The Apiaceae family of plants and herbs is also called the Parsley or Carrot family. It contains some of the most commonly used vegetables – carrots, celery, celeriac, fennel and parsnip – and many of our favorite aromatic herbs – chervil, parsley, cilantro, dill, cilantro, cumin, caraway, anise, lovage and angelica.
It also includes some deadly relatives — poison hemlock and water hemlock – with the same flat white umbrella of flowers that has given this family its other Latin name (umbelliferae). Many beneficial garden insects love this type of flower. For example, if carrots are left to flower they will attract a beneficial predatory wasp.
Another common trait found in this family is hollow stems. Children have been poisoned when they accidentally used hemlock stems for straws thinking they were a wild carrot plant. Best to plant these veggies and herbs yourself rather than forage, unless you really know your Apiaceae plants.
Apiaceae plants have a few more tricks up their sleeve. Some contain a chemical in their sap that cause burn-like blisters and can change the pigmentation of skin exposed to it, which can happen during harvest on a sunny day. Some can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in people who have an allergy to birch trees or mugwort. Who knew these common veggies lived in such an unsavory family!
This is such a large edible family so I’ll write about carrots and celery in this post, fennel and parsnip in the next post, and the herbs in a following post.
Carrots grow well in my Minneapolis urban garden – especially well last year. They like full sun but tolerate some shade. They like loose, well-drained soil that’s higher in potassium and lower in nitrogen. If you’ve got a nitrogen rich soil because you’ve been studiously adding compost each year, you’re likely to have hairy, misshapen carrots. (Oh, so that’s been my problem!)
Carrots achieved literary fame with the book “Carrots Love Tomatoes” … and they do. Tomatoes can shade carrots, which are sensitive to heat, and the tomato plant secretes a chemical that repels insects that harm carrots. But if you plant the two too close, all that shade will stunt carrot growth. I interplanted my carrots with taller plants last summer and they didn’t do much until I harvested the other plants and gave the carrots full sun at the end of August. By the end of September they were nice and big.
Radishes and carrots are ideal for planting together; harvest the radishes in 45 days and then let the carrots keep growing into the space left behind.
Carrots are vulnerable to carrot root fly. Onions, leeks and chives repel carrot root flies. They also provide the carrot plant with dappled shade, so they make good companion plants. Don’t plant them by brother parsnip or you’ll attract a double dose of carrot flies.
Carrots are also vulnerable to root knot nematodes. Marigolds repel nematodes, but I’ve read that they need to be grown in that area for a year before they’re going to be most effective at that job. We regularly grow marigolds to repel pests but I was unaware of the need to have planted in that space the prior year.
Serving Carrots for Greatest Nutrition: Everyone knows the bright orange of carrots comes from its beta-carotene, but did you know that only 3% of that beta-carotene can be accessed during digestion when you eat carrots raw? (I should say, I’m not a food scientists; I learned this while researching carrots.) Beta-carotene is 10 times more accessible when the carrots are cooked or pureed. Carrot greens are also edible when harvested young. They can be used in a stir fry or salad.
Storing Carrots: Carrots are long-lasting veggies, capable of being stored for months in the refrigerator or throughout the winter if placed – unwashed – in a bucket of sand and wood shavings or in soil between 32 to 40 °F. You can also keep harvesting them right out of the ground!
Food Safety Note for Carrots
Some people have an allergic reaction to carrots. If, like me, you’re allergic to birch tree pollen or mugwort, your immune system can become confused by a protein in carrot that is very similar to the tree pollen, which is the cause of the reaction. Cooking it does not help.
This is a powerhouse plant. The stalk is eaten as a vegetable; the leaves as a seasoning, and the seeds as a spice (but don’t eat seeds you buy for planting; they are often treated with a fungicide). Add salt to celery seed and you’ve made celery salt, a common Cajun and Creole seasoning. Chop the stalks up and add in carrots and onion and you’ve got the holy trinity of French cooking, mirepoix.
Because celery requires a long growing season, it’s not typically grown in a home garden in Minnesota. Maybe we’ll be able to grow celery as we get further into climate change … but you might not want to. It requires a lot of special care, such as planting in deep trenches to prevent light from reaching the stem.
Health Benefits of Celery: Some research says celery seeds and celery juice reduce high blood pressure.
Storing Celery: Celery looks fragile but that’s deceiving. It can be stored up to 7 weeks at temps between 32 to 36 °F.
Food Safety Notes for Celery
Even if I could, I won’t be growing celery anytime soon. It is one of the most allergenic vegetables. For some people, eating celery can result in fatal anaphylactic shock. The allergen is not deactivated by cooking. Celeriac (or celery root) is more reactive than the stalk, and the seeds more still. Since celery seeds are used in a variety of products, this can be quite a problem.
Celery juice and celery juice powder is a common natural preservative because it is high in nitrates. Because it’s a plant-based nitrate, I’ve read that food producers can use it and still label their product “nitrate free” or “no added nitrates.” If you are sensitive to nitrates and get migraines, you may need to take care when eating celery and other high-nitrate vegetables — beets, lettuce, radishes and spinach.