One of my favorite wild plants is Queen Anne's Lace. Though it is considered a weed, it is really very beautiful. It is useful too. My favorite things are always pretty and practical.
You will find Queen Anne's Lace almost everywhere. It is especially prevalent along roads. Did you know that it is wild carrot? The leaves look like the domestic carrot. They are lacy and hairy. The flowers are delicate and often have a purple dot in the center. The plant smells like carrot.
Caution: Poison Hemlock does look similar to Queen Anne's Lace, but is hairless and smells bad.
The root tastes like carrot, but is white, has a stronger flavor and a chewier texture. It is best harvested from fall to early spring. It can be used like commercial carrots. Dried and roasted, it is said to be a good substitute for coffee, though I have not tried it.
The leaves are edible too. They add a nice carrot flavor to salads and cooking. They do have a strong flavor, so use in moderation. I only use them in the spring, after that they become too bitter.
The flowers are beautiful. They are one of my daughter's (5) favorite to pick when she goes on her almost daily wild flower picking walks. They can also be a good tool for an almost free science lesson. Teach your child how the water and nutrients travel through the stem to the rest of the plant. Add some food coloring to water in a vase. Red seems to work best, though all colors will produce color change. Freshly cut the stems and put them in the water. Wait a few days, and you will see the flowers start turn the color of the water. When I did this with Lydia we had a little art lesson too by mixing food coloring to get new colors. Her favorite? Red and blue make purple! No surprise there.
The flowers are also edible, with a mild carrot flavor. I've used them for fritters, but think they are best in salads. I like to separate the flower into the individual clusters for salads. It is pretty and it tastes delicious.
After the flowers are done, a seed head will remain. Collect these seeds in late summer and early fall. They can be used fresh or dried to store. The flavor is like that of caraway. Great for your homemade rye bread!
Queen Anne's Lace is my kind of plant. It is free, pretty, and useful from root to seed. How could you ask anything more from a plant you didn't plant, didn't tend to, and only showed up to harvest?