Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Daucus carota (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Umbelliferae

Synonyms: Philtron (Old Greek). Bird's Neat.
Part Used: Whole herb.
Habitat: A native wild plant common everywhere in the British Islands.

Both the Carrot and Parsnip are striking examples of the effect of cultivation on wild plants. The roots of the wild variety are small and woody, while those of the cultivated kind are fleshy and succulent and grow to a considerable size.

History: The Carrot was well known to the ancients, and is mentioned by Greek and Latin writers under various names, being, however, not always distinguished from the Parsnip and Skirret, closely allied to it. The Greeks - Professor Henslow tells us - had three words: Sisaron, first occurring in the writings of Epicharmus, a comic poet (500 B.C.); Staphylinos, used by Hippocrates (430 B.C.) and Elaphoboscum, used by Dioscorides (first century A.D.), whose description of the plant applies accurately to the modern Carrot. Pliny says: 'There is one kind of wild pastinaca which grows spontaneously; by the Greeks it is known as staphylinos. Another kind is grown either from the root transplanted or else from seed, the ground being dug to a very considerable depth for the purpose. It begins to be fit for eating at the end of the year, but it is still better at the end of two; even then, however, it preserves its strong pungent flavour, which it is found impossible to get rid of.'

In speaking of the medical virtue of the first species (which is evidently the Carrot, the second variety presumably the Parsnip), he adds, 'the cultivated has the same as the wild kind, though the latter is more powerful, especially when growing in stony places.'

The name Carota for the garden Carrot is found first in the writings of Athenaeus (A.D. 200), and in a book on cookery by Apicius Czclius (A.D. 230). It was Galen (second century A.D.) who added the name Daucus to distinguish the Carrot from the Parsnip, calling it D. pastinaca, and Daucus came to be the official name in the sixteenth century, and was adopted by Linnaeus in the eighteenth century.

From the time of Dioscorides and Pliny to the present day, the Carrot has been in constant use by all nations. It was long cultivated on the Continent before it became known in this country, where it was first generally cultivated in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, being introduced by the Flemings, who took refuge here from the persecutions of Philip II of Spain, and who, finding the soil about Sandwich peculiarly favourable for it, grew it there largely. As vegetables were at that time rather scarce in England, the Carrot was warmly welcomed and became a general favourite, its cultivation spreading over the country. It is mentioned appreciatively by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the reign of James I, it became the fashion for ladies to use its feathery leaves in their head-dresses. A very charming, fern-like decoration may be obtained if the thick end of a large carrot be cut off and placed in a saucer of water in a warm place, when the young and delicate leaves soon begin to sprout and form a pretty tuft of verdant green, well worth the slight trouble entailed.

Its root is small and spindle-shaped whitish, slender and hard, with a strong aromatic smell and an acrid, disagreeable taste, very different to the reddish, thick, fleshy, cultivated form, with its pleasant odour and peculiar, sweet, mucilaginous flavour. It penetrates some distance into the ground, having only a few lateral rootlets.

Description: The stems are erect and branched, generally about 2, feet high, tough and furrowed. Both stems and leaves are more or less clothed with stout, coarse hairs. The leaves are very finely divided, the lowest leaves considerably larger than the upper; their arrangement on the stem is alternate, and all the leaves embrace the stem with the sheathing base, which is so characteristic of this group of plants, the Umbelliferae, to which the Carrot belongs. The blossoms are densely clustered together in terminal umbels, or flattened heads, in which the flower-bearing stalks of the head all arise from one point in rays, like the ribs of an umbrella, each ray again dividing in the case of the Carrot, to form a secondary umbel, or umbellule of white flowers, the outer ones of which are irregular and larger than the others. The wild Carrot is in bloom from June to August, but often continues flowering much longer. The flowers themselves are very small, but from their whiteness and number, they form a conspicuous head, nearly flat while in bloom, or slightly convex, but as the seeds ripen, the umbels contract, the outer rays, which are to begin with 1 to 2 inches long, lengthening and curving inwards, so that the head forms a hollow cup hence one of the old popular names for the plant: Bird's Nest. The fruit is slightly flattened, with numerous bristles arranged in five rows. The ring of finely-divided and leaf-like bracts at the point where the umbel springs is a noticeable feature.

The Carrot is well distinguished from other plants of the same order by having the central flower of the umbel, or sometimes a tiny umbellule, of a bright red or deep purple colour, though there is a variety, D. maritimus, frequent on many parts of the sea coast in the south of England, which differs in having somewhat fleshy leaves and in being destitute of the central purple flower. In this case, all the flowers of the head have often a somewhat pinkish tinge. There was a curious superstition that this small purple flower of the Carrot was of benefit in epilepsy.

Parts Used Medicinally: The whole herb, collected in July; the seeds and root. The whole herb is the part now more generally in use.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Diuretic, Stimulant, Deobstruent. An infusion of the whole herb is considered an active and valuable remedy in the treatment of dropsy, chronic kidney diseases and affections of the bladder. The infusion of tea, made from one ounce of the herb in a pint of boiling water, is taken in wineglassful doses. Carrot tea, taken night and morning, and brewed in this manner from the whole plant, is considered excellent for lithic acid or gouty disposition. A strong decoction is very useful in gravel and stone, and is good against flatulence. A fluid extract is also prepared, the dose being from 1/2 to 1 drachm.

The seeds are carminative, stimulant and very useful in flatulence, windy colic, hiccough, dysentery, chronic coughs, etc. The dose of the seeds, bruised, is from one-third to one teaspoonful, repeated as necessary. They were at one time considered a valuable remedy for calculus complaints. They are excellent in obstructions of the viscera, in jaundice (for which they were formerly considered a specific), and in the beginnings of dropsies, and are also of service as an emmenagogue. They have a slight aromatic smell and a warm, pungent taste. They communicate an agreeable flavour to malt liquor, if infused in it while in the vat, and render it a useful drink in scorbutic disorders.

Old writers tell us that a poultice made of the roots has been found to mitigate the pain of cancerous ulcers, and that the leaves, applied with honey, cleanse running sores and ulcers. An infusion of the root was also used as an aperient.

Cultivation: The root of the Carrot consists of Bark and Wood: the bark of theGarden Carrot is the outer red layer, dark and pulpy and sweet to the taste; the wood forms the yellow core, gradually becoming hard, stringy and fibrous. The aim of cultivation, therefore, is to obtain a fleshy root, with the smallest part of wood. This depends on soil and the quality and kind of the seed.

For its successful cultivation, Carrot needs a light, warm soil, which has been well manured in the previous season. The most suitable soil is a light one inclining to sand, a somewhat sandy loam or dry, peaty land being the best, but even heavy ground, properly prepared, may be made to produce good Carrots. Formerly the cultivation of the Carrot was almost entirely confined to the light lands of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The ground should be well prepared some months in advance; heavy ground should be lightened by the addition of wood ash, road scrapings, old potting soil and similar materials. It is essential that the soil be in such a state as to allow the roots to penetrate to their full length without interruption. Previous to sowing the seed, the soil should be lightly forked over, and, if possible, be given a dressing of leaf soil or well decayed vegetable matter, but no fresh manure must be dug into the top spit of ground intended for Carrots and Parsnips, as it may cause the roots to become forked. The crops will, however, benefit by about an ounce of superphosphate to the square yard, raked in before sowing, or by a light dressing of soot.

Sowing of the main crop should be done in calm weather about the middle of March or early in April. The seeds frequently adhere to one another by means of the forked hairs which surround them. These hairs can be removed by rubbing through the hands or a fine chaff sieve. The seeds should then be mixed with about twice the bulk of dry earth, sand or sifted ashes (about one bushel of seeds to 4 or 5 lb. of sand). When the ground is thoroughly prepared and has been firmly trodden, draw flat-bottomed drills from north to south, 1/2 inch deep and 3 inches wide. Distribute the seed along the row evenly and thinly and cover lightly. Carrots can hardly be covered too lightly, 1 inch of fine soil is quite enough, and for ordinary use they may be sown in drills one foot apart, but if extra large roots are desired, more room must be given between the rows. As soon as the young plants are large enough to handle they may be thinned to 6 inches or 8 inches apart. The thinning may be at first to a distance of 3 inches, and then a final thinning later, the second thinnings being used as young Carrots for culinary purposes. Frequent dustings of soot will greatly benefit the crop. Light hoeings between the rows to keep the crop free from weeds is all that is necessary during the period of growth. Partial shade from other crops is often found beneficial.

Scarlet Immediate is the best sort for general purposes.

Main-crop Carrots are generally taken up about the last week in October, or early in November, by three-pronged forks, and stored in sand in a dry place, where they can be kept till the following March or April Some of the roots dug in the autumn can be replanted in February, about 2 feet apart, with the crown or head a few inches below the surface. Leaves and flowers will spring from them, and the seeds produced will ripen in the autumn.

By making successional sowings, good crops of small roots will be always available. In gardens, Carrots are grown in succession of crops from the latter part of February to the beginning of August. For early Carrots sow on a warm border in February: such a sowing, if made as soon as the state of ground allows, will assure early Carrots just when fresh and quickly-grown vegetables are most highly prized. They will be off in time to leave the ground ready for other crops.

After a good dressing of soot has been given, Carrots may be sown again, and even then it leaves the room vacant for winter greens or cabbage for use next spring. Sowing as late as July is generally successful in most districts. Main crops are often sown too early, especially on cold soils. Carrots are liable to attacks of grubs and insects, the upper part of the root being also attacked by the grub of a kind of fly, the best remedy being late sowing, to avoid the period at which these insects are evolved from the egg. Dusting with ashes and a little soot or lime wards off both birds and slugs from the young tender growths.

Carrots are a valuable product for the farmer in feeding his cattle, and for this purpose are raised in large quantities. The produce of an acre of Carrots in Suffolk is on an average 350 bushels per acre, but sometimes much more. In the Channel Islands and Brittany, much larger crops of Carrots and Parsnips are obtained than are yielded in England, the soil being deeply trenched by a spade or specially-constructed plough. Far more Carrots are grown in France, Germany and Belgium for fodder than here. Horses are remarkably fond of Carrots, and when mixed with oats, Carrots form a very good food for them; with a small quantity of oats or other corn, a horse may be supported on from 20 to 30 lb. of Carrots daily. In Suffolk, Carrots were formerly given as a specific for preserving and restoring the wind of horses, but they are not considered good for cattle if fed too long on them. They may also with advantage be given both to pigs and poultry, and rabbits are especially fond of them. The kinds grown for farm purposes are generally larger than those in the kitchen garden and are known as Red Carrots, the more delicate Orange Carrot being the variety used in cooking. Some farmers sow the seeds on the top of the drills, which is said to be an improvement over the gardener, who makes his Carrot-bed on the flat in the ordinary way. This ridge system gives good results the Carrots being clean and well-shaped and free from grubs. The farmers reckon about 2 lb. of seed for an acre for drills, and 5 or 6 lb. if sown broadcast. For ordinary garden purposes, one ounce of seed is reckoned to be sufficient for about 600 feet sown in drills.

Chemical Constituents: The juice of the Carrot when expressed contains crystallizable and uncrystallizable sugar, a little starch, extractine gluten, albumen, volatile oil (on which the medicinal properties of the root depend and which is fragrant, aromatic and stimulating), vegetable jelly or pectin, saline matter, malic acid and a peculiar crystallizable, ruby-red neutral principle, without odour or taste, called Carotin.

Carrots contain no less than 89 per cent of water; their most distinguishing dietical substance is sugar, of which they contain about 4.5 per cent.

Owing to the large percentage of carbohydrate material contained by Carrots, rabbits fed for some days on Carrots alone, are found to have an increased amount of glycogen stored in the liver, carbohydrate being converted into glycogen in the body.

Sir Humphry Davy ascertained the nutritive matter of Carrots to amount to 98 parts in 1,000, of which 95 are sugar, and three are starch. Weight for weight, they stand third in nourishing value on the list of roots and tubers, potatoes and parsnips taking first and second places. Carrots containing less water and more nourlshing material than green vegetables, have higher nutritive qualities than turnips, swedes, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, onions and leeks. Moreover, the fair proportion of sugar contained in their composition adds to their nourishing value.

In the interesting collection of the Food Collection at Bethnal Green Museum, prepared by Dr. Lankester, we learn that the maximum amount of work produceable by a pound of Carrots is that it will enable a man to raise 64 tons one foot high, so that it would appear to be a very efficient forceproducer. From 1 lb. of Carrots we can obtain 1 OZ. and 11 grains of sugar, while out of the 16 oz. fourteen are water. When we consider that in an average man of 11 stone or 154 lb. weight, about 111 of these are water, we see what a large supply is needful to repair waste and wear and tear.

Medicinal and General Uses: The chief virtues of the Carrot lie in the strong antiseptic qualities they possess, which prevent all putrescent changes within the body.

Carrots were formerly of some medicinal repute as a laxative, vermifuge, poultice, etc., and the seeds have been employed as a substitute for caraways.

At Vichy, where derangements of the liver are specially treated, Carrots in one form or the other are served at every meal whether in soup or as vegetables, and considerable efficacy of cure is attributed to them.

In country districts, raw Carrots are still sometimes given to children for expelling worms, and the boiled roots, mashed to a pulp, are sometimes used as a cataplasm for application to ulcers and cancerous sores.

Carrot sugar, got from the inspissated juice of the roots, may be used at table, and is good for the coughs of consumptive children.

A good British wine may be brewed from the root of the Carrot, and a very tolerable bread prepared from the roots, dried and powdered. The pectic acid contained can be extracted from the root and solidifies into a wholesome, appetizing jelly.

In Germany, a substitute and adulteration for coffee has been made of Carrots chopped into small pieces, partially carbonized by roasting and then ground.

In France and Germany a spirit is distilled from the Carrot, which yields more spirit than the potato. The refuse after making the spirit is good for feeding pigs.

Attempts have also been made to extract sugar from Carrots, but the resulting thick syrup refuses to crystallize, and in competition with either cane sugar or that obtained from the beetroot, it has not proved commercially successful.

Carrots are also used in winter and spring in the dairy, to give colour and flavour to butter, and a dye similar to woad has been obtained from the leaves.

RECIPES Carrot Jam:
Wash and grate some carrots; boil until reduced to a thick pulp. To 1 Ib. of this pulp add 9 oz. sugar, the juice and grated rind of 2 lemons, and 3 oz. margarine. Boil the mixture well for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The result is a useful and inexpensive jam, which can be made for 6d. to 8d. a lb. (according to the price of the lemons), if all materials have to be bought, and for considerably less by those who have home-grown carrots available.

Preserved Young Carrots:
Turn the carrots in their own shape, and as you do so, them turn into hot water; when all are ready, put them in a stewpan with water enough to cover them; add fresh butter in the proportion of an ounce to the pound of carrots, and salt to season; boil the carrots in this till half done, and then arrange them neatly in tin boxes; fill up with their own liquor, solder down, boil for hour, and put them away in the cool.