5 Fun Facts About Carrots That Will Make You More Interesting At Parties
With the vaccine rollout speeding up, it's looking like parties could again become a part of our human experience in the next few months. Prepare for this hopeful affair by brushing up on some potentially little-known facts about carrots that'll make sure your imminent dance card remains full to the brim with folks who can't get enough of your fascinating insights!
1. A carrot is not a vegetable. OK, this one doesn't apply only to carrots, but I think it's safe to say you'll not encounter another partygoer who wouldn't situate carrots squarely in the "vegetable" category. But you can blow their mind by enlightening them to the fact that there is no such thing as a vegetable! Seriously! Botanically-speaking, there is no part of a plant named "vegetable". When consuming a plant, we are either eating its root, shoot, stem, leaf, flower bud, flower, seedpod, or seeds. In the case of a carrot, we most commonly eat the root. However...
2. The root is not the only edible part of a carrot. Sure, the root is the most substantive part, but carrot leaves, flowers, and seeds are also edible and tasty! Carrot leaves can be made into a delicious pesto. Carrot flowers are beautiful and dainty and make a great addition to salads or can even be made into jelly! Carrot seeds smell absolutely divine and are used to flavor foods. They are used medicinally in several cultures as well.
3. You can plant an actual carrot in the ground and it will make seeds. In fact, this is how we produce carrot seeds at Snake River Seed Co-op. We grow carrots from seeds one year in our gardens, and then we pull them up and pick the best carrots from our carrot patches for the next step. We select them for size, health, shape, and color, and sometimes we even cut off a little piece to
taste to make sure they are delicious. Then we cut their leaves off and stick those carrots back into the ground, where they will again sprout leaves, then send up a flower stalk, flower, and make seeds!
If you are intrigued to try this at home, remember that actual carrots need a period of cold before they will break dormancy and re-grow their leaves. Generally we either re-plant them in the fall and cover them with a thick blanket of leaves to wait out the winter, or store them in a root cellar or other location where they will get cold but not freeze solid (35-50 degrees). Also remember that if you plant a hybrid carrot, the seeds it produces may not grow carrots that look like that mama carrot you planted. If you plant carrots you grew from SRSC seeds, you're good to go, as all our seeds are open-pollinated! You should at least plant 2 carrots so they can help cross-pollinate each other to make seeds, and note that carrots will also cross-pollinate with the weed queen anne's lace, if you have that growing nearby, so the seeds your carrot make may not grow true-to-type either. But you can still grow them and enjoy all the intrigue that comes with them, while also feeding a whole heap of pollinators, because....
4. Carrots are one of the best plants for pollinators. The dainty, white umbels of carrot flowers are an absolute gold mine for pollinators. Even the smallest native bees can reach their nectar caches with their short tongues. Beneficial wasps and predatory insects like syrphid flies and ladybugs also adore carrot flowers, making the carrot patch one of the most happenin' places on the farm when it's in full bloom mid-summer. If you want to do your part for some of the more under-appreciated pollinator species and give yourself and your family & friends the best classroom you could ever have to observe a veritable cornucopia of native pollinators and beneficial insects, let a few of your carrots overwinter and flower next year!
5. Carrots were not originally orange. In fact, orange carrots were relatively late to the carrot-breeding game. Domesticated carrots came from the wild plant queen anne's lace, which has white roots. Purple carrots were common even 1000 years ago in what is now Afghanistan, with yellow carrots to follow into the 1500s. Some indigenous folks in Afghanistan still use purple and white carrots to make a strong alcoholic beverage. It wasn't until the 1600s that some enterprising Dutch horticulturists began breeding orange carrots in earnest, some say out of a sense of nationalistic pride...but that is just hearsay. Regardless, the growing diversity of rainbow carrots isn't anything particularly new--it's simply what observant gardeners have been doing for more than a millennium now.
And that's it! May you be the life of the party, when parties are safe to attend once more!