Folklore associated with carrots
Umbels have long been recommended for improving eye health, healing or assuaging earache and toothache, as a diuretic, a diaphoretic, emmenagogue, purgative, emetic, to cure of venereal diseases, nervous conditions, as contraceptives, as poultices for wounds, bites, swellings, etc. Many genera, such as carrot and celery, were considered cure-alls.
Carrots are high in vitamin A which may account for their long use for improving eyesight. Many species contain coumarins, which are known to have analgesic and hypothermal properties. Some species are known to be antibacterial, antihelminthic and antifungal. Others are used in medicines as flavourings.
Whether we’re talking about its history in folklore, its agricultural development -and by extension its colour - or its individual growth in the ground, there is much more to the carrot than at first meets the eye. Let’s begin with its journey from soil to sun. In its first year, the carrot has a tap root and feathery green leaves; in its second year, the plant shoots up to form a finely structured, radiant white umbel at te very top, that offers abundant nectar for all kinds of pollinators, especially those with short proboscises. An interesting characteristic of the wild carrot in particular is that it often produces a dark purple single flower in the middle of the umbel. Darwinian science finds no explanation for the purpose of this singular, remarkable dark blossom other than that it might signal a good landing place for flying insects.
The folklore of various regions has its own explanations for the striking purple bloom. In England, since the umbel of the wild carrot looks like lace, it is often called “Queen Anne’s lace.” It is considered that the dark blossom appeared when the good queen pricked her finger as she was embroidering, from which a drop of blood fell to the middle of the flower head.
In eastern European countries, the dark blossom is called “girl’s shame” or “girl’s honour,” as it is seen as a signature concerning the plant’s connection with menstruation, fertility, and desires of the flesh. In Transylvania, it is said that if the purple blossom is missing, or especially large, it tells something about the honor of the young women in the surrounding area. Continuing along this vein, the dark bloom is said to have been bigger in the olden days but, as nowadays there is no modesty among young people, it is smaller, or even nonexistent. This could be considered a concern, as it is also said that if, one day, all the carrot flowers bloom without the purple blossom the end of the world is near.
While the seeds ripen, the flowering umbel pulls together until it looks like a bird’s nest, which is also one of the plant’s names. The resulting small bristled fruits easily cling to animal fur or clothing, which then spreads the plant’s reach. The carrot took from other root vegetables more than just popularity; traditional European practical and magical lore surrounding root vegetables transferred to the new orange carrots as well. For example, carrot seeds were stored in round-bellied pots so that the roots would grow big like the pots, and Maundy (Holy) Thursday or St. Benedict’s Day (March 21) was a favourite day for sowing carrots. Silesians and other Central Europeans chose the latter holy day, since a play on words in German makes the saint’s name mean “thick legs” (bene = legs, dikt = thick), it was thought that planting on Benedict’s day would make the carrots grow thicker.
In most areas, the astrological sign also played an important role on growing practices. Root crops were sown when the moon was in an earth sign (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), a convention biodynamic gardeners maintain today. It was thought that if carrots were sown with the moon of Cancer, the roots would become “thread-like,” like crab legs; if sown in Scorpio, they’d become wormy; in Gemini they would split - but in the sign of Pisces they would become nice and smooth. In another auspicious practice, in various rural areas peasant women would discreetly roll around naked in the carrot patch early in the morning on Pentecost to aid the carrots in growing well.
Magical and Curative powers
Folklore on uses of plants for their magical curative powers can be organized in various ways: the transference of the ailment to another object, the method of collection, the place and time of use, planting and collecting ritual, etc. The umbels give us many examples of such folk-lore. Carrots were particularly important. Eating raw carrots or drinking the juice to cure jaundice (probably because of the yellow colour) was recommended (Foster 1953; Grieve 1971; Hand 1980; Neal 1955; Roy 1962; Wintemberg 1950).
Inspired plant enthusiast and German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) once wrote: “If the eye were not sun-like, how could we ever see light?” Our eyes, thus, were “created by light for light.” As such, it is not surprising that carrots and their strong affiliation to the sunlight are so beneficial to our vision—a quality prominent in the folklore of the vegetable. A precursor of vitamin A, carotene, which is responsible for the bright orange color of the root, strengthens and protects the retina, which improves night vision. Carotene is also an antioxidant—a magnet for free radicals—and as such renders harmless cancer-inducing, free-roaming, aggressive oxygen radicals. Research has shown that people with high carotene levels in their blood are less likely to suffer from stomach or lung cancer than those with low carotene levels. This provitamin also strengthens the immune system, feeding that system’s macrophages, the “killer cells.” Excess carotene is stored in the skin, thus protecting against harmful ultraviolet rays.And the carrot is potent as well: just fifty grams (less than two ounces) is sufficient to cover the daily needs of the human organism.
Many consider it is the light quality of the carrot that “radiates” into the lower body chakras (Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipurna) of the digestive and the sexual organs. As to the former, traditional herbal lore prescribes tea made of the blossoming flowers in cases of edema, chronic kidney ailments, urinary passage ailments, and—because the plant is both diuretic and blood cleansing—for gout. As to the latter, carrots have always been associated with sexual drive and conception, though this has less to do with the obvious phallus-like signature of the taproot than with the cosmic light energies the plant transmits. According to veritable seers, we are beings of light; before we are conceived, we are attracted to the passionate fire generated by our parents so that we can incarnate in a physical body. Thus, given its high light “content,” the carrot—especially the wild carrot, which is much more aromatic and has very thin, rather woody roots—was traditionally used as an aphrodisiac and a tonic for the regenerative organs. Up until very recently, young women in the Hebrides gathered wild carrot roots to give to their partners to chew at dance festivals—or on the weekends. The Greeks also chewed wild carrot roots in the springtime, when the milder weather supported the rush of hormones. Renaissance botanist Hieronymus Bock (1498–1554) reported: “The wild carrot root gives fertility, and also helps all who merely dribble when they try to urinate, as well as helping against impotence in marriage.”
Gerarde, in his Herbal of 1597, says: "The carrot serves in love matters, but the root of the wild species is more effectual than that of the garden form”
This advice gives an entirely new twist to Bugs Bunny’s cheeky question addressed to that irate old fuddy-duddy, Elmer Fudd: “What’s up, Doc?” What is implied by the taunt is an ancient archetypal association: both rabbits (hares) and carrot roots have long symbolized both sexual penchant and potency. Or, as modern phytochemists would phrase it: the plant contains porphyrin, which triggers the releases of gonadal hormones through the pituitary gland.
But it’s not just the roots that affect sexuality; carrot seeds also share in the reputation. The ancient Greeks made a drink of carrot seeds, or a suppository made from powdered seeds, to encourage menstruation or conception. In the Islamic Unani healing tradition, carrot seeds are used in love potions to increase the flow of semen (ma’jun pumba dana) and for relaxation (ma’jun rah-ul-mominin). To this day Egyptians cook the seeds in honey for aphrodisiacal purposes. The Renaissance herb doctor Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501–1577) concurred: “The seeds generate unchaste desires.” It must also be mentioned that they can have an abortive effect, and thus should be avoided by pregnant women. Other effects are that they reduce flatulence, increase the milk flow of nursing mothers, and are diuretic.
As carrot fronds are also known as an antiseptic diuretic, they are often made into a tea for bladder and prostate infections and as a prophylactic against stone ailments. The leaves can also be crushed and used as a poultice for burns, frostbite, or wounds that aren’t healing well.
Hollowing out or cutting holes in the carrot root, adding water or urine from the patient, and hanging the carrot near the fire or in a chimney to dry cured jaundice as it dried (Bouteiller 1966; Ciz-mir 1946; Fogel 1915; Hoffman-Krayer and Bachtold-Stiiubel 1927; Hovorka and Kronfeld 1908; Hyatt 1965; Lick and Brendle 1923; Hand, Casetta and Thiederman 1981; Wuttke 1900). An easier disposition was to hang the carrot in the basement (Hand and Talley 1984). To stop bed wetting a hollowed out carrot was filled with the child's urine and hung in the chimney to dry (Hand, Casetta and Thiederman 1981).
To cure diphtheria the sick person was to urinate on a cup of carrot greens which were then hung in the northwest part of the chimney for eight days (Anderson 1970). In Illinois a doctor was reported to say that spasms were always caused by a worm in a child's neck and he recommended giving the child carrot juice which worms did not like and they would crawl out of the neck (Hyatt 1965).
Cures for warts are often magical. A Virginia remedy was "Take the thick or top part of a red common carrot, cut out the inside core, and fill up the hole with common table salt. The moisture of the carrot dissolves the salt." This solution was applied to the wart with the finger two or three times a day (Harris 1968). It was also said that a wart would go away if you rubbed it with a carrot, buried the carrot, and forgot the place where it was buried, or bit the end off the carrot each time after rubbing it on the wart (Hand and Talley 1984).
The carrot has inspired some fantastic stories. One legend tells of a carrot seed that fell out of a seed merchant’s bag when he was crossing the Rhine. The seed grew into a carrot so gigantic the farmer who found it was able to feed two oxen all winter with it. In turn, the oxen’s horns grew to be so big that when they were blown (cattle horns are still used as horns today) the sound travelled from St. Martin’s Day (November 11) until St. George’s Day (April 23).
The King’s Bride—by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822), the German Edgar Allan Poe—tells in of a girl, Anne von Zabeltau, who worked in a vegetable garden. A wicked gnome, Daucus Carota the First, was the king of all the vegetables. Upon seeing the beautiful maiden, he was possessed by desire for her and proceeded to abduct her into his musky underworld realm of roots and worms. But then one day the carrot king perceived the wailing of his subjects—the carrots, celeriacs, and turnips—as they were being chopped up and cast into a boiling pot. Trying to save them, the gnome himself fell into the soup kettle and perished. Only then could the maiden escape the dark underworld.
Ears - Drops and lotions for use with painful ears seem to fall naturally into the categories of vegetable and animal. The commonest vegetable remedies are coltsfoot, the sap of ash trees, and infusions of wild carrot and horehound (with, in the latter ease, a little tea sometimes added). Along the sea-coast the bairneach barr cladaigh, a limpet found
near the high-water mark, or " farthest from the tide at low water," when roasted in its shell furnishes an oil which is similarly used with, of course, the inevitable and apparently essential pledget of black sheep's wool.
When the chosen .drops have ,been instilled, and the black wool inserted, a heated woollen cloth, a hot salt compress in a stocking, a poultice of wild carrots (cuirdin feadhain), or a cataplasm of mustard and milk, is applied to the car, and here the treatment usually ends. (Source:Some Irish folklore remedies for diseases of the ear, nose and throat. T G Wilson, 1943)
A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl (2016
Magic, Myth and Medicine,Mildred E. Mathias; Source: Economic Botany , Jan. - Mar., 1994, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1994), pp. 3-7
Folklore and plant lore S. C. Hood,Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences , March, 1945, Vol. 8, No.1 (March, 1945), pp. 53-57