The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus, Etymology: from Late Latin carōta, from Greek καρότον karōton, originally from the Indo-European root ker- (horn), due to its horn-like shape) is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is a taproot, although the greens are edible as well. It is a domesticated form of the wild carrot Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot....Orange-coloured carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century. These, the modern carrots, were intended by the antiquary John Aubrey (1626–1697) when he noted in his memoranda "Carrots were first sown at Beckington in Somersetshire Some very old Man there [in 1668] did remember their first bringing hither." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrots
According to Phil Simon from the US Dept. of Agriculture:
Wild carrots were indigenous to Europe and known as Queen Anne’s Lace, the Devil’s Plague, and Fool’s Parsley. The wild carrot was known primarily for its use as an herb, and was used in medicinal recipes.
Of course, the wild carrot was not known to William Shakespeare as “Queen Anne's Lace” (that Queen Anne reigned in England in the early 18th century).
Wild carrots started out in Central Asia, primarily Afghanistan/Kazakhstan, and spread so 4-5,000 years ago they were found in Switzerland. We can posit carrots came to England by Shakespeare’s lifetime, but they were mostly purple in color.
According to the Wild Carrot Museum in the UK, orange-colored carrots arrived in Europe in the middle of the 16th century, making the orange carrot a new thing for Shakespeare.
One reason orange carrots caught on quickly is because cooking orange carrots didn’t stain the pots as badly as cooking the purple kind.
The new orange carrot took a firm hold, so by the time British settlers sailed to North America, the carrots they took with them were primarily orange and sometimes white.
The word “Carrot” arrived in English around 1530, but in popular usage there was a great deal of overlap between the names for root vegetables. Carrots, parsnips, and parsley were often referred to interchangeably by the same names. In Old English, there’s no good way to distinguish between carrots and parsnips, since they were both called “moru” coming from the root word for “edible root.”
Carrots were known best for being animal fodder (great for horses, for example). However, people would eat them, and as many herbal books from the period point out, they were relied upon for various ailments. Henry Lythe wrote specifically about the carrot being useful against venom and the bites or stings of “venemous beasts.”
The similarities between carrots and other vegetables like parsley can be seen in the comparison of carrots to a poisonous plant called Cow's Parsley. Cow parsnips look like carrots but are very poisonous. Stinking and deadly carrots refer to the wild relatives of domesticated carrots, and are also toxic.
BEWARE: when you pull up a wild carrot, you can smell it's a carrot. BUT they are edible ONLY BEFORE they start flowering -- the same as cultivated carrots. If they have flowered, you cannot eat them.
WARNING: there are many toxic and poisonous plants that look, smell, and present themselves like a wild carrot. Do not go out and try to find -– and definitely do not consume -- any wild plant without expert advice. For instance, hemlock looks just like Queen Anne's Lace.
To hear the interview from which I took these notes, go to
According to today's History Quiz, we have the Dutch to thank for the orange carrots we eat.
Prior to the 16th century carrots were mostly purple, with some natural mutations resulting in occasional yellow or white variations.
The Dutch took these mutated carrots and bred them together to create the orange variant we enjoy.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.