The Carrot Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)

You might be familiar with carrots and parsley, but did you know they belong to a larger family of plants called the Carrot family

This family, also known as Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, is made up mostly of herbs, with a few shrubs and trees here and there.

Plants in this family usually have hollow stems and leaves that are divided into smaller leaflets.

How to Recognise Plants in the Carrot or Parsley Family

The easiest way to spot a plant from the Carrot family is to look for their unique flower arrangement called a “compound umbel.”

Imagine an umbrella: all the spokes come out from a single point at the end of the handle.

In the Carrot family, the flower stems do the same thing, radiating out from a single point at the end of the stalk. But that’s not all.

At the end of each flower stem, there’s another tiny umbrella-like arrangement of even smaller stems. This is what we call a compound umbel.

If you take a closer look at the flowers themselves, you’ll see that they have five small sepals (the green bits) underneath, five petals, and five stamens (the pollen-producing parts).

The part of the flower that will eventually become the fruit is called the ovary, and it sits below the petals and stamens.

In the Carrot family, the ovary is made up of two fused parts, and you can tell this by counting the number of styles (the long, slender bits sticking out from the ovary).

Inside the ovary, there are little walls that divide it into equal spaces.

When the ovary matures, it turns into a dry fruit that splits into two halves, each containing a single seed. These halves are called “mericarps.”

It’s interesting to note that some plants in the Buckwheat family also have umbels and compound umbels, so don’t get confused!

Where They Grow and What They’re Used For

The Carrot family is quite large, with about 448 different genera and 3,820 species found all over the world.

Many of these plants are packed with spicy, aromatic oils, which makes them great for flavouring food.

Some common examples include anise, celery, chervil, coriander (also known as cilantro), caraway, cumin, dill, fennel, and of course, parsley.

This family also includes some veggies with tasty roots, like carrots and parsnips.

A Word of Caution

While many plants in the Carrot family are delicious and safe to eat, some of them are actually among the most poisonous plants in the United Kingdom.

Hemlock water-dropwort, Oenanthe crocata and Hemlock, Conium maculatum are two examples that you definitely want to avoid.

In fact, people have died from mistaking Hemlock for wild carrots. So, if you see a plant with a compound umbel, be very careful and make sure you know exactly what it is before even touching it.

Another thing to watch out for is that many plants in this family produce chemicals called furanocoumarins.

These can cause a rash when they come into contact with your skin, especially if you’re out in the sun.

Hogweed and parsnips are two plants that can cause this reaction.

Medicinal Uses

Plants in the Carrot family are often used for their medicinal properties, thanks to the volatile oils they contain.

These oils can warm you up, make you sweat, and open up your pores.

This can be helpful if you’re trying to break a fever, which is your body’s way of fighting off germs by “cooking” them.

Drinking spicy teas or eating spicy foods can give a mild fever a little boost, hopefully killing off the germs and ending the fever.

But be careful – this can be dangerous if you have a high fever, and it’s better to use something like aspirin to bring it down in that case. These plants work best at the very beginning of a cold.

The oils can also help clear up a stuffy nose, kind of like how your nose runs when you eat something spicy.

Some of the stronger plants might even help fight off viruses and other diseases.

Members of the Carrot family can also help with gas, menstrual cramps, and childbirth, but they should be used with caution during pregnancy.