautiful piece of wool!
Untie a ribbon in your life – you might find an adventure!