Corona Chronicles: October 24, 2020
Until life returns to some semblance of normal, from time to time we will send out the Corona Chronicles. This publication will provide commentary, brief stories, poetry, book and movie suggestions, and ways to make our time at home meaningful and fulfilling. If you have ideas to submit, please contact Nancy Perkins at email@example.com.
Wicked Good Maine Frilly Fields of Queen Anne’s Lace
My grandmother once told me that not even a thousand lace makers tatting continuously for ten years could begin to replicate the breathtaking beauty that can fill a single vacant field in the mid-coast farmlands with the delicate virgin white flower that is Queen Anne’s lace. Yet nature accomplishes this feat each year in just a matter of weeks. It’s hard to decide which view is more spectacular; thousands of the flat filigreed flowers, crowding together as if spectators at an open air concert, swaying with the inclination of the prevailing breezes, or, the detailed branching symmetry of each individual flower head’s hundreds of tiny white blossoms. It wasn’t until this year that Idiscovered this beautiful pure white flower isn’t pure white after all. Each flower head sports a tiny floret of red to purple color in the very center of its bloom. I was amazed to find the tiny dot in the center of the enlarged pictures I had taken.
As one would expect, legends were born to explain this stain on the otherwise pristine blossom. One legend holds the flower was named after St Anne, mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus, who is the patron saint of lace makers. Christian symbolism embraces the belief that the red florets represent the blood of Jesus surrounded by his followers.
A more popular legend has it that Queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), considered an expert lace maker, challenged her ladies in waiting to a contest to see who could produce a piece of lace as beautiful as the flower, but none of them could rival her own efforts. During the competition however, Queen Anne pricked her finger and a single drop of her blood fell onto the white lace she was sewing. Others believe the Queen in this legend was actually Queen Anne of Denmark’s granddaughter, Anne, Queen of Great Britain (1665-1714).
This wildflower, also called wild carrot for the resemblance of its ferny leaves and long tap roots to its close relative, the domestic garden carrot. It is also sometimes called the bird’s nest flower for the inward curved pocket of the dried seed head. Originating in Afghanistan it spread to temperate regions. This species is also closely related to celery, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnips and caraway.
It is a biennial plant which grows a low cluster of green leaves up to 8” long, in its first year. During its second year it shoots up flower stalks that grow from 1-4 feet tall. The 3-5” flowers bloom in the heat of summer until mid-fall. The flower cluster starts out curled up and unfurls for pollination. The flower is a flat umbel, from the Latin umbella, meaning parasol or sunshade, and consists of up to 100 flower stems radiating from a central point like the spokes of a parasol or umbrella. Each stem bifurcates in up to 40 little branches. At the end of each tiny branch grow tiny white flowers. In the very center of the umbel that one tiny red or purplish sterile floret is thought to be a pollen guide for bees. Some flower heads are fragrant, delicate and sweet. Each pollinated flower produces a small seed covered with bristles. As seeds develop the umbel curls inward and dries from green to brown. The dried umbels eventually detach from the stem becoming tumbleweeds widely scattering their seeds.
Theresa Roach Melia wrote about the complex design of the plant, “The Flower Queen offers sacred geometry, interconnectedness, pathways to use in our approach toward the infinite, and the same pathways lead back to the exquisite structure of her reassuringly commonplace presence in our lives in the airy warmth of summertime.”
The uses for this wildflower are many. Its root is edible while young and should be harvested for cooking early in its first year before it becomes woody. The root is high in sugar, second only to the beet among root vegetables and can be eaten as a veggie or added to soups. Tea from the root has been used by herbal healers as a diuretic to prevent and eliminate kidney stones.
The flower heads can be battered and fried. They can also be placed in boiling water and steeped for half an hour. The resulting flavored liquid can then be used to make an exquisite tasting jelly.
One flower head can produce hundreds of seeds which remain viable for up to five years. Traditionally, up to 25% of the components used to make Madras curry consisted of ground mature Queen Anne’s Lace seeds (gajar), which have a similar flavor as cardamom. Madras curry is popular in cooking Indian curries and to flavor soups and stews. A decoction of the dried umbel is used by some herbalists to treat cystitis.
My grandmother used to help me press the delicate flowers I had gathered between sheets of tissues hidden in the pages of a stack of books. As the flower heads dried they held their shape nicely and looked like an oversized summertime snowflake. A fun science experiment for school children is to place cut stems in food colored water to watch the capillary action as the blooms slowly change to the color of the water they are drinking.
In nature, it is an important host plant for the black swallow tail butterfly, and its foliage is preferred as nesting material for the European Starling because of its antibacterial and insecticidal properties. Some farmers believe that Queen Anne’s Lace planted near tomato fields boost tomato plant production.
There are some very important warnings that must be heeded when approaching and using Queen Anne’s Lace. It very closely resembles another of its relatives – Hemlock. It is crucially important to be able to tell these two plants apart because hemlock, if ingested, can be a deadly poison. A hemlock tinged potion was the cause of Socrates death. Careful observation can prevent a deadly mistake. The Hemlock plant has a disgusting smell, and its stalk is smooth with purples splotches, while Queen Anne’s lace smells like carrots and its stalk is hairy and solid green.
Also for a few people who are photosensitive, the leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace contain chemicals that can cause skin irritation, a rash or blistering. It has been demonstrated that if a person with photosensitivity lays a leaf on top of their skin for a short while, then removes it and exposes the area of skin to sunlight, an exact reproduction of the leaf will appear on their skin.
Lastly, since the time of Hippocrates, seeds, in high concentrations, have been used as a method of contraception or to induce miscarriage. In some parts of the world this practice still prevails today. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid ingesting any form of the seed to ensure a successful pregnancy.
There are not many common references to Queen Ann’s Lace in literature, but the following poem by Mary Leslie Newton is a whimsical favorite.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Queen Anne, Queen Anne, has washed her lace
(She chose a summer’s day)
And hung it in a grassy place
To whiten, if it may.
Queen Anne, Queen Anne, has left it there,
And slept the dewy night;
Then waked, to find the sunshine fair,
And all the meadows white.
Queen Anne, Queen Anne, is dead and gone
(She died a summer’s day),
But left her lace to whiten in
Each weed entangled way!
Brenda Smith fulfilled a life-long dream when she moved to Belfast in 2019. An accounting graduate of Bentley University, she worked as a CPA and Vice President of Finance for several non-profit organizations. She earned her MS from Suffolk University in Philanthropy and Media. and has produced, directed and edited many award winning videos. She is most proud of the coveted “Telly” award on her desk. Now retired, she is busy with several writing projects: an early memoir recounting some of her hair-raising global adventures, a later memoir about living with the extremely rare Stiff Person’s syndrome, and writing short essays about things in life that make her smile. She is a board member and treasurer of Belfast Senior College.
I trek up the cobbled street.
Wishing to pause in time,
Past the jumble of red tiled roofs,
Past the pots of oregano on doorsteps,
To where the road becomes goat path,
To the lonely sparseness of gray rock,
To the expansion of sapphire sky,
To the stillness of stone,
To nothing living,
To nothing breathing.
Then the surprising scent of musk,
The memory of cat,
Invades my nostrils.
Out of the cliff’s crevice sprouts a tiny twisted tree,
Its green mitten leaves unfurled,
Exposing a tiny cluster of baby figs,
Like jade beads nestled at a neck.
Kristin Frangoulis writes and paints in Belfast. She lives with her husband, George, and several cats. She also hosts WBFY radio show, “Poetry By The Bay,” and co-hosts the TV show, “Good Morning Belfast” with her husband.
We eat our lunch of fish and chips
outside. Crisp day. Tides’s in.
White clouds, white caps move
We have an audience of gulls.
They have intentions about our food.
They move closer, peck and chase
each other. Whistle, laugh, squawk
One has a crippled leg.
You toss it the final fries
Gobbled in a winged frenzy,
beaks and legs
Everyone leaves happy
“Words and images have always been part of my creative life. Nature imagery has a deep connection to my experiences.” – Tycelia