Daucus carota Seeds: What’ll They Do to Your Hormones?

This summer I leveled up in foraging by carefully studying poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), which both grow in profusion along the bike trail. Poison hemlock is one of the first plants, possibly the first, that every forager needs to learn, because even small amounts of it can no-shit for-real kill you. The same is true for another carrot family member, water hemlock.

The carrot family is some scary shit, mostly not for beginners. (Fennel is probably the one exception – between the distinctive smell and the threadlike leaves, it’s not likely to be confused with any of its poisonous relatives.)

But once you’re used to the process of identifying plants using reputable field guides, dichotomous keys, and paying attention to botanically relevant traits beyond just leaf shape, sorting out the carrots isn’t so bad. If you pay attention to them over the course of a growing season, the differences between poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace become pretty obvious; Butter has a great rundown of most of them, but she doesn’t mention the seeds.

If your suspected wild carrot is in fruit then it’s easy to verify its identity: Daucus seeds have rows of bristles growing from parallel ribs while Conium seeds are smooth. The only other carrot family members with bristly seeds found in the coastal Pacific Northwest are sanicles (Sanicula spp.), but sanicle seed bristles aren’t arranged in rows like Daucus seed bristles.

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(I am super excited about my new microscope. Turns out just holding my phone up to the eyepiece works pretty well for taking pictures. Photo above is a wild carrot seed at 30x magnification.)

So I infused some flowers into simple syrup for a soda, which was good – and I think much improved by the carbonation – and didn’t kill me. And after nibbling on a couple of fruits to verify that Queen Anne’s lace seeds are indeed delicious, I brought home a bunch of seed heads. Seriously, the seeds are indeed delicious – like a warmer, spicier version of carrots. I could happily munch on them plain as a snack.

Here’s my problem though: Daucus carota seeds have a history of use as birth control. Herbalists recommend eating a teaspoon of seeds daily after sex or around ovulation, which is an amount I could easily exceed by using carrot seeds as a spice. Although I’m not trying to make a baby, I don’t want to put a bunch of ground-up Plan B in my granola bars without knowing more about the side effects.

So it’s off to PubMed I go.

How it Works

Fatty acids found in Queen Anne’s lace seeds interfere with two enzymes, 3-β-HSD and G6PDH, which are catalysts in various hormone synthesis pathways, particularly within the ovaries [1].

G6PDH does a bunch of shit that I don’t really understand with the upshot that it helps protect against oxidative stress (which is what made “antioxidants” into a health food craze). It is particularly important to red blood cells, which don’t have the same alternate routes to antioxidant protection as other cells. There is an X-linked genetic condition that leads to G6PDH deficiency; it is mostly asymptomatic unless you eat a lot of fava beans or take medications which induce oxidative stress, or your immune system decides to induce oxidative stress in order to kill things. Like many genetic conditions that fuck with your red blood cells, G6PDH deficiency makes you somewhat resistant to malaria.

3-β-HSD catalyzes the production of many hormones, including both progesterone and testosterone as well as some estrogen and cortisol precursors. Without progesterone, the endometrium won’t do its thing to prepare for the possible implantation of a blastocyst. If the endometrium isn’t ready, the blastocyst can’t implant, and there is no pregnancy. This mechanism seems to be confirmed by a study where either carrot seed extract alone, or carrot seed extract and progesterone, were given to mated female rats; no implantations happened for the carrot seed only rats, but the rats that got supplemental progesterone with their carrot seed extract had successful pregnancies [2].

Note that this is a completely different mechanism from modern hormonal birth control pills, including Plan B, which give you more progestens rather than less, and work by suppressing ovulation.

If you believe you have a moral obligation to provide a comfortable uterus for each and every zygote, carrot seeds are probably not the right form of weird hippie birth control for you.

Genetic 3-β-HSD deficiencies cause assorted intersex conditions. The most severe deficiencies also cause the kidneys to pee out sodium, leading to potentially life-threatening hyponatremia. As far as I can tell though people with milder deficiencies don’t suffer medical problems other than infertility.

There is an Iranian folk medical tradition that carrot seeds actually increase fertility in men. In lab rats, carrot seed extract does increase sperm production; and despite the fact that 3-β-HSD is involved in testosterone production, the carrot seed rats had somewhere between not very affected to elevated testosterone levels [3].

Meanwhile, carrot seed extract also had some vaguely positive maybe-effect on rat memory in one experiment [4].

My Rules for Me

I’m not a doctor and none of this is intended as medical advice for others. But given what I’ve just read, and given that I’ve got these nice-tasting carrots seeds, here’s what I’m going to do.

  • If I serve carrot seeds to my friends it’ll be with a big disclaimer that any ladies who want babies should not partake, and any gentlemen who want babies might consider having extra. This won’t be socially awkward at all.
  • No to absent-minded munching on carrot seeds as a snack.
  • Yes to cautious experimentation with carrot seed granola bars. Start with a teaspoon per day, discontinue if I notice side effects in my mood or my ladybits (and pay attention to where I am in my menstrual cycle when this happens).
  • Postpone the heavily carrot seed flavored breads, puddings, vodka, etc. until I have a better idea of what happens to me when I eat a moderate dose.
  • Don’t make this my new go-to staple flavoring for everything always. Make a thing, eat it for a few days, then take a break for a while.
  • Continue to use modern (and nonhormonal) technology to control my fertility.

References

  1. Majumder PK, Dasgupta S, Mukhopadhaya RK, Mazumdar UK, & Gupta M (1997). Anti-steroidogenic activity of the petroleum ether extract and fraction 5 (fatty acids) of carrot (Daucus carota L.) seeds in mouse ovary. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 57 (3), 209-12 PMID: 9292415
  2. Kaliwal, B. B., Ahamed, R. N., & Rao, M. A. (1986). Implantation delay and nidation by progesterone in carrot seed (Daucus carota) extract treated albino rats. Proceedings: Animal Sciences, 95(2), 263-268.
  3. Nouri, M., Khaki, A., Fathi Azad, F., & Rashidi, M. R. (2009). The Protective Effects of Carrot Seed Extract on Spermatogenesis and Cauda Epididymal Sperm Reserves in Gentamicin Treated Rats. Yakhteh Medical J, 11(3), 327-33.
  4. MANI, V., PARLE, M., RAMASAMY, K., & MAJEED, A. B. A. Anti-Dementia Potential of Daucus carota Seed Extract in Rats. Pharmacology Online 1: 552-565.
  5. Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska

Comments

  1. Emma Cooper wrote:

    Fascinating :) As an ethnobotanist I immediately wanted to know whether the studies you read had been carried out with wild or cultivated carrot seed; having checked the papers, none of them say. If I really wanted to know I would have to consult the herbarium samples….

    I wondered whether the chemical composition of wild carrot seed would be different from that of cultivated carrot seed, and I came across a paper you might find interesting, although it’s on carrot seed oil and mentions anti-microbial activity rather than hormonal: DOI: 10.1080/10412905.2005.9699002

    I love the fact that there’s a journal on essential oil research!

  2. Jane wrote:

    I don’t think I will ever trust myself to be able to do this kind of foraging, but this is awesome and interesting to read about.

  3. Briana wrote:

    From my understanding of the seed, it makes implantation of the egg not possibly or not stick to the wall. Not sure it does anything to your hormones. Love your blog!

  4. brittany wrote:

    Thank you for researching and sharing! In terms of experiences.as.observed by one of my favorite (a nonmedical authority of.sorts on wild carrot) please check out robin rose bennett. She has a whole updated zet of guidelines…describes how its most effective as bc ahen taken directly after sex…and preferabky only during tht fertile window.of the montb so its.not everyday…and describes a paradoxical effect where it can be used to enhance fertility (even in women) which is.so confusing to us science geeks. Perhaps the body upregulates against these more.immediately documented effects (in responze to everyxay usage)…which thus fortifies ferrrtility?

    All i k.ow.is tbat since i didnt have access to wild carrot directly after the slipup im chewing some almost daily hntil i get my period. My teacher has informed me that ill probably get my period.earlier.if i take.tbem.everydsy as t heyll cause.that progresterone anf estrogen slump.

    Fingers crossed for.staying in the flow!!

  5. Annabell wrote:

    This is great. I like your brain. Do you think this means that combining Plan B and Queen Anne’s would counteract each other? I know this isn’t why you were researching it but you mention the comparison and I was just curious if you have any thoughts.

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