Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio
- Name also: Wild Chervil, Wild Beaked Parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, Keck (compare Hogweed)
- Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock vertical, thick.
- Height: 50–150 cm (20–60 in.). Stem upper part branched, bristly, grooved, lower part usually short-haired, hollow, joints with septa.
- Flower: Corolla regular, white, approx. 3–7 mm (0.12–0.28 in.) wide (outermost flowers slightly zygomorphic and larger than others); petals 5, shallowly notched. Calyx absent. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a compound umbel, secondary umbels 8–15. Primary umbel lacking bracts, secondary umbels with 5–6-leaved involucel, bracteoles of equal size, elliptic–ovate, sharp-tipped, with hairy edges, green–reddish.
- Leaves: Alternate, stalked, base sheath-like. Blade triangular, 3 times pinnate, bright green. Secondary leaflets ovate–elliptic, large-toothed.
- Fruit: Elliptic, 2-parted, glossy, glabrous, brown, shiny black when mature, 8–10 mm (0.32–0.4 in.) long schizocarp.
- Habitat: Meadows, fields, forest margins, wasteland, yards, gardens, seed lawns, banks, roadsides, broad-leaved forests.
- Flowering time: May–June(–July).
Cow parsley spreads abundantly to any place with sufficient light: meadows, roadsides, yards and other places that people have created across Finland. Its white inflorescence belongs to inhabited areas as an integral part of the early summer’s flower display. The leaf rosette grows from seed and takes a few years to gather strength before it flowers, and it usually then dies. The root has however usually by that point produced lateral shoots before the main shoot withers. Cow parsley’s solitary flower is quite modest, but an average plant has up to 5,000. The flowers attract especially flies to pollinate it, but its abundance and the large amount of nectar and pollen it produces makes it an important plant for bee-keepers too. At the end of the summer the flower develops into a pair of elliptic schizocarps. The seeds are blackish when ripe and they fall before winter comes, so although the stem often remains erect for a long time it is not necessary for the plant.
In northern Finland cow parsley is native to broad-leaved forests, the banks of rivers and streams and mountain birch woodland, and it is clearly a different stand from the one that grows on banks in the south of the country, even though there is no clear difference in their appearance. It is hard to say where the plant is native to in the south because the influence of people has clearly changed species that thrive in similar habitats. Cow parsley isn’t poisonous: it’s young, mild-tasting leaves are good in soups and its parsnip-like root is good to eat too.
Garden chervil which is a well-known culinary herb, is a close relative of cow parsley. Chervil is an annual and clearly smaller than cow parsley. Chervil’s inflorescence is also smaller and its fruits are narrower. The Carrot family also includes poisonous species, so wild vegetable enthusiasts would do well to learn to tell them apart.